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Sydney Festival embarks on 25 days of Australian-made masterpieces

'Queen Fatima'.
'Queen Fatima'.

During a period defined by uncertainty, Sydney Festival has defied the odds, marking its opening with a city-wide celebration of Australian art and artists. From Pyrmont to Parramatta, Sydney will provide the canvas for 120 engaging and immersive events, exhibitions, workshops and talks.

With public health and audience safety of paramount concern, year-long planning has gone into ensuring that the 2021 festival is a Covid-safe environment. All events and festival venues will be deploying Covid-19 Safety Plans and implementing all mandatory Department of Health regulations including capacity and social distancing measures, as well as audience registration where required. The festival has also introduced mandatory mask wearing for all patrons 12 years and older at all indoor and outdoor venues.

“Following a year of planning for every possible scenario, every permutation of restrictions and requirements that 2021 could throw at us, it is immensely exciting to open Sydney Festival today — a safe celebration of this city, showcasing the very best of Australian art and performance, something that all Sydney-siders, if they can, can get out and enjoy,” said Sydney Festival director Wesley Enoch. “The notion of championing and shining a light on local work is something that is part of the DNA of the festival, so when necessity called, the idea of an entirely Australian-made program was an easy step to make, and the 2021 program is one that stands on its own.”

Across the first week, the festival will unveil: Sunshine Super Girl, the theatrical celebration of Wiradjuri woman Evonne Goolagong’s life story which will see Sydney Town Hall transformed into a tennis court; and The Last Season, a provoking new work of dance theatre by Force Majeure that explores human survival and environmental destruction. Inspired by Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, The Last Season features stage icons Pamela Rabe, Olwen Fouéré and Paul Capsis alongside a cast of 13 young performers. 

Sydney Chamber Opera will present two new works, Future Remains and Jane Sheldon’s poem for a dried-up river at Carriageworks. An exquisite double bill, Future Remains features Leoš Janáček’s Diary of One Who Disappeared and the world premiere of Huw Belling’s Fumeblind Oracle. Belling’s composition continues the story of the dangerous woman at the heart of Janáček’s work – a partner piece in which the lone woman moves from love poetry to god-guided violence. 

At Riverside Theatres in Parramatta, 30-year-old Fatima seeks glory at the Queen Lebanon Australia pageant in a bid to gain her prospective in-laws’ respect in the high-spirited play, Queen Fatima. Written by the acclaimed James Elazzi (Lady Tabouli ’20) and directed by Paige Rattray, Queen Fatima is a heartfelt comedy about celebrating our differences.

Sydney Festival’s Salon Series returns for a fourth year, bringing together music and architecture for a series of intimate concerts in unique spaces, including the Sydney Town Hall Vestibule and historic Vaucluse House. This week, audiences can catch the extraordinary Mambo Influenciado — celebrated Latin American pianist, composer and improviser Daniel Rojas’ high-energy collaboration with the charismatic Ensemble Apex.

With school holidays in full swing, the festival’s free and family program also takes flight with A Bee Story, a brilliantly buzzy family circus adventure that hums with heart, honey and humanity. Created and directed by Robbie Curtis (Cirque du Soleil, Circus Oz) with musician and performer Lizzie McRae, this family show explores sustainability and environmentalism via acrobatics, dance and live music. In other bee-related programming, Dead Puppet Society (Laser Beak Man ’20) returns to the festival with HIVE MIND, an innovative new installation that sees large floating bees arranged among the trees at Vaucluse House to inspire a sense of wonder in the natural world. 

Innovators in the realm of visual and physical theatre, Erth will present a two-part project that includes Badu at the Maritime Museum and Duba at Carriageworks. Duba, meaning ‘ground’ in Sydney language, leads you into the living underworld for an encounter with the seldom seen. This multi-sensory, puppetry-based experience is filled with creations inspired by work with leading international conservation zoos. 

Rounding out the family program is a free, large-scale immersive installation, Groundswell, which will emerge at Circular Quay. A new work by Matthias Schack-Arnott, this interactive artwork responds to every step you take. As audiences take to a raised platform and shift their weight, thousands of illuminated balls below create a visual and sonic response to individual motions, ensuring each moment is different from the last. 

Around the corner at the Australian Maritime Museum, families can learn to understand another person, by walking a mile in their shoes. Entered via a giant shoebox, the space invites visitors to try on a pair of shoes that belong to someone else (a refugee, a war veteran or a surgeon) and to listen to their story. It might be a tale of loss and sadness, hope and love, of odds overcome. No matter whose shoes you walk in, A Mile in My Shoes will take you further than you ever imagined. 

The Sydney Festival 2021 runs through 26 January. For more information, visit www.sydneyfestival.org.au

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