Each January, Sydney Festival presents bold and memorable experiences that ignite, unite, and excite the city of Sydney.
More than any other cultural event, Sydney Festival reflects Sydney’s personality, while audacious contemporary programming positions it at the forefront of arts practice in Australia and as one of the most wonderful arts festivals in the world.
The Festival of Sydney, as it was known in its inaugural year of 1977, was conceived by the Sydney Committee, the NSW State Government and the City of Sydney to attract Sydneysiders into the city centre during the holiday month of January.
It has since grown to become one of Australia's largest annual cultural celebrations with an international reputation for modern, popular and intelligent programming. Sydney Festival celebrates our city, and the Festival’s style and energy reflect the confidence, diversity and vigour of one of the world's most beautiful cities.
The Festival has a rich history of bringing the world’s best artists and companies to Sydney stages, and showcasing and nurturing the best of Australia’s homegrown talent.
Many of Australia’s most memorable productions have resulted from Sydney Festival commissions and premieres, including highlights from Cloudstreet (1998) to Black Chicks Talking (2003), Three Furies (2005), uniquely Australian musical The Adventures of Snugglepot & Cuddlepie and Little Ragged Blossom (2007), the outrageous cabaret Smoke and Mirrors (2010), The Secret River (2013), Black Diggers (2014), contemporary circus ensemble Circa’s Humans (2017), multi-award-winner Counting and Cracking (2019) and BLACK TIES (2020).
The buzz of Sydney in January wouldn’t be the same without Festival appearances from major Australian musicians, performers and comedians including Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Archie Roach, Ruby Hunter, Gotye, Regurgitator, Emma Donovan, Tex Perkins, Megan Washington, Meow Meow, Christa Hughes, Yana Alana and Celia Pacquola.
World-leading artists and companies that have shared work with Sydney Festival audiences in recent years include Lars Jan and Early Morning Opera’s Joan Didion’s The White Album, performance artist Bryrony Kimmings’ I’m A Phoenix, Bitch, and choral choir Tenebrae (2020); Schaubühne Berlin and Complicité’s Beware of Pity, Ethiopian legend Mulatu Astatke, Neneh Cherry, and American artist Nick Cave’s epic exhibition UNTIL (2019); Wayne McGregor, Olafur Eliasson and Jamie xx’s ballet collaboration Tree of Codes, National Theatre’s Barber Shop Chronicles, The Wooster Group’s The Town Hall Affair, Pussy Riot Theatre’s RIOT DAYS, and DryWrite and Soho Theatre’s hit Fleabag (2018); Complicité’s The Encounter, Cheek By Jowl with Pushkin Theatre’s Measure For Measure (2017); James Thierry’s Tabac Rouge (2015); Sasha Waltz’s underwater dance opera Dido and Aeneas (2014); and Ludger Engels and Vivienne Westwood’s Baroque-punk Semele Walk (2013), to name but a few.
These works join a long roster and legacy of extraordinary work and artists including: Ariane Mnouchkine and Thèâtre du Soleil (Flood Drummers); Robert Wilson (The Black Rider); Robert Lepage (Far Side of the Moon, The Andersen Project, Lipsynch); Nederlands Dans Theater; Philip Glass; Ian McKellen (Dance of Death); Batsheva Dance Company; National Theatre of Scotland (Beautiful Burnout, Black Watch, Aalst); Al Green; Chaka Khan; Andrew Weatherall; AR Rahman; Angélique Kidjo; Kneehigh Theatre (Tristan & Yseult, The Red Shoes); and Fabulous Beast (Rian).
For more information on Sydney Festival down the years, visit our archive.