Peter Garrett will play a pirate and Germans will eat dirt at this year’s Sydney Festival.
Considering this cornucopia of strange and wonderful events, it feels somehow odd to note the minimal gay and lesbian content. But, as festival director Lindy Hume explained to Sydney Star Observer, it’s not through lack of trying.
2010 marks Hume’s debut as the festival’s director, and as such, is sure to be fraught with comparisons to previous years and opinions on what did or didn’t work. To Hume, that is the beauty and purpose of the Sydney Festival — it creates dialogue.
“It’s an opportunity to enjoy the conversation between life and art,” she explained. “I strongly feel festivals are an amazing kind of phenomenon and have a particular conversation with a city. There’s a thread of similarity or like-mindedness between what the artists are making and what people are talking about around the dinner table.”
As such, the dichotomies that exist within a program that moves from the lightness (literally) of Icelandic/ Danish artist Olafur Eliasson’s exhibition to the overwhelming existentialism of Thomas Ostermeier’s Hamlet, and on to the unadulterated joy of Al Green’s music are what make the festival such a summertime talking point for people.
What do you think of the mood of this year’s festival? Too dark? Too dreamy? Too utterly delicious? It’s your city, your festival — get into a hearty debate while sipping a cool drink at the festival garden in Hyde Park.
And when no consenus can be reached, forget it all and head to the Hyde Park Barracks for a dance-off at the Becks Festival Bar (which this year features, among others, the Future Classic DJs, Breakestra and Malian funkster Vieux Farka Toure).
The city is your playground. Head over to the other end of Hyde Park to experience the new take on the Famous Spiegeltent, which this year plays home to Smoke & Mirrors, a lavish vaudeville production, featuring that master of cabaret, iOTA.
Wander down to the Opera House to see international, cutting-edge works: Brazil’s Bale de Rua, an Afro-dance spectacular, guaranteed to spice your night up, or at the very least give you a couple of hours of good ab-perving time. Or Oedipus Rex & Symphony of Psalms, a radical staging of classic Stravinsky. For Hume, this is one of the must-see events of the season.
“It’s a very special thing to come to Sydney, We’re pulling out several rows of seats from the concert hall, to put the orchestra on the floor, so we can have the performance completely surrounding the audience,” she explained before going on to do the impossible task of picking a few other favourite events on the line-up.
Rogue’s Gallery, the Johnny Depp-conceived event, which will see Marianne Faithfull, Peaches, and Sarah Blasko team up with, among others, our own arts minister and former Midnight Oil frontman Peter Garrett, to sing sea shanties, is somewhere near the top of that list. (When speaking to SSO, Hume could not rule out the possibility that Garrett might don pirate garb. “It is January… he is still on holidays, who knows?”)
If that’s not your thing, walk over to the Museum of Contemporary Art to take in the Olafur Eliasson retrospective, featuring installations, photography and sculptures from throughout the artist’s working life. Retrospective curator Rachel Kent explained to SSO, “Eliasson is interested in us being the creators of meaning. Realising the work as we have our senses activated, being aware of our bodies as we move through space, the activation of the sense of smell and touch.
“Linking that back to the Sydney Festival, it makes great sense to hold the exhibition now, because it is very much an art of participation.”
The exhibition features a Lego room, where adults and children alike are let loose to create their own cities.
Further along the harbourside, the Sydney Theatre is home in January to one of the most intriguing pieces in the guide, Hamlet. Performed by Berlin’s Schaubuhne theatre company, there has been much talk about this very dark piece. The production — performed entirely in German with English surtitles and featuring actors who routinely eat, smear and fling mud at each other — could not be bleaker, or more cutting edge, if it tried.
After ingesting what Hume has described as “a banquet” of tasty cultural treats, you may be left hanging for just a tiny taste of something a little bit queer.
“I was surprised by how little gay and lesbian-themed work crossed my desk this year,” Hume said. “I’m not sure if that’s about people feeling they need to reserve material for the Mardi Gras period, or why it is. There are a couple of projects I’m on the hunt for — not from Sydney, but from that community in Europe.
“But bring it on, I say — I just haven’t been brought those proposals.”
That’s just one part of Hume’s plans to try and expand the festival in future years.
“Plans are already well down the track,” she laughed. “There are lots of indications now that we need more work from the Asia Pacific region and I’d like to engage more with other communities in Sydney, more work with Indigenous Sydney and other cultural groups, so that it’s not so ‘white Anglo’ and we can broaden it to all sorts of different constituencies, as well as those traditional ones.”

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