Music and magic dominated the third and final week of Sydney Festival 03, prominently in The Passion of Joan of Arc the 1928 film by the Danish director Carl Dreyer. The Australian Chamber Orchestra accompanied with Richard Einhorn’s 1994 score – “Voices of Light” - the mock medievalism of which never distracted from the drama of the faces. The screen becomes a gallery where all the portraits are by Cranach. The expressiveness of Dreyer’s non-talking heads is fuel for the prejudices of those among us who still resent talkies for subverting the eloquence of the visual.

The National Theatre of Colombia performed an adaptation of the novel, Chronicle of a Death Foretold, by their compatriot, Gabriel Garcia Marquez. His magic realism has so raised our expectations of what is to be expected that the stage set of a bull ring for the slaying of a seducer looked less than dramatic than it was in showing how it takes a whole village to commit a murder. The company, however, filled the arena with their energy, songs, delicacy and delineation of complicity, cowardice and concupiscence.

Although the appearance of the Brisbane band george with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra achieved very little aural integration, nothing could inhibit the enthusiasm of their fans. When accompanying this quintet, the orchestra provided the murmur of a distant surf. Throughout, the electronic five had more trouble adjusting their levels to the acoustic in the Opera House Concert Hall than they had had in the Adelaide beer garden where I first enjoyed them three years ago. The centrepiece was Jon Lord’s Concerto for Group and Orchestra, premiered by the band Deep Purple in 1969.  The composition has the three-movement structure but little of the thematic development of a classical form. Crescendos filled in for climaxes. Instead, we were assaulted with the melange that radio quizzes use to test how many scores from Spaghetti Westerns a contestant can identify. Lord’s keyboard solo and that of percussionist Geoff Green were so superior to the rest of the noise that three- movement sonatas from each of them would have been more thrilling than this wannabe concerto.

The Junebug Symphony from France attracted hordes of knee-nibblers on the promise of a circus. Their material is sophisticated, indeed erotic, in debt to Dali and Freud for a depiction of how dreams allow us to realise the delights that our bodies deny us. The kids sat transfixed by the sight of human beings performing feats that their age group identifies with animation. We wrinklies laughed at different things but were no less spellbound.

Black Chicks Talking began as a book of interviews and was made into a documentary film before Leah Purcell helped to adapt the life stories for the stage. The production escaped the tedium of overlapping monologues by using the power of a women’s sacred site to attract five strangers to a shared space. Once there, the performers sustained a level of ensemble that made their characters appear as aspects of an archetypical Aboriginal woman without surrendering a skerrick of their individuality.

Art cannot resolve social problems but it can trace their fault lines. If the debate within both the black and the white communities, and between them, were as frank as the talk among the black chicks in the first half, we would be much further down the track to reconciliation, both practical and symbolic. After interval, the Dreaming proved more potent as a theatrical device than as an answer to the fractured lives that it had drawn together. Having set out the dilemmas, the script veered towards saying that passing as white could be as much an Aboriginal “way” as steeping oneself in the beliefs of the “old people”. The stonier path ahead is to interrogate the myths being invented by people passing as black.

In directing his second Sydney Festival, Brett Sheehy offered a feast to match the diversity of tastes and talents in this second-tier global city. Some of the finest was for free. The Samuel Beckett segment stimulated scholarly and popular debate, as well as a tight and tough production of Endgame. Festival funds contributed to several new Australian pieces. Audiences were introduced to overseas companies. Sheehy has set himself a standard to vault over next year.