Reviews, News and Commentary

Highlights of the 2021 Auckland Arts Festival

John Daly-Peoples

Strasbourg 1518

Auckland Arts Festival

March 4 -21

This year’s Auckland Arts Festival will be a substantially different festival from previous years. With no international acts able to travel the emphasis will be on local artists and events.

One of the few international acts will be “The Artist” presented by  international circus sensation Thomas Monckton who managed to slip back into New Zealand last year. In this performance an artist arrives at his paint-spattered studio ready to create a new work. He waits for inspiration. When it finally comes, things don’t proceed quite as he would wish. For this artist, every task is filled with challenges – chaos is unavoidable. 

The Festival has commissioned world premieres of several new works, resuscitated some that were cancelled in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.  There will be a number of free activities including events on International Women’s Day,  New Zealand Children’s Day, the Festival opening ceremony Te Tīmatanga and the closing sing-a-long Kia ora Tamaki featuring Betty-Anne Monga and members of Ardijah.

Wāhine Toikupu will present  the poetry of American Maya Angelou who was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Barack Obama. Her work which has been translated into te reo will be delivered by graduates of Te  Panekiretanga o Te Reo Institute  o Maori language Excellence. Taku Tau Kahurangi: An Aotearoa Love Story performed by the Ria Hall features a collection of classic New Zealand love songs,

The Civic Club is a brand new concept for the Festival that will see audiences seated onstage at The Civic with a line-up of top music acts, including Reb Fountain, Dixon Nacey, Delaney Davidson with Shayne Carter – and Hine!, a showcase of four breakthrough wāhine toa performers.

The Tom Sainsbury Love Hour will be a comedy talk show with  celebrity guests including Hilary Barry and Chlöe Swarbrick discussing their best break-ups, make-ups and obsessions. The Club will also host Heavenly Bodies, a cabaret event with New Zealand’s finest circus superstars, urban acrobats and outrageous curiosities.

Other Festival highlights include the 20th anniversary celebration of Che-Fu’s seminal album Navigator, which the artist will perform with his band The Kratez, headlining the Festival’s Polynesian Panthers 50th Anniversary programming. The Panthers were an activist group known for their protests against the notorious dawn raids of the 1970s, and 2021 marks 50 years since their formation. AAF will feature exhibitions, talks, play readings and the creation of a mural honouring the Panthers’ legacy, as well as a performance in the Festival Garden by Che-Fu’s father, Panthers activist and reggae musician Tigilau Ness, with special guests.

Among the major theatre, music and dance performances will  be Strasbourg 1518 which premiered at last year’s Wellington Arts festival to great acclaim. is a powerful tribute to the dancing plague of 1518, directed and choreographed by Lucy Marinkovich, composed by Lucien Johnson and featuring Michael Parmenter.

Vela Manusaute’s The Factory, the first Pacific Island musical was one of the highlights of the 2014 festival. This year his  Tropical Love Birds brings audiences the tortured love tussle between electrifying beast of a league star Sani and his island queen Sheena to life. Jack and the Beanstalk will a hilarious romp through this classic tale with a kiwi twist, written, directed and starring the actor Michael Hurst.

Six of the finest pianists from Aotearoa, including Michael Houston, will be performing John Psathas’ immersive world premiere of Voices at the End. The work was inspired by the film Planetary  and expands on various themes around ecological and organic systems and the need to move form an industrial growth society to a life sustaining society.

The Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra celebrates International Women’s Day with a selection of women composers in Shoulder to Shoulder. Three New Zealand composers, Ruby Solly, Dorothy Ker and Rachael Morgan will feature alongside several other international composers including Germaine Tailleferre the only female member of Les Six, the early nineteenth  century group of avant garde musicians.

The Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra will also be bringing audiences a big screen experience performing the Australasian premiere of E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial in Concert, complete with John Williams’ Academy Award®-winning score.

The dance programme for this year’s festival consists of classical, kapa haka and contemporary dance. While not part of the festival  The Royal New Zealand Ballet’s Tutus on Tour will be on in Manukau for one night and BalletCollective Aotearoa will premiere a trio of new work titled Subtle Dances, with the  NZTrio playing live. Pūmanawa will feature four leading kapa haka groups while K-pop Party will feature performance curated by Rina Chae who has worked with Beyonce and Justin Bieber. There will also be two outdoor dance performances one The Air Between Us by Rodney Bell and Chloe Loftus and another a Figure Exhales by Zahra Killeen-Chance.

By johndpart

Arts reviewer for thirty years with the National Business Review

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