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Ten Things You Definitely Need to See and Do at Sydney Festival 2019

From cycling to the moon to an immersive theatre show within the QT hotel.
By Matt Abotomey
October 25, 2018
By Matt Abotomey
October 25, 2018


in partnership with

From cycling to the moon to an immersive theatre show within the QT hotel.

We're calling this one. It's the end of October. Anything you had your heart set on doing in 2018 has either been done or postponed till next year. Don't waste time planning out the next few months. Christmas is a train wreck every year. Accept it.

Cast your eyes instead to the year to come. More specifically, to the hulking great arts extravaganza that ushers in the new year in Sydney. That's right — Sydney Festival has released its 2019 gameplan and it is cranking. From a Tour de Lune to Shanghai in the 1930s, we've taken a stab at predicting the must-sees below.

  • 10

    For much of the 19th century and a good deal of the 20th, the Pigalle district in Paris — where the infamous Moulin Rouge lives — was alight with ideas. Its cafes and boarding houses were bursting with would-be artists, philosophers and wits creating and debating in equal measure. Then in the 1940s, with war ripping the country apart, Pigalle drop-kicked its academic hangers-on and became one of the most risqué red-light districts in Europe. Equal parts burlesque, circus and discotheque, Pigalle transports audiences to a time of anarchic abandon and Parisian pizzazz. With an international cast of cabaret heavyweights headed up by Marcia Hines, this is a saucy and occasionally scandalous tour through Paris that other time that it sizzled.

    Pigalle is part of the Under 30s reduced ticket program.

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  • 9
    Home — Geoff Sobelle and Beth Morrison Projects

    There’s something enchanting about discovering evidence of previous inhabitants in your house. Whether it be an earring wedged under a skirting board or a confusing message scrawled on the underside of a drawer, it feels like eavesdropping on another time. It may not make sense, but you’re definitely getting away with something. Geoff Sobelle, an absurdist playwright who’s been eavesdropping on the nonsensical for quite some time, has seized on this sensation for his theatre show Home. In a single house in a single night, we will see all of the people who will ever live there play out their stories within a hair’s breadth of each other. Plus, audience members will be invited to onto the set to inhabit the ‘home’ as the show progresses. Head along just to see how they divvy up the cleaning roster.

    Home is part of the Under 30s reduced ticket program.

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  • 8
    Fly Me to the Moon

    Rocket travel – so passe, not to mention a fuel suck. It’s been 50 years since the first moon landing; surely we’ve hit on a better way to explore the heavens. NASA’s best and brightest shake their heads, strapping cosmonauts to another huge needle-shaped petrol bomb. In reply, Sydney Festival admits it’s been studying the other Armstrong to unveil… a bicycle.

    It’s 384,400 kilometres to the moon and Sydney Festival want us to make the distance with pedal power. Stop by World Square and clock up a few kilometres on Sydney-based arts company Erth’s latest invention, the Lunar Velocipede. Alternatively, ‘donate’ some of the kilometres you’ve ridden on your terra-bikes and help the city escape orbit. The Apollo 11 crew made the journey in three days, you’ve got two and a half weeks. Best get limber before blastoff.

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  • 7
    Biladurang — Joel Bray

    If you’re keen to see the winner of the Best Performance Award at last year’s Melbourne Fringe, you’d better be prepared to don a bathrobe. This summer, Wiradjuri dancer and choreographer Joel Bray will be holed up in a luxe hotel room at QT Sydney with a small group of strangers he met in the bar downstairs — including you. What starts as a casual conversation begins to gather speed in the form of physical expression. Bray ranges through the intimate space and the room loses its drabness and uniformity.

    Using the Dreamtime story of the biladurang (platypus) to loosely frame his own unique tale, Bray has been packing out single suites across the country. Funny, dark and steeped in the vulnerability of the personal, by all accounts the surcharges on this room are purely emotional.

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  • 6
    Seidler Salon Series

    Harry and Penelope Seidler were architectural juggernauts of the 1960s. Trailing Bauhaus and plaudits wherever they deigned to tread, it was this husband and wife duo who convinced Sydneysiders to embrace modernist architecture. Next year, Sydney Festival will celebrate their most stunning structures – by filling them with sound.

