Whatever the new year may bring, one consistent silver lining is the inevitable return of Sydney Festival, which will once again transform our city into a cultural carnival this January 9–27. It's a collective festival which spans visual art, performances, theatre, live music, installations and immersive classes that express multicultural voices and ideas. The diverse 2019 program features 18 world premieres, five Australian premieres and eight Australian exclusives.
Sydney Festival's always-packed Indigenous program Blak Out continues to remain a central focus of the festival and this year will feature First Nations stories from Australia, New Zealand and Canada. As part of Blak Out, an overnight vigil will be held on the eve of Australia Day at Barangaroo, from sunset right through to the morning of January 26. It's a reflection on the impact of the arrival of the First Fleet and Australia's colonisation on its native people, with musical performances and stories told by community Elders throughout the night.
Alongside this vigil will be a large-scale sign spelling ALWAYS, designed by Bangarra artist-in-residence Jacob Nash. It will remain on the Barangaroo headland for the entire festival as a declaration that it 'always was, always will be, Aboriginal land'. Another highlight of this part of the program is the Bayala language class series, which offers free entry-level and intensive courses in Indigenous language and culture. These have booked out for the last two years.
If you missed Blak Box — a glowing structure that provides a surround-sound way to listen to the voices of Elders and future leaders in Blacktown's Indigenous community — during its time in Barangaroo earlier this year, you'll be able to catch it in western Sydney when it makes its way to the Blacktown Showground Precinct from January 9 until February 9.
There's also a varying musical lineup to look forward to, from 13-piece Cuban mambo band Orquesta Akokán and South African neo-soul singer Nakhane to acoustic 'desert-blues' trio Les Filles de Illighadad and pop legend Neneh Cherry. Plenty of other pop artists made the docket, too, with Jonathan Bree hosting a songwriting masterclass at Carriageworks on January 17 and American pop composer Julia Holter performing in the Festival Garden's Magic Mirrors Spiegeltent on January 20. Performing in the same tent is Irish musician Camille O'Sullivan, who will extol the songs of icons David Bowie and Leonard Cohen with her own interpretation from January 10–13.
As usual, the festival has wrangled its fair share of big theatre productions. A new commission from Sydney Festival is 1930s Shanghai-inspired cabaret Shànghǎi MiMi, which will make its world premiere at Parramatta's Riverside Theatre. It features award-winning director Moira Finucane, a cast of acrobats and aerialists, and a rare Chinese jazz and blues band. Another new commission is Pigalle, which will see the Spiegeltent turned into a Parisian nightclub for a delightfully over-the-top show of disco, cabaret and burlesque.
Home is yet another must-see from acclaimed theatre-maker Geoff Sobelle. His interactive show blends aspects of theatre, choreography, illusion and live music that reaffirms the meaning of home. This one includes lots of audience participation — you can expect to be pulled on stage to become a part of the show and occupy the on-stage house. You can also get involved with Counting and Cracking, which tells the story of a Sri Lankan family migrating to Australia and includes a communal feast. Spoken word poet Omar Musa will take the stage in both Sydney and Parramatta for Since Ali Died — a politically focused story, rap and song inspired by Muhammad Ali.
Also coinciding with the festival is an installation by American artist Nick Cave, which will exhibit at Carriageworks from November 23–March 3. Titled Until, the giant and multi-dimensional artwork speaks to the critical issues of gun violence and race in the States. And Paddington's Cement Fondu art space will host The Ropes video installation by renowned dancer and choreographer Amrita Hepi from January 11–March 3.
And, as a celebration for the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing, three interstellar-themed art precincts will pop-up around the city. Multiple 'moon drops' — that is, large water bed-like pillows — will allows guests to experience the weightlessness of walking on the moon at Darling Harbour, while a pop-up at World Square will allow you to contribute kilometres to help Sydney 'cycle' 384,400 kilometres to the moon.