Brett Sheehy has just returned from the launch of the 2003 Sydney Festival in Melbourne, and there’s a suggestion of seediness in the air, perhaps sweetened by echoes of the Gay Games. Sheehy tells me he attended the Black and Farewell parties and had a terrific time and we gossip amiably and aimlessly before it’s time to get to the serious business of art. First up is the inevitable discussion of this year’s festival versus last year’s. Were there significant lessons learnt?

I learnt heaps, smiles Sheehy. I guess the one thing that surprised me was that I thought having been deputy director for four years, I guess in a smart-alecky way I thought I knew it all -¦ I learnt that Sydney as a town will try anything once. I think artistically it’s a really courageous town.

One of the big surprises for Sheehy from the 2002 festival was the success of Th?re du Soleil’s The Flood Drummers, which sold out despite being a non-English-speaking production. Consequently he’s much less worried about the box office for the National Theatre of Colombia’s production of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Chronicle Of A Death Foretold, a show performed in Spanish with English surtitles.

The festival is diverse, but with a greater focus on music than last year. The major event is La Pasi?eg?an Marcus (The Passion According To St Mark), a performance of a new work by Argentinian composer Osvaldo Golijov created to mark the 250th anniversary of the death of Bach. On the theatre front, there’s the mini-Beckett festival, with two productions (Endgame and Waiting For Godot), a symposium and films. Am I detecting a somewhat gloomy theme?

I don’t want to sound wanky or new-agey here, but I’m actually not a believer in the bleak view of Beckett’s work, says Sheehy. I think what Beckett does is actually incredibly liberating. I think what he says is -˜live’. Get rid of anything that’s restricting you or holding you down or holding you back -¦

This time last year, the events of September 11 had freshly altered everyone’s outlook, but that festival’s program had already been finalised. Given the inclusion this year of V by the Mark Morris Dance Group, which was created in response to the events of September 11, I’m wondering whether much of the overall festival has been influenced by a shift in the Zeitgeist.

Yes, yes is the absolute deliberate answer, says Sheehy, surprisingly emphatic. In every event there should be something that lifts people’s hearts and not pummels people’s hearts. There is a whole field of work in art which is a kind of pummelling. Which is no less artistic because of that, but I just feel the time is ripe to do that, to lift people’s hearts.

 

The Sydney Festival runs from 4 to 26 January 2003. For full program information and bookings visit www.sydneyfestival.org.au. Bookings may also be made at Festival Ticketek on 9266 4826.

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