In festival


Lieven Bertels chats with La Vie on the eve of his third Sydney Festival as director.

What has changed since you’ve been at the helm of the Sydney Festival, and what have been the highlights?

Festivals are constantly evolving, so lots of things have changed. The biggest changes in previous years have been the growth of our Festival Village in Hyde Park and the investment and commitment we’ve made in encouraging more live music in our theatre and dance program. In my first year I had the great pleasure of presenting the baroque opera Semele Walk at the Town Hall with wonderful live music by ensemble Kaleidoskop and Sydney Philharmonia Choirs. Last year we had Am I, then new choreography from Shaun Parker with live music by Nick Wales. In 2015 we will feature On the Harmful Effects of Tobacco, a beautiful Chekhov play presented as half play/half concert by Les Bouffes du Nord from Paris.

What’s the theme of this year’s festival?

Australian festivals never really try to adhere to a theme – we want to express the diversity of ideas that our artists present and to engage with our wonderfully diverse audience. What’s really special about the Sydney Festival is the diverse programming, with the best local and international artists from the high arts – opera, theatre and contemporary dance – through to circus and family shows, and a whole range of free activities.

What are you most excited about for this year’s Sydney Festival?

The hugely popular Festival Village returns in 2015 with a variety of thrilling circus and cabaret shows, activities and almost 40 contemporary music performances. Open day and night, the Festival Village is the perfect place to plan a day out with the family, catch a show and enjoy balmy summer nights in the centre of our city.

Which act or production do you think audiences will find most surprising?

A beautiful Belgian theatre piece called Kiss & Cry. It’s a sweeping cinematic romance with a twist: a choreography of hands as the material for a live film. This performance from prize-winning filmmaker Jaco Van Dormael and choreographer Michèle Anne De Mey, a founding member of Rosas dance company, will be a festival gem.

Are there any shows with a distinct Australian flavour or theme?

Masquerade, written by playwright and actor Kate Mulvany, is a magical new Australian work [based on British author Kit Williams’ book] that invites audiences into a world of riddles and hidden treasures. It merges two love stories: one in a faraway world between the Moon and the Sun; and the other closer to home involving a mother and child with enormous courage. The performance stars Helen Dallimore (from Wicked) and features live music by Baltic cabaret group Mikelangelo and the Black Sea Gentlemen.

What’s your pick for a family show?

Hailing from the Canadian small town of Saint-Alphonse-Rodriguez, the Timber! cast features the whole Alfonse family, from 68-year-old Alain, to his three-year-old grandson, Arthur. Blending circus with theatre, dance, live traditional music and folklore, this lumberjack circus performs thrilling tricks using metal saws and axes, with each prop and piece of equipment being something authentic from the woods.

When the festival mayhem is over, do you take a well-earned break to recharge, and where’s your favourite destination?

As the family won’t have seen much of me during January, we’ll certainly take a break once the festival is over. We’ve had the great fortune of enjoying the Snowy Mountains in winter, but we’ve never been in summer, so we’re considering a long weekend at Novotel Lake Crackenback Resort and Spa Hotel, close to beautiful Kosciuszko National Park. Coming from Europe, our kids could say Novotel before they could pronounce the name of our home town, and we are always happy to return to our trusted family brand as the starting point for a break.

Which Accor Hotels have you most enjoyed staying at, and why?

It’s hard for me to choose, with amazing Accor Hotels in all of my favourite cities: Sofitel Chicago Water Tower; Sofitel Wanda Beijing; Hotel Novotel Dakar in Senegal; and the recently renovated MGallery Collection Grand Hôtel Roi René in Aix-en-Provence, where I’ll stay when I’m there for the opera festival. However, my absolute top choice is the Sofitel Hamburg Alter Wall in Germany. It has great contemporary architecture and the most amazing spa and pool facilities, including a pool corridor where you feel like you’re swimming in the 21st-century version of Aladdin’s cave. I’d go back to Hamburg just for that experience!

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