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New funding for the arts announced

John Daly-Peoples

Auckland Buskers Festival

Today the Ministry of Culture and Heritage today announced additional funding to the cultural sector.

The two new initiatives have been approved by Cabinet to help ensure the cultural sector has the certainty and support to thrive, announced Manatū Taonga Ministry for Culture and Heritage today.

$10 million of COVID-19 recovery funding is going to support established arts, cultural and diversity festivals, while $12 million will help meet increased funding demand being experienced by Creative New Zealand.

“As we kickstart 2023, we’re providing further support to the arts, culture and heritage sector, which brings joy to thousands of kiwis, and continues to be an engine of growth for the New Zealand economy,” says Leauanae Laulu Mac Leauanae, Manatū Taonga Tumu Whakarae Chief Executive.

“Cabinet has approved these two initiatives to help alleviate some of the uncertainty and stress that the cultural sector has acutely experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic and cost-of-living spike. Although these plans were underway before the flooding in Auckland last week, I hope this news will be welcomed by the city’s creative community.

“The extra support for creatives will be administered by Creative New Zealand with the aim of alleviating some of the pressures on over-subscribed funding rounds Creative New Zealand has been facing. Funding will be rapidly delivered to the sector starting later this month.

“We’re also announcing funding to enable Creative New Zealand to support established festivals. While many festivals have survived the pandemic, we know the long tail of COVID-19 has resulted in wide-spread cancellations and postponements. The new funding will give confidence to festival organisers to plan and host festivals in 2023,” says Leauanae Laulu Mac Leauanae.

The new initiatives will be the final additions to the range of funds that have come from the $495 million Arts and Culture COVID Recovery Programme, which was established to support the recovery of the arts, culture and heritage sectors.

“The COVID-19 pandemic brought unprecedented challenges for Aotearoa, which hit the cultural sector particularly hard,” says Joe Fowler, Pou Mataaho o Te Aka Tūhono Deputy Chief Executive, Investment and Outcomes.

“The new arts, cultural and diversity festivals funding will continue to support the live events community as the Arts and Culture Event Support Scheme (ACESS) comes to a close. It is fitting that ACESS funding set aside to underwrite many, many hundreds of arts and culture events throughout the last year is now enabling us to support the resurgence of festivals.

“The Arts and Culture Event Support Scheme paid out more than $30 million to events affected by COVID-19, giving event organisers the confidence to plan and deliver some incredible events, and ensuring that thousands of artists, subcontractors, and crew got paid if their events were disrupted by COVID-19.

“We’re now focused in Manatū Taonga on completing the final rounds of the Cultural Sector Regeneration Fund, investing in projects that will have a lasting benefit for the arts, culture and heritage sector. I am excited to see what initiatives will be successful in our remaining two rounds of funding,” says Joe Fowler.

The media release also noted:

  • Additional support for festivals: $10 million to support established festivals that celebrate the life experiences, stories, cultures and regional identities of New Zealanders, and that continue to be impacted by the effects of COVID-19 in 2023.
  • Additional support for artists, arts practitioners and arts organisations: $12 million to support artists, arts practitioners and arts organisations, including through Grants programmes or other existing programmes that help the arts, culture and heritage sector adapt and thrive in a post-COVID-19 environment.
  • Funding for both initiatives comes from existing funding from the Arts and Culture COVID Recovery Programme and will be administered by Creative New Zealand to enable the continued recovery of the arts, culture and heritage sector from the ongoing impacts of COVID-19.
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Ōtautahi Christchurch Architecture – a gem of a guide

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

Ōtautahi Christchurch Architecture: A Walking Guide 

By John Walsh and Patrick Reynolds

Massey University Press

RRP $30

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

Its not often that books on architecture are best sellers but architectural writer John Walsh and photographer Patrick Reynolds have just brought out the second edition of Ōtautahi Christchurch Architecture: A Walking Guide , an update of their guide published in 2020. This follows on from their successful publication of Auckland Architecture a Walking Guide which came out in its second edition last year.

This new edition of Ōtautahi Christchurch Architecture includes twenty-five additional buildings constructed since the 2010 earthquake.

Walsh notes that “although many buildings in the central city had been destroyed in the quakes, or demolished after them, a number of important buildings had survived sufficiently intact to be saved and restored. … There have been definite losses, such as the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament (1905), which was a nationally significant building, but there have been some impressive heritage wins. Miles Warren’s Town Hall from the 1970s, for example, has been beautifully restored”.

There is an increasing awareness of the  place of architecture in our environment and in our personal, cultural and social history. A city’s buildings are important in defining the nature of a place and we map a city through its buildings. The forms, materials, the orientation, the colours, and  decoration all help create the visual language of the way the city is perceived.

The image of some cities such as Paris and New York are strongly linked to their architecture. So too is Christchurch which has managed to retain many of his historic buildings and the book is not just the basis for  several walking tours but also a history of the development of the city.

Benjamin Mountfort, Canterbury Museum Image: Patrick Reynolds

One of the unique aspects of Christchurch’s architecture is the importance of local architects who have designed buildings for the city over 150 years.

Benjamin Mountfort was Christchurch’s leading architect from the time of European settlement in the 1850s until the end of the nineteenth century designing many buildings in the Gothic Revival style which set the architectural style for the nineteenth and part of the twentieth century. One of his notable buildings which has always been symbolic of the city was Christchurch Cathedral which was originally designed by the leading British architect George Gilbert Scott but substantially modified by Mountford.  He used the Gothic style in several other buildings such as The Great Hall and Tower Block of Canterbury College, The Victoria Clock Tower and the Canterbury Museum.

Warren and Mahoney, 65 Cambridge Terrace Image: Patrick Reynolds

He was succeeded by architects of similar calibre such as  John Collins and Richard Harman, Samuel Hurst Seager and Cecil Wood. Then in the middle part of the twentieth century Miles Warren and the firm of Warren and Mahoney dominated the architectural scene.in designing many of the city’s Modernist architecture including the Dorset Street Flats. The Christchurch Town Hall and the recent  John Britten Building at the lIam Campus.

