Welcome to Sydney Festival post-2000. We’re picking where we left off with our ‘A Moment in Time’ blog series.
2000 marked the year the city would host the Olympic Games, but prior to that, Sydney Festival put on its own spectacular show. As part of the Festival, internationally renowned Australian designer Marc Newson was commissioned to create a celebratory lighting scheme for the Sydney Opera House. The first of these, Sunset, was projected during the Festival, and the other three during the Olympic Arts Festival later in the year.
New additions to the program included a series of talks with Festival artists and twilight chamber music performances at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. Philip Glass returned, this time performing with the Philip Glass Ensemble in Koyaanisqatsi Live, an Australian premiere. Geoffrey Rush starred in The Small Poppies, directed by none other than Festival stalwart Neil Armfield.
Sydney Festival celebrated 25 years in 2001. Local audiences were treated to a celebration of gospel music with America’s First Lady of Gospel, Shirley Caesar, in her Australian Premiere. The opera rarity Mitridate rê di Ponto by Mozart was performed in Australia for the very first time, and beloved Festival artist Robert Lepage returned with The Far Side Of The Moon, scored by Laurie Anderson.
Acclaimed French outdoor performance troupe Plasticiens Volants were commissioned by the Festival to work in a special collaboration with Aboriginal performers from Mulwarr Dance Australia, the result being Ngalyod: The Rainbow Serpent. The free outdoor production featured enormous inflatables including a 25 metre long serpent, designed and decorated by Aboriginal artists.
The 2002 Festival opened with a free theatrical performance by the internationally acclaimed Transe Express on the Sydney Opera House forecourt, followed by projected lighting of the majestic colonial buildings starting with Customs House, created by Electric Canvas in a Festival commission.
The Festival expanded its reach into the Fox Studios precinct, and beautiful aerial ballet courtesy of Les Arts Sauts was staged out of The Domain carpark and also featured a three-part celebration of the art of David Byrne – an Australian premiere event. This included Byrne live in concert, an outdoor gallery of Byrne’s lightbox images, and the artist in conversation.
For the first time in the Festival’s history, in 2003 a full program of works was presented in Parramatta, with Riverside Theatres housing the majority of performances, appealing to adults and children alike. The Festival also moved into new grounds with its Music House To House program, a music series performed in intimate venues from the Arthouse to Government House.
In 2004, Sydney Festival audiences were stunned by the majestic Transmission installation, set up on the Sydney Opera House Forecourt on Opening Night. The Australian premiere of Nam June Paik’s neon and laser tower installation was not-to-be-missed.
Theatre was at the forefront of the Sydney Festival program with a celebration of the opening of the new Sydney Theatre. Sydney Theatre Company presented two world premiere productions with The Republic of Myopia and Harbour. In Parramatta, seven days of new music theatre were staged in Breaking The Cycle.
The Festival expanded its Parramatta program in 2005 to include Jazz in Parramatta Park, a free concert open to people of all ages. There was no lack of high-profile talent as audiences were delighted by Came So Far For Beauty, a tribute to Leonard Cohen’s music featuring Nick Cave, Jarvis Cocker, Beth Orton, Rufus and Martha Wainwright, Linda Thompson, the McGarrigle Sisters, Antony and The Johnsons and many more.
2006 Sydney Festival was Fergus Linehan’s first year as Festival Director. The About An Hour program was introduced with theatre, music and dance in bite-sized performances, under 60 minutes in duration. The new program included works by Chunky Move (I Want To Dance Better At Parties), Teatr Piesn Kozla, The Tiger Lillies, Jo Strømgren Kompani, Rainpan 43, Saul Williams and Splinter Group.
The following year, in 2007, Sydney Festival’s season of performances launched Carriageworks’ Bay 17, an 800 seat multi-purpose venue. The Famous Spiegeltent was also erected in Hyde Park North for the first time. Performers included La Clique, The Necks, Kaki King, Clogs, M Ward, Bossa Nova Hot Club, Joanna Newsom and E.S.T.
More international talent performed with The Gate Theatre Dublin performing a season of Beckett with First Love performed by Ralph Fiennes, Eh Joe starring Charles Dance and I’ll Go On performed by Irish actor Barry McGovern.
Sydney Festival hit the national spotlight with their first ever Festival First Night in 2008. Taking over the CBD and surrounding areas, the party was headlined by none other than The Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson. Meanwhile on other stages, there were performances from Spanish Harlem Orchestra, Paul Kelly, Sydney Youth Orchestra, Shooglenifty, Babylon Circus, Airvag, Pink Martini, Shuffle Club Big Band, Plump DJs, Spank Rock and many more.
The music program drew remarkable audiences, particularly when Björk performed on the Sydney Opera House forecourt.
After the incredible success of Festival First Night the year prior, the event returned in 2009 with an equally impressive line-up headed by Grace Jones. Artists such as Fanfare Ciocarlia, Bangarra Dance Theatre, Santogold, Dan Zanes & Friends, Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings (R.I.P.), Chunky Move and A-Trak/Java performed all over the CBD.
Musical firsts were seen with All Tomorrow’s Parties on Cockatoo Island. A mini music festival curated by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds. Sydney Theatre Company presented The War Of The Roses Part 1 & Part 2, performed by the STC Actors Company and STC Co-Artistic Director Cate Blanchett, on stage in Australia for the first time in almost five years, and Robert Menzies.
Stay tuned for the next edition of our “A moment in time” series, as we give a nod to the vast and varied history of Sydney Festival, a few years at a time.
If you’re keen to learn more about the Sydney Festivals of the past 40 years, check out all the programs, additional photos, videos and summaries in the official Sydney Festival archive, or re-visit our first “A Moment in Time: #sydfest in the 1970s”, “….1980s” and “….1990s” blogs.
Share your memories of past Sydney Festivals by using #sydfest on social media.