Focus: Ignatius Jones, born to ignite the world

  • Vivid Sydney 2016_Sydney Opera House_Destination NSW
  • Vivid Sydney 2016_Sydney Opera House_Destination NSW
  • Vivid Sydney 2016_Harbour Lights_CREDIT Destination NSW
  • Vivid Sydney 2016_Laser-Dragon Water-Theatre_CREDIT Destiantion NSW
  • Vivid Sydney 2016_Circular Quay_AMP Songlines_CREDIT Destination NSW

He’s born to ignite the world in the most colourful way one can imagine.  If you visited Vivid Sydney last month, you’re one of the millions who enjoyed this great annual treat with a Pinoy touch.

Perhaps his parents had that sixth sense to see an artistic genius when their baby boy was born in 1957 in Manila that they named him Juan Ignacio (meaning fiery, ignite).

At age six, Juan Ignacio Esteban Trapaga would join father Nestor, mother Margot and younger siblings when the family migrated to Australia. Here he would adopt the stage name ‘Ignatius Jones’ for which he has become well-known not only in Australia but around the world.

Brilliance in Live Australian Events

In 2011, Ignatius became the Executive Producer of the Vivid Sydney Festival which under his direction drew a record increase of attendance from 200,000 to 350,000.  At the close of Vivid Festival that year, NSW deputy premier Andrew Stoner said that “up to $10 million in economic activity would have been generated for the state” and that “after teething problems in its first two years, this festival of light, music and ideas, has finally found its feet”.  The UK influential newspaper, The Guardian, declared Vivid Sydney as one of the world’s top ten ideas festivals

Ignatius continued on as Vivid creative lead in 2012, which achieved crowds estimated to be over 550,000.  The following year’s attendance increased to 850,000, with the festival winning the 2013 Australian Event for Best Tourism Event and Australian Event of Year 2013.  In 2014, it again won the Best Tourism Event and the year’s ‘Best Major Event’ in the Helpmann Award – the Australian equivalent of the Oscars.  For the third time in 2015, Vivid Sydney again bagged the Best Tourism Event award.

Vivid Sydney 2016 smashed previous attendance records.  Minister for Trade, Tourism and Major Events Stuart Ayres reported that “more than 2.3 million people attended the world’s biggest festival of light, music and ideas – an increase of 35.4 per cent on last year’s attendance of 1.7 million.”

In an interview in Radio Tagumpay [Triple H 100.1FM] last month, Ignatius spoke of the evolution of the light and music shown in Vivid Sydney as going beyond being purely an entertainment event.

“We work in a bit of education, inspiration and make people think.  Recently, the event also highlights the beauty of the Aboriginal heritage.  It is also about bringing the people together,” he said.

“Unlike other places of melting pot, I’d like to think that we are like a tossed salad with distinct cultural backgrounds but we are bound together by the dressing of acceptance, democracy and care for each other.”

Ignatius’ creative ingenuity is also behind the Sydney Mardi Gras Parade being its Artistic Director for the last five years.  He was given the Sydney Mardi Gras Lifetime Achievement Award and the Sydney Mardi Gras CEO’s Award for Services to the Community in 2014.

Among his various achievements, Ignatius also relishes being declared the ‘2014 Filipino-Australian of the Year’ by the Filipino Council of Community Associations (FILCAA).  The FILCAA Award first and foremost recognised his role and achievements in Vivid Sydney.

Other huge events in Australian history that benefited from Ignatius’ creative brilliance include the giant light sculpture Eternity on the Sydney Harbour Bridge; the lighting up of the Olympic Rings on the Sydney Harbour Bridge as part of the Olympics Closing Ceremony finale; the centre of Sydney’s tribute to Australia’s 100th birthday, the indigenous Rainbow Serpent circling the Federation Star; the animated vision of Uluru surmounted by the Dove of Peace, which is a light sculpture that used more than 11kms of rope light.

As artistic director of Sydney’s New Year’s Eve celebrations from 1997 to 2002, he was responsible for the transformation of the event into the biggest annual event in Australia beamed to billions of viewers around the world.

