Thousands of Sydneysiders gathered at Barangaroo Reserve on Saturday night for an evening of music, poetry and reflection on the eve of Australia Day. The Vigil, now in its second year, brought Sydney Festival 2020 to its metaphoric completion.
In a festival hallmarked by its focus on Australian stories, The Procession and The Vigil were emblematic of a program that brought First Nations’ stories to the fore. World premiere seasons included the posthumous celebration of the musical legacy of Gurrumul Yunupiŋu in Buŋgul; ILBIJERRI Theatre Company and Te Rēhia Theatre’s Black Ties; the world premieres of The Visitors and Black Cockatoo; and Archie Roach’s exquisitely intimate concert celebrating his eponymous memoir and latest album, Tell Me Why.
“I was excited by the support the BLAK OUT Program received from audiences and critics with Black Ties, The Visitors, Buŋgul, Tell Me Why, Black Cockatoo all virtually sold out and the visual arts program going off,” said Festival Director Wesley Enoch.
“Proclamation was so beautiful especially when it was beamed around the country with over 150,000 people tuning in on Facebook Live to see The Procession and The Vigil. The position of Sydney Festival in the centre of the January 26 debates is the right place for cultural leadership.”
Enoch continues: “We had a few extra challenges than normal this year, with hail, thunderstorms, fires, smoke and generally a sense that what we had been warned would happen had finally arrived and the effects of climate change were visited upon our continent and country. Some artists chose not to attend whereas the majority rose to the occasion to show their support and help bring Sydney together in solidarity and give hope.”
That support and solidarity was writ large when a group of festival artists and staff rallied together in record time for Sydney Festival’s Bushfire Appeal concert. Featuring local rock legends Regurgitator and Custard, alongside Dan Sultan, Neptune Power Federation, Polish Club and Art Vs. Science, and with the support of Century Venues and all crew, the concert raised funds Red Cross Disaster Relief and Recovery Appeal and WIRES – Australia’s largest wildlife rescue organisation.
The 2020 program’s focus on new commissions and world premieres meant that Sydney’s arts lovers were the first to be treated to a breadth of productions that will now go on to tour Australia and overseas.
“We had 45 commissioned works in this festival in collaboration with partners from around the world, the nation and within Sydney,” says Enoch. “New works are the clearest way artists talk to their communities and in 2020 you could feel the relevance and connection of the art to the world we live in. Amazing degrees of cultural courage brought incredible success to the festival with sold-out shows peppering the program and audiences engaging with the voice of these artists.”