Thank you for an incredible year

Olivia Ansell    |    29 Mar, 2023

A message from Festival Director Olivia Ansell


The 2023 program proved there’s nowhere better than Sydney to experience an exhilarating summer of art.

Festival attendance reached over 420,000 as people gathered to immerse themselves in a stimulating range of cultural experiences – be it contemporary music at The Weary Traveller, an overnight stay at The Lucid, splashing around to ‘80s pop at Ashfield Aquatic Centre or a vibe night at Granville’s Blouza Hall.

Along with rediscovering your city differently, themes of truth-telling, identity, environment and climate justice, gender equality, youth and access underpinned this year’s festival offerings.

Empowering female stories abounded, from the boldness of Jenny Kee: The Aunties at South Eveleigh through to the epic-scale immersive biography of Frida Kahlo (Spain/Mexico) at the Cutaway.

There was the gut-wrenching one-woman play Girls & Boys starring Justine Clarke, Sara Baras and her trade-mark heels hammering the Sydney Opera House Concert Hall in Alma (Spain) and a deep cry for optimism in Stephanie Lake’s dance and drumming Manifesto.

The unique imagination of much-loved clowning auteur James Thierée (Switzerland/France) did not disappoint, with new commission ROOM mirroring the chaos of life and art in recent times.

Sydney Festival was also proud to support ground-breaking contemporary opera, from the all-female Lithuanian composers of Sun & Sea, which spectacularly transformed Sydney Town Hall, through to Mary Finsterer’s hauntingly visceral Antarctica by Sydney Chamber Opera and Asko|Schönberg (The Netherlands).

This year’s Blak Out program featured Vigil: Awaken – a powerful reawakening of the spirit of Me-Mel, co-directed by Stephen Page AO and Sydney Festival Creative Artist in Residence Jacob Nash, and many more world premieres including Nathan Maynard and Jamie McCaskill’s trans-Tasman collaboration Hide the Dog, Tracker by Wiradjuri choreographer Daniel Riley for Australian Dance Theatre and rising star Thomas Weatherall in his debut play Blue, commissioned by Belvoir.

In Parramatta, Afrique en Cirque (West Africa/Canada) at Riverside Theatres was an electrifying highlight alongside Brenda L Croft’s commanding portraits featuring Dharug women in Dyin Nura (Women’s Place) at Old Government House.

Sydney Symphony Under the Stars attracted close to 10,000 people to a stellar Lunar New Year celebration featuring Korean, Vietnamese and Chinese repertoire and guest artist Mindy Meng Wang. 

Flight at Casula Powerhouse opened with a thrilling air stick performance by Alon Ilsar whilst Debra Keenahan delivered a powerful one woman play entitled Othering. Direct from Edinburgh Festival, Happy Meal (United Kingdom) by trans writer Tabby Lamb stole our hearts at the Eternity Playhouse, MONUMENTAL (working title) unleashed a collective response to the monument at Art Gallery of NSW and Māori artist Rodney Bell and Chloe Loftus performed a breathtaking duet over the MCA’s Tallawoladah Lawn in The Air Between Us (New Zealand).

From the wonderfully dedicated volunteers who give their time and energy to the many expert staff whose skills realise one of the most complex cultural undertakings in the country, through to the ingenuity of the festival’s 1,091 participating artists, and of course YOU, our audience – thank you!

I’d like to acknowledge Her Excellency the Honourable Margaret Beazley AC KC, patron of Sydney Festival, the NSW Government supporting the Festival through Create NSW and Destination NSW, alongside the City of Sydney and City of Parramatta, as well as our principal philanthropic supporter Peter Freedman AM, and all of our private supporters and corporate sponsors.

My sincere thanks to our venue partners including Sydney Opera House, Riverside Theatres Parramatta, Carriageworks, Sydney Theatre Company, City Recital Hall, Seymour Centre, Commercial Travellers Association, Casula Powerhouse, Darlinghurst Theatre Company, The Nielson ACO, The Pavilion Performing Arts Centre and many, many more.

We look forward to welcoming you back to the 2024 festival next January on what always was and always will be Aboriginal Land. 

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