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Sydney Olympic Arts Festival

A Four-Year Celebration

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    At the time of the Olympia’s splendour ... letters and arts were always harmoniously combined with sport, thus guaranteeing the grandeur of the Olympic Games.
    -- Baron Pierre de Courbertin, founder of the modern Olympic Games

It wasn't all sporting competition at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games (September 15-October 1, 2000) as the Olympic city, Sydney, celebrated the arts in a festival that was the culmination of a four-year series starting in 1997.

The 2000 Sydney Olympic Arts Festival -- named the Harbour of Life -- officially opened at dawn on August 18, almost a whole month before the start of the Games.

It encompassed a kaleidoscopic view of the best in art and cultural events drawn not only from Australia but also from many parts of the world.

A festive four years

The Sydney Olympic Arts Festival was a four-year celebration with the following festivals:

  • 1997: Festival of the Dreaming, a grand celebration of the world’s indigenous cultures, especially those of the Australian Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders. It encompassed traditional dance, song, story-telling, painting and craft as well as contemporary indigenous arts such as music, theatre, dance, painting and literature.

  • 1998: A Sea Change, which focused on historic global movements of exploration and settlement -- of men and women as immigrants, explorers, adventurers or fugitives -- and celebrated Australia's evolution into the multicultural society it is today.

  • 1999: Reaching the World, which brought examples of Australian visual and performing arts to many parts of the globe, expressing the unique spirit of Australia's cultural life in the creative and performing arts, involving Australian artists interpreting facets of the Australian nation to the world.

  • 2000: Harbour of Life.

A cultural panorama

The 2000 Sydney Olympic Arts Festival, Harbour of Life, brought to the Olympic city a panorama of cultural events comprising more than 50 major productions and 50 exhibitions in 45 venues.

It gave the visitor to the Sydney Olympics a view, and a taste, of Australia’s cultural life.

The 2000 Sydney Olympic Arts Festival opened on August 18 and continued to September 30, but some events started earlier and some closed later.

Music, song, dance

A three-part performance of Tubowgule (The Meeting of the Waters) opened the 2000 Sydney Olympic Arts Festival on August 18... at dawn in La Perouse, a southern Sydney suburb... at noon in the Royal Botanic Gardens... and at dusk in the forecourt of the Sydney Opera House.

This was a story of Aboriginal life and culture told in music, song and dance, involving 100 dancers, children and actors in the forecourt of the Sydney Opera House in a ceremony inspired by the Aboriginal clans around Australia.

Also highlighting Aboriginal culture were the Papunya Tula exhibition at the Art Gallery of New South Wales which opened on August 18 (and continued to November 12) and performances of Skin by Bangarra Dance Theatre at the Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House, from September 19 to 30.

Many and diverse events

The 2000 Sydney Olympic Arts Festival offered a wide-ranging spectrum of events, from art gallery and museum exhibitions to showcases of the performing arts.

The events were many and diverse. A sampling:

  • An exhibition of The Dead Sea Scrolls and Australian Icons at the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

  • 1000 Years of the Olympic Games: Treasures of Ancient Greece at the Powerhouse Museum, Darling Harbour.

  • Opera Australia productions such as Mozart’s Don Giovanni and Richard Strauss’s Capriccio at the Sydney Opera House.

  • Performances of The White Devil by John Webster at the Theatre Royal, King St, Sydney.

  • Troilus and Cressida by William Shakespeare at the Playhouse, Sydney Opera House. A Bell Shakespeare Company production.

Other festival events were Birds by Aristophanes presented by the Australian Theatre for Young People at The Studio, Sydney Opera House; DV8, a dance event at the Everest Theatre, Seymour Centre, City Rd, Sydney; Mahler’s Symphony No 8 performed by the Sydney Symphony Orchestra and a chorus of 1000 performers at the SuperDome, Olympic Park, Homebush Bay; and "uncrowned empress of modern dance" Pina Bausch performing Masurca Fogo at the Capitol Theatre.

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