Best Five Free Shows @ Sydney Festival 2024

Rebecca Varidel
4th Jan 2024

Boosting an already bumper line-up, Sydney Festival continues to expand its free events offering this January with some fresh new additions to the line-up and more details revealed for what to see and do this summer. Running from tomorrow 5 January until the 28th, the stacked 2024 program invites Sydney audiences to see their city differently and even take to the stage as part of the festival.

The traditional Māori sounds of the Te Aranganui choir will mark the festival’s official opening, with a special performance and Welcome to Country from Muruwari man Matt Doyle by the waterfront on Friday 5 January. Sharing the stories of their ancestors, the choir will herald the arrival of Te Wheke-a-Muturangi: The Adversary, artist Lisa Reihana’s majestic installation in Watermans Cove near Barangaroo ferry wharf. Using over 1,000 pieces of fabric, Reihana has created a vibrant inflatable character of Te Wheke, who according to Māori mythology, is the giant octopus chased by legendary Polynesian fisherman Kupe, who some say was the first to discover Aotearoa New Zealand. During January, festival-goers can also hit the water and get up close to the artwork via a kayak tour from Sydney Harbour Kayaks.

Banyan Nights gifts a dozen free nights of music and food basking under the big trees of the Seymour Centre courtyard. Bringing the look and feel of a Southeast Asian market to the courtyard, Banyan Nights is a lively celebration of Cambodia and its rich and artistic culture.

Tuck into traditional Cambodian, Indonesian, Malay and First Nations food and with free live performances from incredible local artists from Southeast Asian-Australian communities, including Maggie Tra, Rainbow Chan, Dyan Tai and more. With works like Mutiara, a deep dive into Broome’s pearling history by intercultural dance company Marrugeku; White Gold from Cambodian circus act Phare and exquisite puppetry for the whole family in A Bucket of Beetles (Indonesia) being shared onstage, the Seymour Centre’s outdoor courtyard will be transformed to celebrate the rich culture of Cambodia and its neighbours. The Southeast Asian market square will feature a delicious food truck, tuk tuks, crafting workshops, lanterns and live entertainment from Maggie Tra, Pho the Girls, Suara Indonesian Dance Troupe, Alisha K, Marcus Whale, Blanche, and a curated evening with Dyan Tai + friends and Rainbow Chan.

Our top free pick is the Sydney Festival’s epic free production of Il Tabarro staged harbourside aboard the Carpentaria Lightship at the Australian National Maritime Museum. Maverick director Constantine Costi transports Puccini’s one-act operatic masterpiece to 1930s Depression-era Sydney, while conductor Simon Bruckard leads a cast of exceptional Australian talent and a live orchestra for an unmissable performance under the stars.

In a unique festival collaboration, the Marliya Choir has joined the annual Vigil event held on the Stargazer Lawn of Barangaroo Headland on 25 January. For this year’s ceremony, the group of young Indigenous singers from Cairns will sing existing songs from their Spinifex Gum works, performed in traditional language that recognise land, water and communities alongside a brand-new commission for Vigil: The Future feat. Marliya Choir. Working closely with the festival, choir members have been asked to reflect on how they see the future Australia they want to live in, with their answers shared in song and in the night sky above Sydney through a spectacular drone experience.

Sailing into Sydney global seafarers Arka Kinari will dock at Campbell’s Cove for their harbourside season in January. Across three nights, their sailing vessel will be transformed into a stage for a free multimedia performance from duo Grey Filastine (US) and Nova Ruth (Indonesia). Combining synthy post-folk beats and cinematic visual artistry, the pair explore the potential of a radically different future after the carbon economy, one that promotes resilience and encourages re-engagement with the sea.

The festival’s sprawling free program also includes roving appearances from the cheeky Snuff Puppets Seagulls who’ll be causing havoc across Tumbalong Park, The Thirsty Mile, Bondi Beach and Circular Quay this summer. And the acrobatic storytelling of Living Sculptures: How the Birds got their Colours will see pop-up outdoor performances from Queensland’s Arc Circus Co. at Tumbalong Park, Parramatta Square’s Dharug Circle, South Cronulla Beach, South Steyne Beach Manly and Sydney’s iconic Bondi Beach. Performances at Tumbalong Park and Dharug Circle Parramatta will also include free Weaving Workshops after the circus show.

There are plenty more free festival events and performances throughout January, including the beloved starlit summer concert, Sydney Symphony Under the Stars at Parramatta Park; a fashionable takeover of Tumbalong Park in House of Fast Fashun and a lecture by multidisciplinary artist and composer DJ Mo Laudi at Artspace, along with much more.