Shigeru Ban, Transitional Cathedral Image: Patrick Reynolds

More recently there have been several buildings which have pushed the boundaries of Contemporary architecture with buildings such as the  Cardboard Cathedral (Shigeru Ban), Te Pae, the Convention Centre (Woods Bagot – with Warren and Mahoney) and the innovative Boxed Quarter (Field Studio of Architecture +Urbanism).

Walsh includes some of the city’s little architectural gems such as the old Robert McDougall  Art Gallery designed by Edward Armstrong in 1932 ,Warren and Mahoney’s offices and apartments at 65 Cambridge Terrace and the more recent Ravenscar House Museum (Patterson Associates).

Patterson Associates, Ravenscar House Museum Image: Patrick Reynolds

The book which is a gem in itself offers six guided walking tours around different areas of the city with Walsh’s text providing valuable information. He managed to link ideas about architectures, the role and purpose of individual buildings along with a history of Christchurch which gives an insight into the importance of architecture in the environment.

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Two Shoreside Shakespeare productions to enjoy this summer

Auckland Shakespeare in the Park 2023

  • The Merry Wives of Windsor
  • Antony and Cleopatra

Reviewed by Malcolm Calder

Sir John Falstaff (Jordan Henare) in Merry Wives of Windsor

Photo: Matthew Diesch

Outdoor performances can be traced back to a Greek tradition. However they acquired a religious significance over time, and were often a featured part of church services, particularly at Easter, and aimed fairly and squarely at a largely illiterate congregations. Although religious ceremony and celebration continues to play a part in Europe today, by the 14th century outdoor plays in England had become divorced from the church. They covered a broad range of subjects and were frequently performed by craft guilds in outdoor spaces. These frequently took place as wooden carts moved around the streets, drawing an audience as they went along, before coming to rest at an arranged site particularly at inn yards or enclosed courtyards. Indeed actors often relaxed and rested between shows on the village green – hence the term Green Room that is still in use today.

It wasn’t until the 19th century that a throwback to outdoor performances started to gain popularity – initially in England but also in the US – largely driven by women actors and managers. Instead of building a forest on stage, actors were now able to move amongst real trees. Instead of an image of a lake, actors paddled in real water.

In New Zealand this throwback was slow arriving and we leapt almost immediately to indoor spaces. Driven largely by the British colonial military presence and subsequently by an influx of gold diggers, our early theatres were mainly small rooms, pubs and the like. The throwback didn’t start until well into the 20th century and outdoor summer seasons are now almost de rigeur with the works of Shakespeare figuring prominently – largely because his work forms a significant part of our language and theatrical heritage, but also because they are widely known and many are scripted around outdoor settings. There are now thriving summer seasons in several different parts of the country, largely the work of community-based groups. One such group is Auckland’s Shoreside Theatre which performs at the cosy little outdoor ampitheatre behind the Pumphouse Theatre next to the lake at Takapuna. This summer season usually embraces two Shakespeare plays and in 2023 they are tackling Antony and Cleopatra and The Merry Wives of Windsor. These alternate over a 4-week season that extends well into February (see dates below).

For any actors, Shakespeare presents a huge challenge – even more so for amateurs who frequently experience difficulty with the rhythms inherent in Shakespeare’s words, with the timing required in his comedy and with the necessity of clearly articulating every single line so the audience does not get lost. As a result typical community-based productions run the gamut from the mediocre to the outstanding. Shoreside’s two offerings almost reach both extremes.

Merry Wives is the most purely farcical and chaotic of all of Shakespeare’s plays. The ‘meaning’ cannot be separated from the ‘performance. Director James Bell could easily have followed a recent trend of updating and contemporising the setting, but wisely sticks with the tried and true.

Because Merry Wives is a farce it is hugely reliant on lightning-quick timing, carefully controlled over-characterisation and tightly choreographed movement. The chemistry between principals was clearly evident on opening night. There is an easy flow and much of its bumbling over-characterisation is very, very funny. Apart from a couple of minor technical hitches, Director Bell and his well-drilled cast all know their stuff. This production certainly worked for me.

The lynchpin is of course Falstaff. I don’t know Jordan Henare. Have never met him and have never seen him onstage before. But he is every inch the bumbling, salacious buffoon. In attempting to woo two wealthy women into helping him out of his financial troubles he makes both outrageous identical suggestions to both of them – rather like Tinder I suppose. But his efforts make Tinder seem like a Sunday School lesson. Forward is an understatement. Nor would his non-discriminatory, drunken and blatantly misogynistic approach to women in general work any better in a pub, club or even at the beach today. Just as some (hopefully a shrinking minority) continue to do so, his approaches are totally lacking in sensitivity or, some might say, sobriety. Wouldn’t work today. Didn’t work then.

And all because the women are lot smarter than he is and trip him up at every step. In fact he is so full of himself that at one point he is tricked into hiding in a basket of dirty laundry, at another to disguising himself as an ‘F.A.T’ old woman and most of the time he seems completely unembarrassed about being embarrassed.

But if Falstaff is the lynchpin, the strength of this play are its women. Āria Harrison-Sparke and Charlotte Heath are the besties who trip up Falstaff at every step (literally on occasion) while Steph Curtis (Mrs Page) and Terri Mellender (The Host) provide a mature strength that underpins and provides a solid authority for everything else.. Supporting them is the ever-reliable Bess Brookes whose performance as Miss Cleverly suggests she now owns the part.

The blokes are mere counterpoints in this Merry Wives and this is sustained by their being a more predictably bland bunch. Quite appropriately too. But they remain true and authentic with just the right amount of boorishness and cuckolding thrown in – this play wouldn’t work otherwise. Christopher Raven is worthy of mention as the faux Frenchman Dr Caiaus and Daniel Rundle handles Fenton/Brook well even tossing in a flash of tartan and an unexpected burst of ‘braid scots’ at one point.

