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Vivid: the ultimate winter weekend in Sydney

Celebrate the winter solstice with three days of incredible entertainment this June, including the climactic events of the Vivid Festival, a huge party for film lovers and new show from the country’s most buzzed-about Aboriginal dance troupe. 

By Dan F Stapleton
Published: 30 May, 2017

Here’s a secret: the best time to visit Sydney might just be in the heart of winter. Sure, summer promises endless evenings, sizzling barbecues and packed beaches, but in the cooler months a different kind of Sydney emerges – and it’s just as enchanting.

Shorter days and lower temperatures give Sydneysiders an excuse to spend more time indoors, which means the city’s creative calendar is reliably packed. The excitement culminates in May and June, when the city’s best-loved festivals host hundreds of shows everywhere from waterfront theatres to urban basements. And the weekend of the winter solstice – Friday 16 June to Sunday 18 June – is the busiest time of all.

This year’s Vivid Sydney, a festival of lights, music and ideas, promises to go out with a bang on Friday 16 and Saturday 17 June, with several cutting-edge performances. The ever-popular Sydney Film Festival wraps up on the Sunday. And acclaimed Aboriginal dance troupe Djuki Mala perform at the Sydney Opera House.

Between events, perch in cosy cafes and drink world-class coffee, or browse the historic covered arcades of the city centre. As you dash from venue to venue, take a moment to breathe in the crisp air and soak up some warm winter sun.

Solve a murder mystery in style

There’s an air of secrecy about Murder on the Dance Floor, an after-dark gathering (part of the wider Vivid Sydney festival), being held at the super-sophisticated Crane Bar in Kings Cross on Friday 16 June. Here’s what we know:

1) It’s been put together by one of Australia’s best-loved DJs, Kate Monroe.
2) It features gruesome projections and fiendish mysteries to be solve.
3) It will culminate with epic dance-floor showdowns beneath glitter balls and flashing lights.

Intrigued? Limited tickets, which include a five-course Japanese degustation menu and a cocktail on arrival, are available for $60.

Rising star Jack Colwell’s free show

Jack Colwell, Vivid Sydney, New South Wales

Golden Age Cinema and Bar, one of Sydney’s hippest venues, is hosting eight concerts for Vivid this year – and they’re all free. Each show features a young Australian performer with a fierce on-stage presence, and closing-night act Jack Colwell, who performs on Saturday 17 June, could be the pick of the bunch. His blend of confessional singer-songwriting, alternative rock and classical music has won him rave reviews from The Guardian and Rolling Stone, and his previous show at the Sydney Opera House sold out. Though entry is free, you must register to attend – and the guest list is filling up fast. So what are you waiting for?

Learn from a titan of modern art

Shepard Fairey, Vividy Sydney, New South Wales

Shepard Fairey is considered the most influential street artist of our time: he’s the man behind the iconic Barack Obama Hope campaign and dozens of audacious guerrilla advertising schemes. He’s also adored by scholars, and features in the permanent collections at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum and New York’s MoMA. Hear him talk about his life and craft in a rare appearance on the evening of Saturday 17 June, or don your coat and visit George Street during the day to see him put the finishing touches to a highly anticipated outdoor mural. 

Sydney Film Festival’s grand finale

The State Theatre, Sydney, New South Wales

It’s one of Australia’s most talked-about cultural events: a diverse, sprawling two-week celebration of film that takes place in cinemas big and small during June. The closing night gala, on Sunday 18 June, is the most anticipated session of all. It’s when Sydney’s cinephiles come together at the grand State Theatre to savour a brilliant film and hand out prizes to the best of the festival (as selected by judges and the audience). This year’s closing-night film is Okja, direct from Cannes and starring Tilda Swinton. Can’t make the Sunday evening gala? There are dozens of films to catch across the weekend, including Nicole Kidman’s latest, The Beguiled, and a special screening of Akira Kurosawa’s 1985 epic, Ran.

See an Indigenous dance sensation – and the Vivid lights

Djuki Mala, Sydney Opera House, New South Wales

The young Aboriginal dance troupe Djuki Mala, from Elcho Island in the remote corners of Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory, went viral on YouTube in 2007 and have been touring the world ever since, wowing audiences with their fresh mix of traditional culture and hyper-modern routines. Australian tours in 2015 and 2016 sold out well in advance, and now the dancers are back with something fresh for a week-long residency at the Sydney Opera House. Catch them on Saturday 17 and Sunday 18 June, and make sure you arrive early so you can marvel at the Vivid light projections on the Opera House sails and the Sydney Harbour Bridge.