    At the Ian Thorpe Aquatic Centre, submersion is strongly encouraged as Los Angeles harpist Mary Lattimore plucks hypnotic melodies through underwater speakers. Meanwhile, at Seidler Penthouse, Harry and Penelope Seidler House, Julian Rose House and Rose Seidler House, a range of musicians take up temporary residence, allowing the architecture to inspire their improvisations. Before you add another pillow arrangement to your own modernist utopia, pop along to the Seidler Salon series and see how the design greats did it while some musical greats serenade you. Beats another trip to Ikea.

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  • 5
    Circus Comes to Town

    It’s said that great magicians never reveal their tricks. But hey, it’s 2018. The alternative is you find the answer on YouTube and then axe yourself trying to replicate it in the backyard. SydFest is bringing the circus to town over the weekend of January 11, and with its arrival, there’s as much opportunity to learn and perform amazing feats as there is to witness them.

    At Parramatta’s Prince Alfred Square, the moon will rise twice in 24 hours — once out of gravitational necessity and once to suspend an aerialist 20 metres above the ground as she spins and twists in the lunar body’s orbit during the performance, Heliosphere. For those who fancy a moonwalk for themselves, Sydney Trapeze School will be running flying trapeze classes nearby for $50, as will acrobatics school Aerialize in the courtyard of Riverside Theatre for $10.

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  • 4
    Shanghai MiMi

    Heavy with smoke. Charged with intrigue. 1930s Shanghai is like Dickensian London; it’s a locale explored so thoroughly by writers of fiction that reality and fantasy are having a hard time not tripping over each other.

    But these spaces are where “volcanic live artist” Moira Finucane creates her best work. Renowned for the creation of sumptuous worlds in which her burlesque performances take place, Finucane recreates the stage of a nightclub cabaret in 1930s Shanghai — the perfect setting for her blend of painstaking detail and raucous subversion.

    Chinese jazz fills the air where acrobats had flown, seconds before. And on the ground, an international array of singers and dancers appear from all quarters, slinking through the half-light of the club. At Shànghǎi MiMi上海咪咪’s, the real and imagined fall prey to a far more powerful force — immersion.

    Shànghǎi MiMi上海咪咪 is part of the Under 30s reduced ticket program.

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  • 3

    With a trio of skyscrapers already erected and a casino on the way, it’s hard not to wonder what Barangaroo’s namesake would have made of Sydney’s new financial district. Barangaroo was a fisherwoman for the Cammeraygal people who apparently deplored the excesses of the British settlers, so it’s a stretch to imagine her embracing the economic opportunities of the rejuvenated docklands.

    During the festival, Bangarra’s Helpmann Award-winning head of design Jacob Nash will be out at Barangaroo crafting a large-scale public sculpture spelling ALWAYS. Using the phrase ‘Always was, always will be’ as an impetus, the work will serve as a reminder that Sydney’s newest development is taking place on Aboriginal land.

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  • 2
    Beware of Pity — Schaubuhne Berlin and Complicite

    Schaübuhne Berlin is back. After setting the 2010 Sydney Festival alight with an improv-heavy and blackly humorous remix of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the Germans have returned.

    Beware of Pity is a collaboration with Simon McBurney from that other crew of mavericks, Complicité. The play is loosely based on a novel of the same name by Stefan Zweig (the man whose memoirs influenced Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel). The story follows an Austrian cavalry officer in a complicated relationship with a millionaire’s daughter. Billed as a “prescient portrait of a Europe stumbling toward chaos”, this will definitely be one of the brutes of the festival.

    Beware of Pity is part of the Under 30s reduced ticket program.

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  • 1
    Counting and Cracking — Belvoir and Co-Curious

    16 people. Five languages. Two continents. If you think this sounds a tad larger than Belvoir’s usual fare, you’d be right. They think so, too. Counting and Cracking, a new work by Liverpool-based writer S. Shakthidharan is the first show in Belvoir’s history that’s demanded a separate venue.

    The work is an epic that follows migrants Radha and Siddartha to Australia and how they find themselves torn by the prospect of new beginnings and the demands of a family back home in Sri Lanka. As the political situation in Sri Lanka becomes more fragile, Radha and Siddartha have cause to question whether Australia is the refuge they thought it was. While details of the staging seem to be pretty hazy at the moment, we know that Town Hall will be totally transformed and a communal meal will be served. Bookings are limited, but it’s hard to imagine there’d be any shortage of standing room in Town Hall.

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Sydney Festival 2019 takes place January 9–27, 2019. Check out the full festival program and book tickets here.

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