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AucklandNovember 3, 2017

It’s different now: highlights of the new-look Auckland Arts Festival


Simon Wilson sat down to pick the five shows he was most looking forward to in the 2018 Auckland Arts Festival next March. Here are 10 of them. And a few more.

A new festival, a new director, a new music venue, a new look and some new ideas to guide it all. Change is good and the Auckland Arts Festival’s new artistic director, Jonathan Bielski, has rung the bell. Much of the music (and art and late-night action and daytime family fun too) will be at the Festival Playground in Silo Park. No spiegeltent, no same old in Aotea Square. The music programme is very strong and we know from movie nights and Laneway that the new venue’s a very cool place for events like this. Provided they appease the weather gods, which, strangely, still no one seems to know how to do.

The pink has gone. The AAF’s branding for the ages, shocking pink all over place, is no more. The programme, and presumably all the signage and branding to follow, have turned into red. I’d just like to say, thank you. Although I know a lot of people like pink.

There’s no big theme. No attempt to say, we’re this kind of city and this kind of festival. Just the work, to stand or fall on its merits. I like that. And what work it is.!I was going to choose my five top shows, I’ve come away with 10, and I’ve cheated even in getting it down to that. Keep March free. There’s good stuff to do. In no particular order…

From Scratch. Photo Max Osborne.

1. Heart’Heart by From Scratch

From Scratch used to bang away with jandals on the end of plastic pipes and the music they made was magnificent. Politically urgent, at the time of French nuclear testing in the Pacific, full of entrancing and astonishing blends of Pasifika and palagi rhythms, driven by sheer musical genius. I know, there was way more to it than that, and I also know they won’t be the same now as they were then. But maybe they will be? The inspirational Phil Dadson still leads the band, although luminaries like Don McGlashan and Geoff Chapple have moved on. Heart’Heart is billed as “early and new works” and I can’t wait.

2. Humans of South Auckland

Humans of New York is a famous photography project: people photographed in the street, their stories told. It’s a worldwide phenomenon now, and it’s here.

3. Love Me As I Am: the Music of Mahinārangi Tocker

It’s a festival thing now: the multi-star lineup singing the songs of a favourite. But this one will be very special, because Mahinārangi Tocker’s songs are so beautiful and because the selection of singers reflects a super-smart mash-up of generations and styles: Emma Paki and also Charlotte Yates, Nadia Reid and also Shona Laing, Annie Crummer and more, and if none of them bring the house down, Anika Moa surely will.

The Far Side of the Moon. Photo David Leclerc.

4. The Far Side of the Moon by Robert Lepage

I saw this show in the Wellington festival in 2002 and I’m really pleased to get the chance to see it again. Canadian Robert Lepage’s exploration of two very different brothers dealing with the death of their mother is about outer space and inner space, the US/Soviet space race and the contest of siblings who define their grief through their struggle with each other. It’s only two hours – short by Lepage standards – and packed with inventive theatricality, rich ideas and the music of Laurie Anderson. Absorbing and glorious.

Eru Dangerspiel. Photo Joe Hammond/Loop Recordings Aot(ear)oa.

5. Festival Playground feat. Eru Dangerspiel

The Festival Playground at Silo Park has a terrific lineup – everyone from R&B star Emily King to sitarist Anoushka Shankar, Neil Finn with the APO and a triple bill of Tiki Taane and Ria Hall with Canadian DJs A Tribe Called Red. But top of the bill is Eru Dangerspiel, aka Riki Gooch and his epic music spectacular, a one-night show that follows a famous night in the town hall in 2009. With a long, long lineup of the great and the gifted, this “mayhem of music and dance” is the festival’s opening extravaganza for everyone not quite tempted enough by the ballet. You know who you are.

OrphEus. Photo John McDermott.

