January is peak summer in Australia: schools are on break, beaches are packed and barbecues fire up daily. And since 1977, the first month of the year has also seen Sydney Festival take over the city.
Sydney will see a flurry of cultural activity January 9 to 27, from theater, dance and musical acts to talks, classes, art installations and family events taking place all over the capital, many of which are free. Read on for a preview of what’s on at next month’s summer blowout.
Sydney Fest aims to be reflective of the multicultural capital, and this year’s lineup of plays does just that. Among them is the world premiere of cabaret show Shanghai Mimi (January 10 to 20), starring an acrobatic troupe from Qinghai (a Chinese province bordering Tibet), and singers, dancers, acrobats and stunt performers from Australia, France, Cameroon and China, all flying across the stage to 1930s-era Shanghai jazz and blues tunes. Go on January 16 to take part in a Q&A with the performers.
Aboriginal playwright Henrietta Baird’s one-woman show The Weekend (January 18 to 23) was developed in 2017 at Yellamundie National First Peoples Playwriting Festival and debuts here. The 70-minute play follows Lara, a Sydney mother who leaves her kids alone to track down her missing husband.
Free at UNSW Galleries is The Beehive (January 5 to February 23), artist Zanny Begg and producer Philippa Bateman’s video installation about Juanita Nielsen, an activist, journalist and heiress who disappeared in Sydney’s Kings Cross neighborhood in 1975. Screenings of The Beehive are put together by algorithm, so each is a different length, running up to 33 minutes.
What does it mean to be un-Australian? This is the question behind group exhibition “Just Not Australian,” at ArtSpace in the suburb of Woolloomooloo (January 18 to March 31). The exhibit includes work from artists such as Cigdem Aydemir, Karla Dickens and Soda_Jerk.
Blacktown is Australia’s largest Aboriginal community (an hour outside central Sydney by train), and its art installation Blak Box (January 9 to February 2) takes place in a surround-sound pavilion in which light, music and stories immerse you in First Peoples’ history and contemporary lives, providing a better understanding of the Aboriginal-Australian experience. Among participating artists are Blacktown residents 96-year-old Uncle Wes Marne and teenagers Savarna Russell and Shaun Millwood.
There are 20 family-friendly events at this year’s festival, quite a few of them complimentary and all promising plenty of fun — so much so that Boxwars at Apollo 11 (January 18 to 20), where kids (and a few lucky grown-ups) can make spacesuits and rockets out of recycled cardboard, already has a waitlist.
The outer space theme continues at Darling Harbour with “Moon Drops” (January 9 to 28), an interactive installation of five water-filled bounce pads on which you can jump, roll, plop and walk in near-weighlessness, feeling like an astronaut on the moon.
Kids and adults can sign up for flying trapeze (January 11 to 13) and aerial (January 11 to 20) workshops and swing through the sky like the acrobats in MallakhambIndia (January 11 to 13), a gravity-defying act coming to Sydney all the way from Mumbai.
For those ages eight and up is the play A Ghost in My Suitcase. Adapted from Gabrielle Wang’s young adult novel of the same name and performed inside the iconic Sydney Opera House (January 9 to 19), A Ghost in My Suitcase follows 12-year-old Celeste as she travels from Australia to Shanghai to scatter her mother’s ashes and meet her grandmother for the first time.
Where to Stay in Sydney
Right in the middle of historic neighborhood The Rocks is Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star The Langham, Sydney. With 98 spacious accommodations (rooms start at an ample 527 square feet) offering gorgeous views of either the city skyline or the harbor, this chic stay proves a posh home base for exploring the festival — nearby Circular Quay (a high-traffic hub within walking distance of your room) is a major stop on the capital’s myriad train, bus and ferry lines.
If you can tear yourself away from your Langham Blissful bed, be sure to wander around your storied surroundings. The Rocks district dates back to 1788, its quaint cobbled roads once the haunt of drunken sailors. Today the streets are as charming as ever, with tourists and office workers lunching at The Rocks Market or perusing the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia.
In between concerts and plays, make your way back to The Langham for its signature afternoon tea, a slew of herbal brews served in beautiful Wedgewood crockery, paired with buttery scones, finger sandwiches and an Aussie favorite, lamingtons (chocolate- and coconut-coated sponge cake), that are worthy of their own hall in a gallery somewhere.