However, the entire show is almost stolen by the truly captivating work of Heather Maday (Nym). And she has barely any lines at all. Nym was written for a boy, although in a neat reversal of Shakespearean tradition, Bell casts him using a girl-in-a-wig this time around. I kept willing her back on stage and couldn’t take my eyes off her when she was, afraid I might miss something.

In the end of course, this is a Shakesperean comedy after all. Page-the-younger marries her true-love Fenton, Falstaff slightly redeems himself before the fairies and elves and the spirit of the play is well summed up in Page-the-elder’s last lines:

Master Fenton,
Heaven give you many, many merry days!
Good husband, let us every one go home,
And laugh this sport o’er by a country fire;
Sir John and all.

Samantha Ellwood and Grae Burton in Antony and Cleopatra

Photo: Phil Botha

Unfortunately I can’t wax as lyrical about Shoreside’s other offering Antony and Cleopatra. The company is to be applauded for blooding a number of younger people and enabling them to explore first-hand the complexities and subtleties required required to make Shakespeare’s work succeed. I understand that a critical last-minute cast change also became necessary and that may have unsettled rhythms within the cast. But it didn’t help either.

Nonetheless Grae Burton gave us a larger than life Mark Antony, wrought with a coloniser’s imperial view of Egypt. But his chemistry with Samantha Ellwood (Cleopatra) was hardly captivating and mainly notable for its faux qualities and even absence. That may have been partly explained by a Cleopatra who was overly petulant, sulky and quite honestly just plain naggy at times. What Antony saw in her I’m not sure as she evoked few of the qualities of a powerful siren that the role requires.

The third key player, Rama Buisson (Octavius Caesar) explored an imperial aloofness that was slightly out of touch with the hoi polloi. Quite interesting I thought and, for me, it had slight traces of a young Prince (now King) Charles.

I also smiled each time Kutumi Refferts brought his idiosyncratic Agrippa out, although I wondered if the character he created was perhaps an escapee from Merry Wives.

However, a final word for the Production Manager. Somehow he managed to conjure the overhead arrival of the Police Chopper just as Antony was nearing the end of one of Mr Shakepeare’s longest-ever death scenes before finally carking it. The helicopter drowned out most of the dying Antony’s final words unfortunately but that didn’t matter as it seemed the timely aerial arrival was orchestrated to bear his spirit away to a sarcophagus atop the Skytower. At least that’s where the helicopter headed. Or maybe a pyramid somewhere.

Shortly thereafter, as Mr Shakespeare’s death count continued to mount, a possum ambled across the P-side battlements and then darted across the stage roof before stopping and hitting its mark right on an atmospherically lit and highly strategic part of the OP-side battlements. Then lo and behold, precisely when and Cleo got finally asp-ed and right on cue it gathered up HER spirit and ran away with it too – it seemed the possum was chasing the helicopter to Antony’s sarcophagus on the southside too. The timing was perfect for both!

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Antony and Cleopatra – Jan 21,22, 26, 28, Feb 1, 3, 4, 5, 8, 9, 13, 14, 17.

The Merry Wives of Windsor – Jan 25, 27, 31, Feb 7, 10, 11, 12, 15, 16, 18

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Auckland Arts Festival International Theatre

John Daly-Peoples

Auckland Arts Festival Theatre

Among the dozen theatrical works being presented at this year’s Auckland Arts Festival will be a few international pieces including works from Japan, Australia, and South Korea.

Sydney Theatre Company’s “The Picture of Dorian Gray” comes to the festival after sold-out Australian seasons.

Kip Williams reimagines the Oscar  Wilde novella in a play about a deal with the devil. His novel approach to theatre follows on from a career of innovative interpretations  including a  2013  reimagining of  Romeo and Juliet focussing the text on  as well as an all-female  production of William Golding’s “Lord of the Flies”  

The story revolves around a portrait of Dorian Gray  painted by Basil Hallward. Having sold his soul Dorian is able to pursue a libertine lifestyle while only the portrait ages. This is a one woman show with the actress playing  where 26 characters linking on stage performances and video character combinations.

The Guardian review of the work said “It is ambitious, exuberant and whip-smart; it is an embrace of theatre’s past, present and future; it is in fluent conversation with our screens, with our feelings, with our fears, with our collective obsessions”.

Australia’s The Age noted that “Blending cinema and theatre requires utmost care, lest the immediacy of live performance be lost. This production takes that risk with daring creative intelligence, and audiences are rewarded with gloriously innovative, forward-looking hybrid performance that stands alongside the best in the business.”

Many will recall the Innovative dance/theatre work Betroffenheit, created by  Jonathon Young and Crystal Pite at a previous festival. Now they return with  “Revisor” a sensational hybrid of contemporary theatre and dance.

Young’s text derives from Nikolai Gogol’s 1836 play The Government Inspector” (Revizor in Russian), a farce about petty bureaucracy, mistaken identity and conflicting motives.

A review in the Guardian said “Revisor finds Pite’s phenomenal dancers performing a kind of physical lip-syncing to scripted voiceovers by Young’s actors. The result is astonishing not for its imitation, but for its exactitude: the rhythms and intonations of speech drive every gesture, stance and step. Choreographically, it’s riveting, both for the inventive articulation of individual bodies and for the fine-tuned dynamics of the ensemble, as responsive as conversation itself”.

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Skyduck; A Chinese Spy Comedy is written and performed by Sam Wang and Australian who trained as an actor at Toi Whakaari Drama School. It is set in 1993 with China undertaking Operation Skyduck. Captain Yan and Agent Chang are sent to steal America’s most prized flight simulation software, when they find themselves trapped by NSA agent, Commander Kendrick who intends destroying China’s military ambition.

This is a bilingual (Mandarin with English surtitles) solo show with Sam Wang, playing seven hilarious characters in a rollicking tale of international espionage – and half the story is in

The show combines lo-fi with high-tech, utilising projection, puppets, musical numbers, and handmade gadgets,

An Australian Arts Hub review described Wang as “a profoundly charismatic force on stage, with his versatility lying at the heart of the success of Skyduck. He plays an ever increasing number of characters, each detailed and enjoyably distinct. He dances, sings, speaks multiple languages, and can perform a commendable Matrix-inspired back bend.” And This production weaves Sam Wang into a rich, multicultural tapestry, often drawing on the humour that arises from viewing familiar cultural icons with fresh eyes.



