The choreographer Wayne McGregor, the artist Olafur Eliasson, the musician Jamie xx and members of the Paris Opera Ballet will be bringing their collaborative spectacular, Tree of Codes, to headline the 2018 Sydney festival.
The January festival – the second curated by the artistic director, Wesley Enoch – will also bring to Sydney the political YouTube star Randy Rainbow, Inua Ellams’ acclaimed Barber Shop Chronicles, the already announced Australian exclusive of the Wooster Group’s The Town Hall Affair and Circus Oz’s latest show, Model Citizens.
Loosely inspired by Jonathan Safran Foer’s “book-sculpture” of the same name, Tree of Codes – which features contemporary ballet, high-tech lighting and design, and a rousing score – was described as the “perfect festival event” by the Guardian when it premiered at Manchester festival in 2015.
The production had its Australian premiere last week at Melbourne festival, where it took a tumultuous week to bump in, but the Sydney season had to be kept under wraps until the curtains closed in Melbourne.
Holding tour announcements and vying for national exclusives and global premieres is a reality of city festival programming that Enoch is sceptical of, he told Guardian Australia. “I think embargoes are silly,” he said. “We need to stop thinking that people care about these premieres and exclusives and restrictive ideas around them. It’s not good for the artists; it’s not good for the audiences.”
Tree of Codes joins a crowd-pleasing lineup that’s heavy on circus, cabaret and variety shows – including Panti Bliss in Riot; Close Encounters by the festival favourites Briefs; Meow Meow’s Pandemonium; Model Citizens, which features an all-new Circus Oz ensemble and artistic director; and the return of the “Circus City” program for Parramatta.
In 2017 the festival’s Instagram opportunity came courtesy of a giant adult ball pit; next year it will be Jurassic Plastic by the Japanese artist Hiroshi Fuji: a large-scale interactive installation of 100,000 discarded plastic Japanese toys, which have been rebuilt into enormous “Toysauruses” – with the biggest weighing 60kg.
“[Fuji’s] kids were getting bored of their toys – and there’s not much history of second-hand shops in Japan – so he went down into his village and they started swapping toys with other kids,” Enoch explains. “In the end, there were all these discarded toys no one wanted, the broken toys, and he started making things with them.”
After a premiere at Mona Foma in Tasmania, Gotye will be performing his tribute to the French composer Jean-Jacques Perrey, joining a diverse music program that includes Pussy Riot’s electronic punk opera Riot Days; Mount Eerie with Julie Byrne performing A Crow Looked at Me; the Brandenburg Orchestra performing Rembrandt at the Art Gallery of NSW; the Guangdong National Orchestra of China; and the 30th anniversary concert for Go-Betweens’ 16 Lovers Lane, featuring Dan Kelly, Steve Kilbey and Preatures’ Izzy Manfredi.
The short play program About An Hour will return, featuring Zoë Coombs Marr, Ursula Martinez and Adrienne Truscott’s acclaimed critique of criticism Wild Bore; Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s one-woman play that spawned the hit BBC show, Fleabag, which will star Maddie Rice; and The Daisy Theatre: a semi-improvised show by the marionette master Ronnie Burkett, who improvises the show through 40 puppet characters, based on the politics of the day.
“The Daisy Theatre is absolutely breathtaking,” Enoch said. “He’s an absolute master.”
An expansive Indigenous program, Blak Out, includes My Name is Jimi – which stars the Torres Strait Islander performer Jimi Bani and four generations of his family – as well as the world premiere of Broken Glass: an installation and performance art piece that deals with First Nations rituals of mourning.
The Indigenous languages program Bayala returns, as does Sing Up Country: a free one-hour language class led by Aunty Jacinta Tobin and Joel Davison, who will teach a song in local language to be sung at WugulOra ceremony at Barangaroo on 26 January.
And in Parramatta, Dubs Yunupingu will star in Mary Anne Butler’s new Australian adaptation of Alice in Wonderland – which Enoch called “a brave new work”.
“The last couple of years has proven that we just can’t take things for granted,” Enoch said, discussing how his politics have played into his programming. “We have to enter into discussion and debate with generosity of spirit, and a kind of openness. And I think festivals are great [for that]: they’re sort of like a soft entry into those debates and discussions.
“If you’re talking about Aboriginal treaty, for instance, you can go see a show together, talk about the show, without having to confront each other … that’s why I think artists need to play a greater role in the political and social debate.”
The festival will also feature the Seidler Salon Series – a series of talks and classical music concerts hosted in buildings designed by the modernist architect Harry Seidler – and Wooster Group’s The Town Hall Affair: the legendary theatre company’s new work, which re-enacts and comments on the notorious 1971 debate between the US novelist Norman Mailer and four high-profile feminists, including Germaine Greer.
Other anticipated works announced for the festival include Acrobat’s critically acclaimed circus-meets-performance-art work This Is Not for Everyone (“I saw it at Adelaide fringe festival. People expected a beer barn experience … it’s quite the opposite”); the circus work Backbone, from Gravity & Other Myths; Force Majeure’s new work You Animal, You; one-on-one interactive theatre experience Monroe & Associates; and The Wider Earth, which tells of Charles Darwin’s journey across the planet through the work of Queensland Theatre and Dead Puppet Society.
Enoch said that, when programming, it wasn’t just about artistic excellence. “For me, that’s a given,” he said. “So then what’s the next step? What’s the most important story to tell? Why are welling this story? … How do we see the best, in a way that will grow our community?”
• Sydney festival runs from 6-28 January 2018. The full festival lineup is available here