Another large and innovative project, the Man from Snowy River – The Arena Spectacular was written devised and directed by Ignatius in collaboration with his Olympics colleague, David Atkins. This show boasts a cast of over 250 people, 47 horses, two dogs and a wedge-tailed eagle becoming the largest commercial theatre event in Australian history; the first such ‘arena’ event to be completely Australian in conception and execution, its soundtrack receiving an ARIA Award for Best Soundtrack Album 2002.

Ignatius also directed the Opening and Closing Ceremonies of the Sydney 2002 Gay Games, the sixth international Gay Games.  For this, he received the 2003 Sydney Star Observer Pride Week Award for Best Event.  He also received the Sydney’s Gay & Lesbian Business Association’s inaugural award for Most Eminent Businessperson for Services to the Community.

Shining Across the Shores

Ignatius’ sheer brilliance has also been celebrated in events overseas.  He is one of the few creative people to direct the “opening night of a country” staging the Independence Ceremonies of the Democratic Republic of East Timor in 2002 upon the invitation of Nobel Laureate Jose Ramos-Horta and then-President-elect Xanana Gusmao.  This historic event was attended by 175,000 people and over 40 world leaders.

Other major events directed by Ignatius overseas include the Opening Ceremony of World Expo 2010 Shanghai and the Ceremonies of Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympic Games.  The Vancouver Opening Ceremony won three Emmy Awards for Best Direction, Best Lighting and Best Music.

He was also artistic director of the Ceremonies of the 2006 Asian Games in Doha, Qatar.  The Asian Games is the largest sporting event after the Summer Olympics watched by an estimated 3 billion people around the world.  The ceremonies featured the largest LED screen ever attempted and at the time was the largest lighting device in history.  The Doha world’s first “kinetic” cauldron weighed more than 18 double-decker buses.

The largest corporate event of its kind in the Middle East also engaged Ignatius’ legendary creative expertise.  He produced the Jeddah Economic Forum in Saudi Arabia in 2005.

Glittering Accomplishments in areas other than Events

Prior to Ignatius’ celebrated achievements in major events, he was already well known in the Australian entertainment industry.   After being trained in classical ballet, he made a mark in other fields such as rock music [being the front man of the shock rock band Jimmy & The Boys], jazz, journalism, theatre and television.  He was a singer, dancer, director and writer whose credentials include Gold Album awards, two best-selling books and a Platinum Record for his work on the soundtrack of Strictly Ballroom.  His work as TV director earned him two Platinum Awards for the children’s videos Monica’s House and Monica’s Seaside Adventure which involved popular children’s entertainer and jazz singer Monica Trapaga, his youngest sibling.

Another work where Ignatius showed his creative brilliance was his direction of Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld for the Australian Opera in 2003. For this work, he received a 2004 Australian Green Room Award nomination for Best Director of an Opera.  He also co-wrote a new translation of Orpheus from French, with colleagues Philip Scott and Jonathan Biggins.   This earned the three of them an AWGIE Award for Best Adaptation of a Dramatic Work, from the Australian Writers’ Guild.

Non-stop dreaming 

Ignatius said that planning for next year’s Vivid Sydney event has already started and next time he hoped to infuse it with a Pinoy touch

“I’d dearly love to have a giant parol [lantern] featured in Vivid Sydney. I have attended the 2015 Giant Lantern Festival in San Fernando, Pampanga and was very impressed with the amazing parols. I have been in dialogue with the Philippine Consulate, the tourism department and potential sponsors to make this a reality.  We are nearly there.”

He said that one big dream is to go back to the Philippines and work on a show for one of the big casinos there.

“The Philippines is the most artistic nation on earth, as most everyone can sing and dance.  My speciality is using old art forms to create new ones.  It would be great to put together a show that will bring out the wonderful Filipino artistic talents.”

With Ignatius’ passion and creativity, it is highly likely that these dreams will become a reality.

** Vivid Sydney photos from

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