Splashes of reflected light dance across the walls of Carriageworks’ darkened Bay 20, glistening off a hunched body as it gently heaves on a long strip of clay. The sound of breathing washes through the speakers as the curled form – soprano Jane Sheldon – moves with organic insistency, suggesting a cicada (whose song infuses Benjamin Carey’s electronics) laboriously emerging from its shell.

Jane Sheldon performs poem for a dried up river Jane Sheldon performs  poem for a dried up river at the Resonant Bodies Festival in New York in 2019. Photo © Gretchen Robinette

Sheldon’s poem for a dried up riverdebuted at the Resonant Bodies Festival in New York in 2019 and this performance presented by Sydney Chamber Opera as part of Sydney Festival marks its Australian premiere. Best known as one of Australia’s most adventurous singers and performers, Sheldon’s poem for a dried up riversees her also in the role of composer.

Her piece sets British poet Alice Oswald’s Dunt: a poem for a dried up river– about a broken, bone water nymph straining desperately to “summon a...