“But also, this is one of the world’s major arts festivals, so when it is safe to do so and the borders are open and we can fly the artists in, we’ll have big presentations of world-class dance, theatre, music and art. I want to paint a canvas across the city with all of our major cultural institutions and venues and interesting, atypical spaces.”
A self-proclaimed “Sydney girl”, Ansell’s festival will also express her fascination with the city’s history and the stories of its past.
“I’ve had a long obsession with Sydney’s irresistible charm and with the city’s untold stories,” she said.
Ansell comes from a showbusiness family that stretches back to the early part of last century. Her grandfather was a circus ringmaster and juggler and her grandmother was a singer, while her own parents, Tony (pianist, arranger and composer), and Joanne (dancer), met on Channel Nine’s Bandstand.
Growing up, she was accustomed to seeing performers such as Kamahl, Julie Anthony and Tiny Tim around the house.
“Downstairs there was a recording studio and upstairs at the back of the house there was a rehearsal room, and on any given day a swathe of artists would be coming through, either recording or rehearsing,” she said. “As a kid I’d run around in my school uniform, making coffees for the artists and chatting to them all. That’s where my passion for it grew from.
“One memory I have is sitting on the couch one night in the rehearsal room, watching the 4 Trax doing kind of a barbershop number and a pop number. They later became Human Nature.”
Despite all that, her parents were adamant she wasn’t going into showbusiness.
“They did everything they could to make sure I became an accountant or a lawyer,” she said. But there was little chance Ansell would eschew the family tradition, and she embarked on a career that has taken her into all forms of dance, contemporary theatre, musical theatre, cabaret and even stand-up comedy.
Ansell takes over from Wesley Enoch, who will present his fifth and final festival in 2021. Enoch’s widely acclaimed run has seen a particular emphasis placed on First Nations stories and performances, which Ansell has pledged to continue.
“Wesley’s Blak Out program will be his legacy,” she said. “I completely want to continue Wesley’s commitment to First Nations work.”
The popular Vigil on the eve of Australia Day will also continue to be a central part of the festival.
Nick Galvin is Arts Editor of The Sydney Morning Herald