By William Kentridge. Joan Sutherland Theatre, Sydney Opera House. 2-4 November, 2023

Reviewed : 2 November, 2023*

Photo : David Boon

William Kentridge creates across the arts. In drawing, writing, film, performance, music and theatre he creates works that transverses cultures and generations. His work is represented in museums around the world. He has directed operas in New York, Milan, London, Lyon and Sydney. And for three days he returns to the Sydney Opera House with his cross-disciplinary work, Sibyl.

The performance begins with a film The Moment has Gone, shown on a filmy white screen that stretches across the opera theatre stage. The film shows Kentridge at work on plans and drawings in his animation studio. Slivers of film map the process as works come into being from initial lines to faces, scenes, figures that grow and change, move, and sometimes disintegrate. Some lovely touches of humour in the filming, and the accompaniment by pianist and musical director Kyle Shepherd and four vocalists are symbolic of Kentridge’s ability to fuse art forms.

Photo : David Boon

Shepherd and returns to accompany Kentridge’s chamber opera Waiting for the Sibyl, a Gesamtkunstwerk production combining music, dance, projections and shadow plays on a huge hand painted backdrop.

In Greek legends the Sibyls were prophetesses who made predictions about the future. In this production the ‘predictions’ are sayings and poems that are thoughtful, humorous and sometimes facetious comments about life and fate. They are sung in four Bantu languages and translated into English in large projections that are printed over pages of a dictionary.

The four vocalists – Ayanda Nhlangothi Zandile Hlatshwayo Siphiwe Nkabinde S’busiso Shozi  – are joined by vocalist and dancer, Nhlanhla Mahlangu and Xolisile Bongwana and dancers Thulani Chauke, Teresa Phuti Mojela, and Thandazile ‘Sonia’ Radebe to bring this amazing artwork to life.

Photo : David Boon

The filmy screen rises and falls over several scenes. In the first Nhlanhla Mahlangu and Xolisile Bongwana introduce the Sibyl’s predictions – singing and swirling, while other performers sift through handfuls of paper and drop them to drift and litter the floor. Shadows play on the screen behind the dancer. In another scene chairs become the centre of attention – and humour. Technology and timing are come together here in a segment that pays homage to the zannis of commedia dell‘arte.

Music, dance, drawing, film, comedy and mythology are cleverly interwoven in this production that is thought provoking as well as being colourfully entertaining. Sydney is fortunate to have William Kentridge back in the Opera House with Sibyl, his ingenious combination of so many theatre and visual arts.

First published in Stage Whispers magazine

* Opening performance