“I like to say Sydney Festival has four distinct personalities. You get to talk to different audiences, in different ways … and the more festivals I see, the more I realise our job is not to copy. Our job is to be the best Sydney Festival we can be.”

So says Wesley Enoch. new artistic director, proud Noonuccal Nuugi man from Stradbroke Island and this city’s first Australian director of the festival in many years (he follows Belgian Lieven Bertels and Ireland’s Fergus Linehan).

Before being appointed director, Enoch directed six productions for the Sydney Festival. He believes the city has four distinct characteristics. There’s heritage; events that have been running for 41 years, such as the ferry races, which you can tinker with but that are intrinsically connected to the past. The summer personality; people let their hair down and enjoy their city in summer. The international personality; audiences and the artistic community want to be stimulated through provocative global shows and conversations. And disruption; Sydneysiders want the festival to turn their city on its head, and show them public places, urban spaces and cultural companies afresh, particularly through free activities.

“We have to make sure the festival reflects the time of year, the city,” Enoch says. “If you don’t have a deep respect for the place you’re in you always think it’s better somewhere else. And I’m here to tell people Australian festivals are among the world leaders in the way they’re curated, how we do things and audiences. It’s not just luck that Fergus Linehan went from Sydney Festival to Edinburgh, it’s because what we do is world class.”

Enoch offers his 2017 highlights:

St Stephen’s Music Program
This church on Macquarie Street hides some of the best acoustics in Sydney. It will host intimate performances from leading performers across genres, covering folk/country, synth-glitch, choral loops and R’n’B. Catch Moses Sumney, currently supporting James Blake on his US tour; Wafia and UK-Australian trio Szun Waves.

The Encounter
This immersive experience, based on the novel Amazon Beaming by Petru Popescu, transports audiences deep into the Amazon and beyond with groundbreaking sound design delivered via headphones. Like experiencing space/time/astral travel.

This is a dance work at The Seymour Centre by Australian company Dance North with a set designed by Japanese installation artist Tatsuo Miyajima and live Japanese music and Butoh-influenced dance. A major exhibition of Miyajima’s work is on display at the MCA during summer.

Inheritor Album
Derived from house, hip-hop, capoeira and contemporary dance practices, Inheritor Album is a physical, powerful and viscerally exciting performance by Canada’s urban dance company 605 Collective. Australian exclusive

Nude Live
This is an intimate journey into the world of art and dance; Sydney Dance Company will perform among powerful artworks spanning two centuries from the Art Gallery of NSW’s Sydney International Art Series exhibition Nude: art from the Tate collection. World premiere

Yann Tiersen
This performance is whimsy personified as post-punk meets French folk and chamber pop. The creator of the soundtrack to Amelie and Goodbye Lenin, Yann Tiersen, will perform mesmerising solo piano works on concert and toy pianos at the Opera House.

Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds
The mythical collective returns to Sydney to perform its 16th studio album, Skeleton Tree.

The Beach
It’s the biggest ball pit in the Southern Hemisphere, with 1.1 million monochromatic balls from New York art/architecture outfit Snarkitecture. Free in the Cutaway at Barangaroo.

The Australian all-boy burlesque group that is a little bit naughty but still nice performed sold-out shows in Berlin and Edinburgh and has been described as a sharp-shooting cabaret with balls.

Blood on The Dancefloor
This is Aboriginal choreographer, dancer and writer Jacob Boehme’s physical and deeply personal monologue. “One of the most sophisticated pieces of Indigenous theatre I’ve seen in some time,” says Enoch.

Other events not to miss:

House of Mirrors: This is a vortex of perception at the Meriton Festival Village in Hyde Park North. Bewildering and thrilling optical illusions will be shown under the night sky in a post-modern take on the classic fun house. Prepare to see it all over Instagram this summer.

Let’s Dance: An evening of DJs and dancing in celebration of David Bowie.

Spiegel Music: This year the line-up includes Jessy Lanza, Weyes Blood and The Comet Is Coming.

Sydney Festival runs January 7–29. Multi-pack tickets are now on sale; single tickets on sale from October 31. See the Western Sydney program here.