It is a universally acknowledged truth that January is the best month to be a Sydneysider, and that’s partly thanks to Sydney Festival and its three weeks of cultural treats. This year, festival director Lindy Hume handed over the reins to Lieven Bertels, former artistic coordinator of Holland Festival and a strong advocate of opera, eclectic modern music and culturally diverse creative work. The result is a festival program that’s slightly less party and a lot more arty. But even without the free citywide Festival First Night shindig, there’s still a dizzying amount to see and do this January. Here are some top picks that we’ll be jumping to get in on this season.[fold]


Visual theatre troupe Erth bring to life the dark psychology of Nick Cave’s Murder Ballads with a bunch of creepy marionettes. Broadsheet can’t wait to meet the puppet Stagger Lee.
From $55

In the Eruptive Mode
Internationally renowned Kuwaiti playwright Sulayman Al-Bassam brings powerful vignettes of the Arab Spring to the Seymour Centre, with a soundtrack by the passionate and articulate Lebanese indie musician Yasmine Hamdan.

The Blind Date Project
An actress improvises a first date with an actor she’s just met, guided only by text messages – it’s guaranteed to be awkward (or sexy).

Step inside the mind of Swiss philosopher, novelist and Nobel Prize winner Elias Canetti in a production that melds a live performance of his work with classical music and video projection. It offers an immersive exploration of the human condition.
From $89

Burlesque cabaret La Clique has been a firm favourite in the Spiegeltent for years, but in 2013 Cantina promises to be its closest substitute, blending “dark eroticism” and vaudeville with eye-popping acrobatics.


2001: A Space Odyssey
Kubrick’s masterpiece gets a live soundtrack courtesy of the Sydney Symphony and Sydney Philharmonia Choirs. Imagine for a moment the iconic music of the opening scene played live – worth the price of admission alone.
From $60

Dirty Projectors
The clashing time signatures and intricate musical interplay of Dirty Projectors’ Swing Lo Magellan is deeply impressive on record. When performed live, it should blow minds. It’s arty indie pop that’s also immediately accessible.
From $55

Picnic at Paradiso with Darshan Jesrani and Daniel Wang
Ever wanted to throw shapes in Sydney Town Hall to fine leftfield disco? Now’s your chance, when local party curators Picnic bring out the first two names to come to mind when you think of fun and disco – Daniel Wang and Metro Area’s Darshan Jesrani. We also recommend Nicolas Jaar at FBi’s Paradiso night if you don’t manage to catch him at Laneway.

David Byrne & St Vincent
It’s the Talking Heads auteur and the baroque pop empress having aural sex on stage – what’s not to love? Their collaborative album Love This Giant sounds like Talking Heads plus 24 years of experience and musical experimentation.
From $95

Hot Dub Time Machine
Broadsheet caught a sneak preview of Tom Loud’s sound and vision tour through the history of pop music at the Sydney Film Festival Hub back in June – it comes highly recommended.


Rubber Duck
If you haven’t set foot in Darling Harbour in years, here’s a great reason to. From January 5, there’ll be a five storey high inflatable rubber duck floating in the harbour. For real.

Dawn Calling
Rouse yourself (very) early, or stay out late and greet the sun with Arkady Shilkloper and his giant Russian horn, as he sounds a welcome to the dawn at iconic Sydney sites.

The Quiet Volume
Interactive art at its most intriguing. Entering the State Library, you’re given a set of headphones and directed to take a seat at a stack of books and follow instructions. What comes next, no one knows.

Notes for Walking
The old naval fortifications at Middle Head are an incredible and spooky place for a walk on their own. This project takes it one step further, using your iPhone and GPS to lead you on an interactive video trail through the area’s rich history.