From Scotland comes “The Chosen Haram” featuring   the Edinburgh born  Sadiq Ali as the lead actor in an emotionally candid work about sexuality, faith, addiction and connection that’s also a clever take on circus.

Something that is ‘Haram’ is forbidden by Islam. “The Chosen Haram” tells the story of two gay men and their chance meeting through a dating app, portraying the highs and lows of their relationship and the social, cultural and personal barriers they face in seeking happiness and fulfilment.

The work is based on Ali’s experience, combined with interviews with members of the LGBTQ+ community who identify as (ex) Muslim, with the work exploring the struggles faced by many people whose upbringing contradicts their personal truths, and how this can lead to self-destructive behaviour.

A review in The Voice noted that. “There is no dialogue in the show, except for a few grunts here and there, but it really doesn’t need it. The two characters are so expressive with their bodies, facial expressions – and each other – you can hear every word they are saying.

Homosexuality in Islam is a difficult subject to approach, but this done in a way that did not desecrate the religion. It’s a human story about trying to be the best version of yourself, but can you really do that if you’re suppressing a huge part of who you are.”

From Japan comes “Scored in Silence,” a solo theatre performance which tells the  story of the Deaf survivors of Hiroshima using beautifully crafted animation, movement and sound.

Through research, interviews and the study of original film footage, London-based Deaf Japanese artist Chisato Minamimura unpacks the hidden perspectives of Deaf people from the small number that survived the horrors of the atomic bomb atrocity in Japan in 1945.

Minamimura brings the untold narratives of survivors of the A-bomb – known as ‘hibakusha’ – into stark relief, touching upon the atrocity of the event and its aftermath, including the layers of discrimination experienced by these isolated members of Japanese society. Scored in Silence is available to stream online with English captions and/or Audio Description.

This stunning solo theatre performance tells the story of the Deaf survivors of Hiroshima using beautifully crafted animation, movement and sound.

A Canadian review said of the work “Scored in Silence is gorgeous in its rejection of any one single aesthetic — it’s dance, it’s animation, it’s mime, it’s spoken-word. A universe of performance styles meet in a fifty-five minute symphony of remembrance: it’s stunning work.”

“Minamimura, though firmly at the apex of her solo show, does not act alone: she’s joined by Dave Packer’s dreamy projected illustrations, which morph to represent planes, fields of grass, and, chillingly, the bomb itself. The illustrations are whimsical and gnarled, complicated and pure: they’re everything at once, a whole world in drawings projected upon a delicate, gossamer screen, behind which Minamimura can perform. Videos of Hiroshima survivors appear intermittently, framing Minamimura’s work with more tangible contexts and personalities.”

Scored in Silence will be available to stream online at Vidzing (March 12 – 16) with English Captions and/or Audio Description

There will be a screening and post-show talk with Chisato Minamimura at the Magic Mirrors Spiegeltent, Aotea Square on Saturday  11 March, 2.00pm

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Renaissance: The Age of Genius – A spectacular view of the art of the past

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

Renaissance: The Age of Genius

Hunua Room, Aotea Centre, Auckland

From January 4

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

 

Last year one of the great visual art treats was the impressive multimedia show  Michelangelo – A Different View which provided viewers with an extraordinary view of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling.

This week a similar  immersive exhibition opens at the Aotea Centre.  RENAISSANCE: THE AGE OF GENIUS  brings together about 500 works by the major artists of the Renaissance including Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael, Sandro Botticelli, Titian, Caravaggio, Giotto, Peter Bruegel the Elder, Lucas Cranach the Elder and Albert Durer. Each artist is presented in a four minute filmic sequence showing numerous works by the artist.

The images are of works from dozens of  art museums  around the world and  are presented using specialist multimedia projections which provide visitors with remarkable views of some the great works of art, many of which are difficult to see in their far-flung locations.

The forty minute filmic presentation opens with a magnificent view of Florence where many of the artists lived and worked. It is a view which would have been the same back in the fifteenth century.

This grand vista is followed by dramatic views of the ten artists’ works. Some are presented life size others in great detail such that the face of  Leonardo’s “Mona Lisa” is shown five metres high showing not just the detail of the painting itself but also the crazed paint surface . You could never get to see such detail standing even s few  metres away from the painting in The Louvre.

The least impressive is that of the work of Lucas Cranach where his works are presented all the same size on a scrolling “exhibition” of his work.

There is no commentary to any of any of the sequences  but they all provide clever presentations and interpretations of the artist’s work. Some of Leonardo’s inventions such as his  flying machine have been animated to show the working mechanisms and number of his portraits demonstrate the way he was able to render faces with genuine human  qualities.

Animation also brings to life some of Bruegel’s paintings such as his “Hunters in the Snow” where the distant figures of skaters on the ice are seen moving.

With Titian  the works are elaborate stories of classical  and Christian mythology while the Botticelli sequence contains works such as his  “Nativity” which combines earthly and divine  perspectives. Botticelli’s “Primavera” and “Birth of Venus” are example of the influence of classical mythology on Christian ideas. This sequence also shows the evidence of animation with petals floating over the images.

The sequence on Giotto opens with his small angels floating in the brilliant Lapis Lazuli  blue sky. His works demonstrate the beginnings of  the move from stylisation to naturalness and three-dimensional portrayals of figures and landscape.

The dramatic Caravaggio sequence depicts the sweet charm of many of his figures along with the darker underside of human nature  with the swirling snakes of his “Perseus” as well as the premonition of death in his “St Jerome”

With Durer one is aware of his interest in close observation of his world, demonstrating an enquiring mind  very much like that of Leonardo as he records his environment as well as the faces of the people he painted.

smart

Then there is the grandeur and enormity of scale with the work of Michelangelo and Raphael.

