Sydney Festival kicks off

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Close to 250,000 people crammed into Sydney, Australia on 8 January 2011 to enjoy the first night of the three–week long Sydney Festival 2011.

The central business district around Hyde Park, the Domain stage and Martin Place was closed to cars as people filled the streets. It was a hot and clear summer day in Sydney and festival director Lindy Hume told reporters that she could not have asked for more. " The main acts included folk singer Emmylou Harris, singer–songwriter Paul Kelly, hip hop group Arrested Development and iOTA in his award–winning show Smoke and Mirrors, " she said. About 600 artists will perform in the free event, now in its fourth year. Other highlights of this year's festival include performances by John Malkovich in the Giacomo Variations and Random Dance Company's production Entity. The festival runs until 30 January 2011. Sydney Festival was originally conceived by the Sydney Committee, the NSW State Government and the City of Sydney with a view to attracting people into the city centre during the holiday month of January. The first Festival took place in 1977 and it has since grown to become one of Australia's largest annual cultural celebrations with an international reputation for modern, popular and intelligent programming. In many ways it is probably still best understood as a celebration of Sydney and its style and energy reflect the confidence, diversity and vigour of one of the world's most beautiful cities. For three weeks each January the Festival offers a rich programme of around 80 events involving upwards of 500 artists from Australia and abroad covering dance, theatre, music, visual arts, cross media and forums. In any given year, it makes use of most of the main theatres across the city including Sydney Theatre, CarriageWorks, the Seymour Centre, City Recital Hall and venues at the Sydney Opera House. Sydney Festival also presents a number of quality, free outdoor events such as the long–running Festival in The Domain with two massive free concerts, each attracting up to 100, 000 people. In 2008 the Festival introduced a new opening event, Festival First Night, which sees the city streets transformed into a series of free stages and precincts. 300, 000 people enjoyed Festival First Night in January 2009. The Festival has a history of presenting Australian premieres and many of Australia's most memorable productions such as Cloudstreet have resulted from Sydney Festival's commitment to nurture local artists. It has brought many of the world's great artists to Sydney for the first time including: Ariane Mnouchkine and Thÿâtre du Soleil (Flood Drummers), Robert Wilson (The Black Rider), Robert Lepage (Far Side of the Moon, The Andersen Project and Lipsynch), George Piper Dances, Netherlands Dance Theatre, James ThiÉrrÉe, Philip Glass, Ian McKellen (Dance of Death), the Batsheva Dance Company and the National Theatre of Scotland (Black Watch and Aalst). Sydney Festival attracts a total audience of approximately 1m people across all of its events, making it the most attended cultural event in Australia. Despite living very much at the leading edge of the arts in Australia, Sydney Festival carries with it a legacy from its origins as a celebration for the people of Sydney. Its connections to the City of Sydney and to the State government are still very much at the core of the organisation. The Lord Mayor of Sydney is the chair and the premier of NSW is the president, with other members from both local and state arms of government sitting on the Board.

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