Introducing our new Chair

Kate Dundas shares Festival highlights and Sydney's hidden gems.

05 Jun, 2024    Sydney Festival


After four years on the Board, Kate Dundas has recently taken up the role of Chair at Sydney Festival.

With a distinguished career in media and the arts, including roles at ABC Radio and the Sydney Opera House, Kate brings exceptional expertise and a deep passion for the arts to our festival. Following her recent appointment, we caught up with Kate to learn more about what she loves about Sydney Festival.

What's the most memorable Sydney Festival experience you've had so far?

This is so hard! I could give you so many memorable experiences. Schaubuhne Berlin’s theatre production of Hamlet (2010) left a deep, lasting impression – from the moment the curtain lifted to rain falling onto a stage covered in dirt and peat surrounding a grave. A mud-covered, tortured, mad Hamlet grabbed the audience from his first words and never let go – extraordinary.

Hamlet (2010), photo by Prudence Upton

Last year I was bowled over by Girls and Boys (2023) – a one-woman play with Justine Clarke which was funny and sad and shocking, and brought the audience to tears at the end. And only Olivia Ansell could pull off filling Sydney Town Hall with sand and staging Sun & Sea (2023), where audiences walked through the upper galleries looking down on a huge, golden beach populated with people and umbrellas, children and dogs, as the most beautiful songs floated upwards to the vaulted ceiling.

Sun & Sea (2023), photo by Wendell Teodoro

This year I absolutely loved Il Tabarro (one of the many free events at the Festival), a one act Puccini opera staged on an old lightship in the harbour, complete with an orchestra floating on a barge. As a welcome change, the woman didn’t die. The story of the Warumpi Band Big Name No Blankets was all music and heart, and I didn’t really consider myself a fan of the sitar until I saw Anoushka Shankar at the Opera House and then again at Parramatta Park with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra on truly beautiful evening.

Il Tabarro (2024), photo by Jacquie Manning

What's one hidden gem in Sydney you think festival-goers should experience while attending the Festival?

It’s not hidden but it’s also not yet well known. I would walk around Walsh Bay – our new Festival hub – and check out the brilliant work done over the past few years to restore and rejuvenate the historic wharves and arts venues. We are so fortunate to have a vibrant harbourside arts precinct which takes full advantage of the city’s natural wonders. And while you are taking your time to poke around the area on a sunny afternoon, do walk up to Barangaroo Reserve where we stage Vigil each year, for a unique panoramic view of the harbour before coming back down for a drink and a show.

Crowds gather on Barangaroo Headland for Vigil: Awaken (2023), photo by Jacquie Manning

Outside of Sydney Festival, what other cultural or artistic events do you enjoy attending or participating in?

I consciously try to fit in one cultural experience in every week or two, otherwise work swallows life. I keep a live list on my phone as I come across new things. There are so many small art galleries spread across greater Sydney you can always find a new exhibition. And I love visiting the Yiribana gallery in the new north wing of the Art Gallery of NSW.

My list also includes everything from seeing a show or film, walking around a suburb I haven’t spent much time in, or exploring our historic buildings, rather than just walking past them on my way to a meeting. I also immerse myself in the Sydney Writers’ Festival every year. During Covid I got into the habit of ‘attending’ online lectures – Chau Chak Wing Museum had some great ones inspired by their antiquities collection. And I’m learning to paint (badly) in oils. So a mix of things to feed the brain and soul.

Describe Sydney Festival in three words...

Full of wonder

Anoushka Shankar at Sydney Opera House (2024), photo by Jacquie Manning




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