A major fault of the exhibition is the chronology of each artist, with no dates or titles of the works being shown so there is no real comprehension of their developments. There is a separate screen for each artist providing basic information of their careers and occasional details of work but these are of limited value.

The show lets one appreciate the development of perspective, the understanding of human anatomy, depiction of landscape and the combination of the mythic and local. One is also aware of how the human face, hand gestures  and posture are developed by the artists.

The exhibition is an art journey across two centuries of ground-breaking art but it is also a journey into the paintings in a unique experience.

New details are revealed, new connections between artists realised and new understandings gained

In seeing the detail of these works, one appreciates the gift of close observation and the skill in depiction which are the hallmarks of the great painter / genius. These are individuals who changed the way we see and understand our world and the ideas which maker our visual culture.

Its an exhibition which will entertain, educate, challenge and delight the whole family.

Bookings and times

https://www.aucklandlive.co.nz/show/renaissance-the-age-of-genius#tickets-times

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The End of the Golden Weather; Christmas Fun in the Sun

Reviewed by Cecilia Martini

The End of the Golden Weather (Part 3 – Christmas at Te Parenga)

By Bruce Mason

A NZTM Production

Takapuna Beach, Takapuna

25 December 2022 

Reviewed by Cecilia Martini

What an enjoyable Christmas morning celebration.

Returning after a Covid enforced cancellation last year, this Takapuna annual hit the ground running for the 17th time this Christmas. The 5-600 strong audience was in a mood to celebrate and delighted to be back.  The sun was out, the tide that was full and the corks were popping.

Sir Roger Hall conceived this annual event in 2006, determined to create an authentic Takapuna Christmas tradition.  He felt it should be theatrical (of course) and have clearly discernible links to Takapuna.  What better way, he felt, than Bruce Mason’s iconic Golden Weather, set right where Mason grew through childhood.  The main character in his play is a nameless 12-year-old based on the young Mason himself.  Completed in 1959, he went on to perform it more than 1,000 times in theatres, pubs and parks all over New Zealand and overseas with themes that are as relevant today as they were 80 years ago.  Part 3 could not be a more perfectly accessible realisation of a kiwi Christmas.

The crowd at Takpuna Beach End of the Golden Weather

At Takapuna Beach there is no stage, just a natural setting that Mason has pre-painted: a green sward ringed by pohutukawa, the guardian rocks at either end of three-quarter mile long beach, the occasional squawking gull and an ever-brooding Rangitoto standing guard over everything.

This year, quietly at first, the plaintive notes of bagpipes could be heard.  Initially wistful, then joyful, and then slowly increasing in tempo and volume.  Suddenly the piper hove into view.  A few quiet murmurs could be heard when the crowd realised that the actor this year was not a boy at all.  No, in 2022 it was a girl.

Perhaps better known for A Traveller’s Guide to Turkish Dogs from earlier in the year, Tess Sullivan quickly discarded the pipes and bounced in as an elfin-like blythe spirit providing the child’s-eye view of Christmas in a 1930s family setting.  She capered and cavorted about, dancing easily from narration and description to an array of characterisations that included parents, their friends, relatives and siblings, simply telling a story and telling it well. She easily captivated her audience and their mindset change from boy to girl was instantaneously accomplished and in no way the risk some may have initially feared.

Part 3 of Mason’s script is timeless, its tone is perfect and its setting is as impeccable as the play itself – a Christmas concert performed by children for their nearest and dearest.  There is a clear expectation, excitement and nervousness among them before the concert begins.  But all goes awry and turns into frustrations and scoldings with the tantrums and idiosyncrasies of the siblings who refuse to take it seriously and do what has been so meticulously planned and prepared.

Tess Sullivan drew out the humour in this and truly owned her interpretation.  The chocolate fish she dealt out to some in the audience may have melted but they loved her nonetheless, and post-performance comments expressed appreciation for the different emphases she brought.  On balance, it was great casting and Tess was loved by everyone at the beach.  The only quibble perhaps related to her tempo which was constantly up, whereas the occasional pause may have enhanced some of the dramatic moments and time-shifts. 

But this was overshadowed by those superb characterisations.  One middle-aged bloke was even overheard saying he had never been to a single play in his life but thought this was pure magic … and he’d definitely be back next year.  And Stephen Lovatt, arguably New Zealand’s definitive Mason interpreter and a long-time actor in this role, was glowing saying ‘Tess owned it’.  

Part of the success of this event lies in its very simplicity and community focus.  There is just one actor and two speakers on stands.  There is neither set nor scenery, no curtain to draw and no props, mood music or special effects.  Everything is outlined in Mason’s original script and the audience itself becomes a part of what he has described.

It is understood the NZ Theatre Month Trust, which produces this event, is not only keen to see it continue, but is keen to establish some type of Endowment Scheme awarded annually to an outstanding early-to-mid career professionl actor, and posing an on-going challenge to both interpret Mason’s words and play the role.  Tess Sullivan took on that challenge this year and clearly won.

So, Sir Roger, take a bow.  You may have been unable to attend this year and missed out on a chocolate fish, but you have well and truly established a Christmas tradition that resonates well beyond Takapuna.

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Secrets of Stonehenge revealed at Auckland Museum

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

Secrets of Stonehenge 

Auckland War Memorial Museum

Until April 21

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

On June  21st this year over 6000 people gathered at Stonehenge on the Salisbury Plain to witness the Summer Solstice. People from around the world came to gaze, party and marvel as the sun rose behind the Heel Stone in the north-east part of the horizon and its first rays shone into the heart of Stonehenge. They were continuing a tradition which first began thousands of years ago when the local inhabitants of the area would gather to witness the beginning of the new year. Each year prior to Covid over 1.6 million people visited the site every year

Stonehenge was built in six stages between 3000 and 1520 BCE, during the transition from the Neolithic Period (New Stone Age) to the Bronze Age. As a prehistoric stone circle, it is unique because of its shaped blocks of sarsen stones, and because of the remote origin of the smaller bluestone rocks.