6. OrphEus by Michael Parmenter

For one reason or another, Parmenter hasn’t been invited to many arts festivals, so this joint commission from the Auckland and Wellington festivals, with the NZ Dance Company, is a rare treat. Orpheus, lovesick and brave, who went down to Hades to rescue his wife Euridyce from death, only, being human, he couldn’t quite manage it: few tales have tempted artists more, and few are so open to interpretation. Parmenter “gave up” choreography in the early 2000s, although not really, because who does that if you’re an artist who can’t stop? His OrphEus is a “dance opera” and this commission is one of the great things arts festivals are for: offering our best the chance to be even better – and bigger – than they had the chance to be before.

7. Sleep, Vivaldi Recomposed/Three Worlds by Max Richter

The great neo-classical composer Max Richter is bringing a series of shows, including Sleep (you spend the night in Shed 10 and there’s a lot of music); Vivaldi Recomposed, which is The Four Seasons as you’ve never heard it before; and Three Worlds, a piece based on the writings of Virginia Woolf which double-bills with the Vivaldi. I’m a sucker for anyone putting a bomb up Vivaldi, in a good way, but I suspect Sleep may be the show with the biggest impact. Book early because this will definitely book out.

The Triplets of Belleville, with Le Terrible Orchestre de Belleville.

8. The Triplets of Belleville with music by Benoit Charest

Remember the movie? Animated French charmer without words but with an awful lot of speakeasy musical glory, about a kidnapped Tour de France cyclist and the remarkable women who make his life really worth living. Benoit Charest is bringing Le Terrible Orchestra de Belleville to play live with the movie, in the Aotea Centre. This will be So Much Fun.

Us/Them. Photo Murdo MacLeod.

9. Us/Them by Carly Wijs

This won’t be fun at all. But what is a festival if it doesn’t, along with the beauty and grace and excitement and great human endeavour, help us to remember and understand the most important things of the world? So, remember the terrorist invasion of a school in Beslan, Russia, in 2004? Over 1100 people taken hostage. And how the Russian military responded brutally, and how nearly 400 people died? Here’s a Belgian play about it, presented from the point of view of children.

Julia Croft in Body Double. Photo Andi Crown.

9½. Still Life with Chickens by DF Mamea

Local theatre is strongly represented. Eleanor Bishop and Julia Croft build on their work earlier this year in Boys, with Body Double, a show about sex and desire. Wellington’s Tawata Productions contributes Hone Kouka’s new play Bless This Child, a story about domestic violence and prejudice, while Aucklander Ahi Karunaharan premiere’s his Sri Lankan family saga Tea. I’ve seen it in a workshop context and it’s extraordinary. And playing at the Mangere Arts Centre and then at the Waterfront Theatre, there is David Fa’auliuliu Mamea’s Still Life with Chickens. Ostensibly the story of a woman and a problematic hen, it’s a tale about family, community, loss and love, the things that make life worth living and the things that prepare us for death. A hymn to his mother, this one has special written all over it.

Cate Blanchett x3, in Manifesto. Photos Julian Rosefeldt.

9¾. Manifesto with Cate Blanchett 

A reduced film version of this show turned up in the film festival this year, but this is the whole show: Julian Rosefeldt’s “film installation” in which Cate Blanchett presents 13 different characters on 13 different screens – teacher, garbage incineration worker, stockbroker, homeless person – each one reciting from the manifestos of different artists and art theorists. It’s personal and political and angry, and tricky, silly, serious, subversive, very heady and very discombobulating too. Art. When it’s good it’s not what you expect.

1984. Photo Shane Reid.

10. 1984 by George Orwell 

No it is not 1984 the musical. But it is Orwell’s great novel on stage. This show is one of the bona fide smash hits on the international touring circuit right now, the novel brought to live with explosive theatrical talent and imagination by the British theatre group Headlong. It’s a love story. Well, sort of. We might not be in the Cold War anymore but those slogans (see photo), they have a certain refreshed resonance right now, don’t they?

Bloody hell, though. I didn’t get to mention Akram Khan’s Giselle, which is coming to Auckland and only Auckland, from London; or the long overdue return of the Naked Samoans; or Anika Moa rampaging around the outer reaches of the city; or Nanogirl doing her stellar science thing; or the fireworks show they’re going to bring into the streets of the city. And there’s more.

Bookings are open. Check it all out here. @simonbwilson

Keep going!