In a year that’s seen the cancellation of the Ekka, Regional Flavours, Paniyiri, Oktoberfest and a slew of live shows and theatre performances, a few months ago it was easy to imagine the city’s biggest annual cultural event wouldn’t – couldn’t – go ahead.

But from Friday, Brisbane Festival’s three-week program, comprising 490 performances across 91 events, will begin to roll out through the city. It may not feature some of the blockbuster drawcards of a normal year – there will be no Riverfire, for one – but there’s still a heap of knock-out performances and shows to check out.

Here are nine picks.

One the major events at this year’s festival, Circa brings 36 performers to the QPAC Playhouse stage under the artistic direction of Yaron Lifschitz. Leviathan is a group show that celebrates what human beings can achieve when they work together – which feels about as relevant to 2020 as you can get. Expect some gravity-defying acrobatics.

Socially Distanced Dance Club
From Common People Dance Project comes an elixir for all your shattered 2020 nightclub dreams. It’s pretty much what it says on the tin – 20 minutes of solo dancing in a four-square metre space at South Bank’s Flowstate precinct – but with games and challenges thrown in for good measure. Disco outfits recommended.

It’s easy to forget that Papua New Guinea-born Megan Washington came of age as a musician in Brisbane. In that sense, any gig here often feels like a homecoming and this launch of her Batflowers album and silent film will be no different. The singer-songwriter is taking over The Tivoli with a show that’s part music performance, part film and part party. Yes, there’s a dress code (or a dress theme, at least): fancy black and white.

Mzaza: The Birth and Death of Stars
Brisbane-based six-piece Mzaza present their third album The Birth and Death of Stars in a show that incorporates elements of live music performance and theatre. Director Benjamin Knapton and Finnish collage animator Laura Matikainen have been drafted in to help the band explore what links human beings both to one another and the wider world. The show plays for two nights at The Tivoli.

The Creatures’ Place
Award-winning Brisbane puppet company Dead Puppet Society returns to the stage with this kid-friendly meditation on the human impact on Australian ecology. The show lets children aged eight to 12 get up close and personal with Australian animals from the Pleistocene era, Dead Puppet Society bringing them to life as striking, laser-cut giants. The event includes a workshop so kids can create their own animal. This one is free but bookings are essential.

Choreographed by Bundjalung-Yugambeh, Wiradjuri and Ni-Vanuatu man Thomas E.S. Kelly, Silence puts seven dancers on the stage at Brisbane Powerhouse for a work that tackles the uncomfortable truth that Aboriginal people never officially ceded sovereignty over Australia. The “silence” of the title references the quiet obstructionism and broken promises that Kelly says have for generations hampered talk of a treaty between Indigenous people and white Australia – it’s a conversation he reckons we still desperately need.

Street Serenades
A music concert, deconstructed. That’s the concept behind Street Serenades, which across the three weeks of Brisbane Festival will dispatch musicians and performers to cul-de-sacs and parks in 190 suburbs throughout the city for pop-up concerts, cabaret shows and jazz performances. Busby Marou, Sycco, Jaguar Jonze and Sahara Beck are all performing. The festival is keeping most locations under wraps for covid-safe reasons, but will be dropping hints on the day for events that have plenty of space. Keep an eye on the Facebook event here.

Artist Richard Bell first mounted his Embassy installation in Melbourne in 2013. Inspired by the Aboriginal Tent Embassy, which was first assembled on the lawn of Parliament House in Canberra in 1972, it has since appeared throughout Australia, and at the UK’s Tate Modern and the Venice Biennale. Designed for discussions on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander land rights, at Brisbane Festival it will explore Indigenous issues via talks, workshops and film screenings with artists, academics and other community representatives.

Snapshot’s canvas is Brisbane Powerhouse itself. More than 100 local artists have contributed their reflections, celebrations and memories of life over the past few months for a 40-minute projection against the theatre’s outside brick wall that both captures life under Covid-19 lockdown and celebrates Brisbane’s artistic community. This one is free.

Brisbane Festival runs from September 4 to 26 at various locations throughout Brisbane.