Why the people of the time actually built the structure, who designed it and why it was built over such as long period has sparked curiosity for centuries.

Now audiences are able to see the international exhibition Secrets of Stonehenge  featuring 300 artefacts from more than 5,000 years ago, scientific and archaeological evidence surrounding the secrets behind one of the world’s most mysterious prehistoric monuments.

Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Stonehenge in Wiltshire, is one of the most famous landmarks on the planet. The monument once consisted of rings and horseshoes of standing stones, some topped by horizontal “lintels”. The largest stones are around 7 metres high, nearly 3 metres wide and weigh more than 22,000kg. Scientific analysis has revealed that many of the stones were transported from the Preseli Mountains in Wales, over 240km away.

The Secrets of Stonehenge exhibition was opened last week by the curator Professor Mike Parker Pearson, Professor of British Later Prehistory at the Institute of Archaeology, University College London, and Fellow of the British Academy. 

He has been directing research on Stonehenge since 2003 and says “After centuries of speculation, we are finally reaching an understanding of Stonehenge: who built it, when how and why”

The exhibition examines how the stones arrived there to who the builders were and what their intentions might have been as they formed the stone circle. In addition to Stonehenge’s construction, the exhibition also speculates on the monument’s special place in the ancient landscape, its role as a domain of the dead, and how it related to nearby settlement Durrington Walls, the village of the builders in the domain of the living.

As Professor Pearson says, “We now know that Stonehenge did not appear ‘out of the blue’. This part of Salisbury Plain had been considered sacred for hundreds if not thousands of years before the first Stonehenge was built. That first Stonehenge, built around 3000 BCE, looked very different from its second incarnation, built 500 years later, when it took the form in which it broadly appears today. Its story is one of change and evolution—a story we are piecing together for the first time.”

The exhibition features artefacts relating to the construction of the landmark such as  stone tools, antler picks along with items related to the population who lived and worked in the area such as pottery, gold and bronze objects.

There are also  maps of the area, models of the  evolving structure, charts and explanatory panels. Holding all this together are a series of large video screens with Professor Pearson on the Salisbury plain providing informative guides to the development of the complex.

Ultimately it will be the individual viewer who makes connections with what is on display with the questions people have asked for centuries. Who had the original idea of the structure – a priest a farmer or a chief. Was it built as a simple calendar or for religious, cosmological, agricultural or burial purposes.

For many the place has spiritual connections as though once you control or understand the movements of the heavens you have control over your destiny or that of the tribe. It’s these spiritual aspects which tends to interest many people who see it as one of the astral points focussing cosmic energy although this approach is symboklic and mythic rather than offering anything concrete

It does seem unnecessary to build such a huge structure merely to know when the winter and summer solstice will occur – in fact they people who built it knew in advance where the solstices appeared

Then there are the myths such as the Druids and the Celts. It is now known that Druids had nothing to do with the building of Stonehenge, and there is no evidence for supposing that human sacrifice was ever practised there and the various Neolithic peoples who built Stonehenge predated the Celts.

The design and layout of the structure Its design seems to correspond to the observation of many astronomical events such as solstices, eclipses and moon cycles, but it would seem that these simple observations may have evolved into a religious or semi religious cult in a period when ancient Britons switched from the worship of landscape features like hills to some form of solar worship.

This exhibition may make you quite interested in stone axes and the way they were used to shape some of the stone. The Neolithic people did not have iron tools and used various rocks to shape the stones and there is one the axe heads on display  which looks a patu The various digging tools which were used were made of antlers which would mean the people who used them would have been skilled in particular techniques of digging and one gets a sense of the way in which their physical engagement with the land and the stones would have been like.

Like many of the big shows such as The Greeks which was on at the museum, the exhibition is educational and very rewarding. There is a lot of information which answers many of the questions a viewer will have but it also opens up further questions about our early ancestors and how we have changed and adapted over many thousand years.

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Auckland Choral’s magnificent Messiah

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

Auckland Choral Image Iain Bremner

Handel’s Messiah

Auckland Choral with Piper Sinfonia

Auckland Town Hall,

December 18

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

Last Sunday Auckland Choral returned after a year’s hiatus to present their annual Messiah, one of the great musical treats of the year and two hundred and eighty years after its first performance.

Although it is immensely popular, with great tunes the Messiah can be a challenge to make it a truly great experience.

The work has aspects of an opera but does not have an opera’s dramatic form.  There are no characters as such and no direct speech. The text provides insights into the spiritual, emotional and psychological dimensions of Christ’s life as well as the joys and struggles of mankind.  Part I deals with prophecies by Isaiah  and others and moves to the annunciation and the shepherds, the only “scene” taken from the Gospels.  Part II concentrates on the Passion ending  with the Hallelujah Chorus. Part III covers the resurrection of the dead and Christ’s glorification in Heaven.

A great performance of the Messiah needs to have soloists who convey the various narrative lines and psychological nuances of the work, expressing aspects of the life of Christ as well as that of the common man. It also requires an orchestra of exceptional quality to provide the emotional content of the work.

With this year’s Messiah Auckland Choral and Pipers Sinfonia achieved that with an exhilarating display along with the four soloists: soprano Joanna Foote (replacing Isabella Moore), mezzo-soprano Kate Webber tenor Emmanuel Fonoti-Fuimaono and Baritone James Harrison (replacing Benson Wilson).

The baritone has some of best tunes to sing in the Messiah and James Harrison gave them a fresh interpretation making him the stand-out appearance of the concert. His singing of “The people that walked in darkness”, exposed the dark and eerie quality of the oratorio and his “Why do the nations” sounded like a powerful revolutionary call to arms

Emmanuel Fonoti-Fuimaono’s “Comfort ye” was well modulated showing a superbly controlled voice making his opening recitative a moving description. His dynamism did not extend throughout his singing and his second half “He that dwellith in heaven” lacked strength and precision.

Kate Webber lacked power in some of her early arias, but the richness of her voice was able to give an affecting performance notably with her anguished account of “He was despised and rejected of men”.

