The Flaming Lips; Shaun Gladwell; Jack Ladder & the Dreamlanders; the multi-award-winning drummer behind the Oscar-winning film Birdman (Or, the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) and a show entitled All the Sex I’ve Ever Had – these are some of the 383 reasons to celebrate Sydney Festival’s 40th birthday, which kicked off today.

This is director Lieven Bertels’s fourth and final festival, but although it’s a milestone birthday, Bertels is more interested in looking forward. “We’ve tried to make it a celebration, but not to be too nostalgic about the past, [so] when we embrace it, it’s with a view to the future,” he says of the 2016 festival.

There’s the usual spread of theatre, dance, circus, opera, contemporary and classical music across the 157 events, 89 of which are free.

The full festival program can be seen here but Broadsheet has done the hard work for you and picked our festival highlights.

The Flaming Lips to headline Summer Sounds in the Domain
Who wouldn’t want this trippy, genre-bending Oklahoma band at their party, especially when it’s free? “There are crazy things on the rider – everything from glitter canons to confetti balls, a great lightshow and a human-sized hamster ball for crowd surfing – because you can! Their concerts are great fun, extravagant and crazy, which is absolutely what the 40th anniversary should be about,” Bertels says.

All the Sex I’ve Ever Had
Canada’s Mammalian Diving Reflex creates theatre out of the everyday. In 2008 it was Haircuts by Children. For the group’s next Sydney Festival show it has invited a group of sexagenarian Sydneysiders to share their most intimate secrets, on stage, with an audience. “We’re all fascinated [by sex], and many people have a voyeuristic element in them – they’d be fascinated to know, but never dare ask. Here’s your chance without having to,” chuckles Bertels.

A 165-metre-long flying fox at Skateboarders vs Minimalism
Two worlds collide in celebrated contemporary artist and respected skateboarder Shaun Gladwell’s latest free video installation. He has filmed Rodney Mullen and other champion skateboarders as they “creatively misuse” American minimalist sculptures by the likes of Donald Judd, Carl Andrew and Dan Flavin. With a score by avant-garde composer Philip Glass, Skateboarders vs Minimalism will be projected on to the huge backdrop of The Cutaway at Barangaroo, Sydney’s newest cultural space, creating one of the city’s biggest indoor projections. A free 165-metre-long flying fox provides a bird’s eye view above and through this exhibition for those who dare.

The Ephemeral City
Also at The Cutaway, this free installation requires a bit of your creative input and muscle power. Bertels first came across the work of “crazy” French architect Olivier Grossetete at Glastonbury, and was completely charmed by the huge cardboard city that was built by festival-goers. Using nothing more than cardboard boxes and sticky tape, a whole new streetscape will come to life at Barangaroo (and Darling Harbour) and remain standing for the duration of the festival – before revellers are invited to join in the equally fun demolition on Australia Day.

Birdman: screening and live film score
Four-time Grammy Award-winning Mexican drummer and composer Antonio Sanchez reportedly recorded his film score in just one take and promises that each time he plays it it’s a new, reactive experience. “Antonio is of course a jazz musician, so improvisation is an important part of what he does. Every performance is different,” says Bertles. Sanchez comes to Sydney direct from London and New York to play his score live alongside the screening of the Oscar Award-winning film at the State Theatre.

Dreamland
“A group of unlikely friends and musical mercenaries,” is how Jack Ladder, Kirin J Callinan, Donny Benet and Laurence Pike describe their one-off show at the Magic Mirrors Spiegeltent. From Pike’s futurist rhythms with PVT, to Benet’s Italo street funk, this show promises to be as unexpected as it will be entertaining.

FBi SMACs
Sydney’s favourite indie radio station is throwing a party to celebrate its friend’s birthday, drawing together a must-see line-up of some of the best artists it has championed over the past seven years during its annual Sydney Music Art and Culture (SMAC) awards. The best of Sydney’s music, visual arts, performance and food will be on offer at this one-off gig at Carriageworks. “We’ve been bedfellows for so long and it’s great that we can also celebrate creativity and the SMAC awards seem like the right kind of party to come together for,” Bertels says.

sydneyfestival.org.au