Everyone has summer rituals and for Sydneysiders, a key one is the annual Sydney Festival, which began yesterday and runs until Australia Day.
There are 104 events in both Sydney and Parramatta 104 events, 21 are free, plus 372 performances across venues, featuring 722 artists from 17 countries.
Yes, that sounds mind-boggling when you’re still in a summer daze, so here’s our pick of 10 great things to see and do.
Amanda Palmer, January 10-19.
This smart, sassy and social media savvy singer gave us one of 2013’s finest musical moments: The Bed Song, a 7-minute waltz-time lament to a muted marriage.
The former Desden Doll is a funny, engaging, unpredictable mix of cabaret, burlesque, busker and pop diva with spellbinding appeal. She also loves Australia, having written odes to Vegemite and the ‘Map of Tasmania’.
Spend at least one evening with her during Palmer’s 10-night stint of solo shows in the Spiegeltent.
Sacrilege, until Jan 26. Free
How can the modern world improve of the majesty of Stonehenge? Easy, turn it into a life-sized inflatable bouncy castle by Turner Prize-winning artist Jeremy Deller, and then let kids, big and small, play on it for free.
Sacrilege is open daily, 9am-9pm, at the Festival village in Hyde Park.
Release the Druids!
Dido & Aeneas, Jan 16-21.
The putting aside the debate over the FIFO orchestra – it was cheaper to fly out German musicians than use local ones -the Festival centrepiece is a choreographed, splashy version of Henry Purcell’s opera with the dancers swimming in a large water tank on stage.
Festival director Lieven Bertels says this tragic classical love story is a 100-minute “family friendly introduction to the world of opera”.
Visitors, Jan 23-24.
Old hippies who used to head to the vanquished Glebe Vahalla cinema for screenings of Godfrey Reggio’s Koyaanisqatsi shouldn’t miss this new work with his old collaborator, the American minimalist composer Philip Glass, a Sydney Festival regular. This time the Sydney Symphony Orchestra is playing Glass’ hypnotic score, while you sit back and watch another trippy visual feast in this 83-minute paean to modern life.
Eclipse, Jan 10-11
Grammy Award-nominated Malian husband and wife duo, Amadou & Mariam, are African rock superstars, combining pop with soul, blues and an Afro beat.
They’ve also been blind since childhood.
This concert, which opened last night, is a sensory overload, except you won’t see a thing. The Town Hall is completely blacked out, but the smells and sounds of Africa are part of a surprising and challenging experience as the duo tells stories from their strife-torn homeland and sing their greatest hits.
They also play the Riverside Theatre in Parramatta on January 12.
Band of Magicians, Jan 10-19
There’s something timeless about magicians, but like Dr Who (until now), they seem to be getting younger and younger. This quartet, which includes Australian James Galealooks, a bit like a boy band. They met in the USA 12 months ago and shazam! the world’s first magic supergroup was pulled out of the hat.
They have a lot of fun trying to outdo each other and amid the wonder of their tricks, there’s a joyous showmanship that makes this a fun all-ages show.
The Hilliard Ensemble Jan 15-17
This exquisite male a capella quartet gives you goosebumps as they sing sacred and secular music from the last 1000 years. They’ve been together for a remarkable four decades and this is their last Australian concert, because unlike the Rolling Stones, they know when to stop.
There are two concerts: the first: A Hilliard Songbook, features best-loved works– from early mediaeval polyphony to modern-day minimalism and world premiere of Three Japanese Songs by Toshio Hosakawa.
The second concert features two works written especially for the Ensemble by Gavin Bryars and Nico Muhly, accompanied by the Renaissance music ensemble Consort Eclectus from Melbourne.
La Cucina dell’Arte, Jan 10-19
Masterchef meets Italian comedy in this funny circus performance by the sixth-gen Ronaldo circus family. It’s set in a pizzeria, with plenty of slapstick, as the pizza tossing and plate spinning invariably goes wrong and fun that’s suitable for kids over 10.
Othello: The Remix Jan 23-26
If Baz Luhrmann can have a stab at The Bard, why not a couple of Chicago rappers?
Sibling hip-hop duo the Q Brothers have produced a high-speed hip-hop version of Shakespeare’s tragic play of jealousy and doubt that’s nonetheless comic, fun and provocative. It’s set in the 21st century music business with MC Othello out of the ghetto and a rising star with hip-hop purist Iago in hot pursuit.
Bring teenagers bored by Shakespeare to marvel and what can be done – and to see how, four centuries on, his themes are timeless.
The Rubber Duck, Jan 10-19 & Project 28: Roman Ondak, Jan 10-24. Both free.
Parramatta’s done well this year, with the five-storey inflatable duck back in town, this time on the Parramatta River, but just as fun and fascinating is the latest Kaldor Public Art project by Slovakian Roman Ondak. Project 28 comes in three parts, requiring audience participation: the first, “Measuring the Universe” is a reminder of growing up – you enter a plain white room at Parramatta Town Hall, where your height is measured against the wall and recorded, along with your name, using a black marker.
Second up is a reprise of Swap, which tests our love of possessions. You enter the room and can barter or exchange whatever’s on the table for something of your own. Then the next person does the same. What are you willing to give up?
The third work is Terrace, created specifically for the site. We’re not telling – go find out for yourself.
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