Joanna Foote had a great stage presence, but her voice was a bit too light in her early arias and in her more dramatic moment she seemed muted. She excelled in some of her singing notably in the duet “He Shall feed his His flock” while her singing “I know my redeemer livith” showed her ability to project and to use her luxurious voice to create an intimacy with the audience,

Conductor Uwe Grodd proved himself to be a conductor who thinks through the music. There was a balance between the various parts of the orchestra and between choir and orchestra which brought out the best in the music and the singers. The choir as usual turned on a polished performance in which individual voices surfaced and merged providing an opulence and majesty to the work. The choir was electrifying in some of its choruses, producing sounds which ranged from the light and sweet to the vibrant and dark.

While their singing of the Hallelujah Chorus was a highlight their singing of the section including “All we like sheep” was particularly thrilling and expressive.

Trumpeter Huw Dann gave a sensational performance in his “The trumpet will sound” ‘duet’ with James Harrison. This section which ends with the words “we shall be changed” seemed to be a more appropriate ending to the whole oratorio given the power of the two performers.

Organist Michael Bell gave an inspiring accompaniment with some thrilling, burnished sounds which heightened the drama of many of the choruses.

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Stunning Alexander McQueen exhibition opens in Melbourne

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

Alexander McQueen: Myth, Mythos, Muse 

 National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

December 11 – April 14.

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

This year’s summer blockbuster at the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) is “Alexander McQueen: Mind, Mythos, Muse”  showcasing the work of the extraordinarily talented Alexander McQueen who died by suicide at the age of 40.

It is a stunning exhibition displaying 120 designs along with with 80 additional  paintings, sculptures, drawings and textiles which help contextualise his work It’s a show which provides insights into the creative thinking of one of the great designers of the twenty-first century.

With many fashion designers and collections one can see their creations building on previous designers, dress silhouettes and other fashion trends. McQueen in contrast always wanted to create narratives and explore ideas around historical  events and concepts. He understood that all art and cultures feeds of other.

He is also a visual artist, continually drawing on other visual material. He apparently went to the Victoria and Albert Museum couple of times  a week to look at the costume displays but he would have also seen all the other material in the museum  as well as paintings from the great London collections.  All of this fed into his imagination.

smart

One of collection, “Eye” of 2000 was inspired by Turkish music and the greater Islamic community of London. The collection merges Western fashion with McQueen’s interpretation of Middle Eastern clothing referring to cultural religious dress, belly dancing costumes and soccer uniforms. McQueen conflating the a huge area and diverse populations of the Middle East into a few designs.

On display with one of the works from that show is  a Turkish liturgical veil, a wedding headdress from Palestine adorned with Turkish coins as well as Hapsburg coins depicting Maria Theresa. There is also a portrait by Jean Baptiste Greuze of woman in Turkish dress from 1790 a  time of exoticism in French painting. This small display demonstrates his varied sources of inspiration.

In another display McQueen’s “houndstooth design“ is linked with the artworks of  M C Escher whose designs he used in several creations.

His 2006 collection “Neptune” took inspiration from the Roman god of water and borrowed images of the deity, soldiers, gladiators, marble sculptures and classical architecture. He used these neo-classical images in the presentation along with a soundtrack  including Suzi Quatro, Aretha Franklin and Missy Elliott.

In “Widows of Culloden”, he drew inspiration from his own Scottish heritage and several of the creations used the McQueen tartan. The collection referenced the Battle of Culloden where the English defeated a Scots army which was also the last stand of Bonney Prince Charlie. The aftermath of the battle lead to privation of the Scots. The show also referred back to his previous Highland Rape collection.

His posthumous “Angels and Demons” collection of 2010–11, referenced Christian iconography from the Byzantine Empire as well as the northern and Italian Renaissance. With these works he created a poetic, medieval beauty that dealt with religious iconography using fabric that translated digital photographs of paintings such as Hieronymus  Bosch’s images of  demons.

The Great Depression dance marathon portrayed in the 1969 film They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? inspired McQueen’s “Deliverance” which poses the danse macabre as a metaphor for working in fashion. A ‘raven cape’ embodies the film’s sense of foreboding: ravens, like other birds of prey, traditionally represent death. In “Deliverance” even wristwatch-strap sandals, marking McQueen’s 1969 birth year, are a form of memento mori.

There is a lot of ambiguity around  the impulses which drove McQueen’s approach to women and his designs. He can seem to be  misogynistic or trying to empower women. At times he is making real social statements and at others he indulges in  fairy tales.

With all his designs there is a sexual element. McQueen is quoted as  saying “I think there has to be an underlying sexuality. There has to be a perverseness to the clothes. There is a hidden agenda in the fragility of romance. I am not big on women looking naive. There has to be a sinister aspect, whether it’s melancholy or sadomasochist. I think everyone has a deep sexuality, and sometimes it’s good to use a little of it-and sometimes a lot of it like a masquerade”.

As  well as the designs om show throughout the galleries there are videos of previous shows and filmed interview of the McQueen. One of the videos shows the  closing moments of Alexander McQueen’s Spring/Summer 1999 show where supermodel Shalom Harlow stands alone, rotating like a ballerina on a platform while two robots encircled her spraying her white dress in an acidic yellow and black paint.

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Book Review: Homeground. The story of a building that changes lives. Plus book extract

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

HomeGround; The Story of a building that changes lives

Simon Wilson et al

Massey University Press

RRP $65.00

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

For many years the crowds milling outside the Auckland City Mission on Albert St was one of the obvious signs of the housing and homelessness crisis affecting the country. They were a stark reminder that New Zealand had one of the highest levels of homelessness in the OECD.

But this year has seen the start of what many hope will be a radical change in the way the country addresses the issue of homelessness. The Auckland City Mission opened HomeGround a new multi-story development which directly addresses the problem providing accommodation and support services for eighty residents.

Those who experiences homelessness and living in poverty are normally never able to access affordable housing. This experience may result from loss of a job and income, sickness or short-term disability, needing to leave their home due to violence. For some this will be a temporary period in their lives but others may have a number of these episodes over their lifetime.

