Sydney Festival

Gelato Messina's Cherry Pie. One of the treats at their Double Down Diner stand at Sydney Festival. Image credit: Gelato Messina

This story originally appeared on Live4 on January 1, 2015. Image courtesy of Gelato Messina .

Sydney Festival turns 39 this year. Held every January, this year running from the 8th to the 26th, the festival is an annual tradition of sorts, entertaining locals (and plenty of visiting out-of-towners) with its hefty program of events. This year it spans music, theatre, dance, circus, cabaret, opera, classic, installations and everything in between. Here’s our guide of what not to miss.

Free fun

If you’re feeling a little poor on the pocket after Christmas shopping sprees or an excessive New Year, not to worry – there’s still plenty of free fun to be had.

The Parramatta Opening Party (January, Centenary Square) will see a selection of festival artists perform, and will be headlined by Aussie musical icon Paul Kelly and his new musical collaborative project, The Merri Soul Sessions. The next day, gather some mates and pack a picnic for the hugely popular Summer Sounds in the Domain (10 January, The Domain), where big-name Brazilian act Seu Jorge will perform his signature sassy samba and hip hop (he featured heavily on Wes Anderson’s The Life Aquatic soundtrack).

Pop past the Festival Village (Hyde Park North, near the fountain, 8-25 January) for free one-hour yoga sessions or to explore the dizzyingly bright and fun, two-storey interactive installation Higher Ground by Irish artist Maser. There’ll be plenty of places to eat and have a few drinks too – just leave room for dessert because Gelato Messina returns this year to serve up crazy ice-cream creations at its Double Down Diner stand.

There’s also a range of artist talks and exhibitions, including one by edgy New Zealand artist Bill Culbert at the National Art School Gallery and Inside There Falls, an installation that brings together music, voice and dance, at Carriageworks.

The sound of music

Music is always a big part of the Sydney Festival program, and they do it well, catering for a wide range of music tastes. The Famous Spiegeltent, an antique Belgian beauty pitched in the Festival Village, plays host to many visiting acts, including fun-time synth-pop duo Client Liaison, the sweet tunes of Australia’s #1 Dads and Irish-French songstress Camille O’Sullivan. The nearby Aurora, the Spiegeltent’s sister venue, is also hosting some stellar shows, including the flamboyant Kirin J Callinan, the R&B-edged pop of How To Dress Well, indie rockers The Clean and Body/Head, which features Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon.

Other picks include Atomic Bomb! The music of William Onyeabor (Enmore Theatre, 16-17 January), a festival highlight that pays tribute to Nigerian synth pioneer William Onyeabor. The show brings together an ensemble that features the likes of Gotye, Hot Chip’s Alexis Taylor, LCD Soundsystem’s Pat Mahoney and The Rapture’s Luke Jenner. So Frenchy, So Chic  (17 January, St John’s College, Camperdown), where four French artists – La Femme, Francois and the Atlas Mountain, Emilie Simon and The Do – will perform at this day of picnics, dancing and champagne. And Beat the Drum (16 January, The Domain), a party that celebrates Triple J turning 40, with a huge line-up that includes Cloud Control, Owl Eyes, Megan Washington and more.


Again, there’s plenty to choose from in the way of shows. Circus, dance and theatre collide in Tabac Rouge (Sydney Theatre, Walsh Bay, various dates over 8-25 January), a show directed, choreographed and starring well-known circus performer James Thierrée. Fans of grown-up circus and cabaret will enjoy Limbo (The Aurora, Hyde Park, various dates over 8-25 January), which sold out at last year’s festival. While The Artist Live In Concert (23-24 January, Sydney Opera House, Concert Hall) is one for arthouse cinema lovers, with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra performing the full score to this charming silent film.