There are a number of ways that permanent supportive housing can be created and managed but the major way is the ‘high density’ models such as HomeGround which involves people living in one apartment complex, with some of the support services they need to sustain their tenancies provided on-site. 

The new building designed by Stevens Lawson Architects has 80 residential units each with their own kitchen and bathroom. The complex also has extensive support elements – a detox centre, medical centre, food bank, a roof top terrace as well as several lounges and meeting rooms.

The genesis and development of the project has been documented in a new book “HomeGround, The Story of a building that changes lives” written largely by Simon Wilson.

It records the key steps and individuals that brought the building and the work done thereinto existence – a visionary social services agency, a committed architecture practice, courageous funders, and skilled construction specialists.

From the plans the building looks very much like a hotel with individual guest room and various facilities but the thinking behind it and the consultation around its design was very different. For HomeGround consultation was focused on the eventual inhabitants and their particular needs. What was being built was not just a building but a community and that was at the centre of the design thinking. While the building creates a village for the inhabitants it has been designed as a part of the wider community and there is a walkway which allows members of the public to move from one street to another through the complex so they connect with the inhabitants rather than merely passing by.

The acknowledgement of the inhabitants is central to the book and Simon Wilson includes a section where he has interviewed two of the residents who talk of their depressing and harrowing lives which have brought them to this place, through bad parenting, ill health, drug taking, social isolation. HomeGround offers a retreat, a new beginning, possibly even a paradise.

Simon Wilson has written the book along with Professor Deidre Brown and Dr Karamia Muller and there is a foreword by Richard Didsbury. Photographer Mark Smith has photographed the building as though for an architectural publication but has also documented the people who have made the building possible as well as the people who live there and the people who work there.

The book weaves together the various threads of creative architecture and planning acute social problems along with the power of individuals and organisations to effect social change.

Simon Wilson is one of New Zealand’s best-known journalists. The former editor of Cuisine and Metro magazines and Auckland editor for The Spinoff, he is now a senior writer at The New Zealand Herald. He is a regular writer on urban and social issues.

Professor Deidre Brown (Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Kahu) is an art historian and architectural lecturer. She is head of the School of Architecture and Planning at the University of Auckland and a governor of the Arts Foundation of New Zealand. Dr Karamia Muller is a Pacific academic who lectures at the School of Architecture and Planning at the University of Auckland. Her research specialises in the meaningful ‘indigenisation’ of creative practices and design methodologies invested in building futures resistant to inequality.

HomeGround, Entrance from Hobson Street

HomeGround book extract

For the Mission team charged with populating HomeGround, it was clear that one of the key issues would be how to choose who would get to live there. There are an estimated 20,000 homelesspeople in Auckland, hundreds, if not thousands, of whom, the Mission knew, would like to live in HomeGround. And they had spaces for 80.

The advice from overseas was to populate the building in stages, taking a year if necessary. They were building a community and taking the time to choose well now would, they decided, pay off later. But going slow is hard when the need is so pressing.

Some things were already decided. The apartments would all go to people on the social housing register run by the Ministry of Social Development. Following the Australian Common Ground model, the Housing First programme mandated that half of them would be for people who were ‘chronically homeless’, defined as having spent at least a full year on the street, or having had four episodes of sleeping rough in the previous three years, and having at least two comorbidities, which can include mental illness, physical illness, trauma or acquired brain injury (ABI). The rest of the apartments would be for people who might still be in acute need, but were not facing such complex health or wellbeing issues.

There were other factors, too. Chris Farrelly says it was always important to make it a diverse community. ‘That means gender diverse, so half the people living in HomeGround will be women.

And there will be younger people, older people, sexual diversity. It’s not just for the old male streeties. And yes, there are a lot of them, so the Mission has to find other ways to help them, too.’

The small apartments these new tenants call home are smart and attractive. Would anyone dare to say that they are too good? ‘It’s an act of justice. It’s about the dignity of an experience,’ says Helen Robinson of the quality they sought and have achieved. ‘Every person who walks through that door should know they matter.’

‘The building is impressive,’ says Chris Farrelly. ‘We wanted to make it part of Auckland, not something in a dark alley. It links to the whole city and it says, “This is Auckland, be proud of it, come in yourself.” If you look at the apartments, they’re comfortable, but they’re relatively plain and they’re smallish.’

To those who would question the standard, Jacqui Dillon would say, ‘You’re saying we should do the work out of a tin shed? This is a tangible manifestation of our commitment to equity.’

‘We deserve to be properly resourced,’ says Helen Robinson. ‘We want to be neither poor nor excessive. We just need what we need. We’re not being ostentatious here — it’s beautiful but it’snot flashy.’

‘Everyone has a sense of home, it’s a nurturing thing,’ adds Joanne Reidy. ‘Doesn’t everyone deserve a home?’ ‘Nothing like this has been done anywhere in the world,’ says Chris Farrelly. ‘All the Common Grounds are apartment complexes. They use the Housing First model but they don’t have food facilities, medical centres, all those other things on site. The support staff come in, but that’s it.

We’re doing something really special here, for the people among us in the greatest need. Isn’t that good?’

At the function the Mission held for Sir Chris on the day of his investiture in 2022, Liz Sosaia, one of the Mission’s peer support workers, was first on her feet to make a speech. She said she’d been sleeping rough when Farrelly was appointed. First time she saw him, she thought, ‘Oh yeah, who’s this old white guy? That’s ridiculous, what’s he gonna do?’ Farrelly sat down and talked to her. Later, she was in prison, and Farrelly and Helen Robinson went to visit her. She cried at that, because they’d taken the time to care.

‘Liz was amazing,’ remembers Joanna Pidgeon. ‘All these “important” people were there, and she stood up and spoke so eloquently and movingly. That’s why we do it. You want to give people the opportunity to realise their potential. You’ve got to have hope. And if they’re seen and valued, they will respond to that. That’s why we didn’t want to build a second-rate place.’