Reviews, News and Commentary

Te Papa’s Surrealist exhibition shows how the weird became wonderful

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

Surrealist Art: Masterpieces from Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen 

Te Papa June 12  – October  31

Surrealist Art | He Toi Pohewa

By Els Hoek and Lizzie Bisley

Te Papa Press

RRP $35.00

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

A major show of Surrealist art has just opened at Te Papa and will be on show for the next four months.  The works are all from the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam and includes sculpture, furniture, paintings, graphic design, prints, and photography.

Accompanying the exhibition is an excellent catalogue jointly produced by the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen and Te Papa.

The 180 works in the show include major works by artists such as Salvador Dalí, Max Ernst, Leonora Carrington, René Magritte, and Marcel Duchamp.

Visitors will be able to see iconic Surrealist works such as Dalí’s Mae West Lips Sofa (1938), a playfully subversive couch shaped as a lush pair of red lips, and René Magritte’s La maison de verre (The glass house) (1939), an uncanny masterpiece in which a man’s face looks out from the back of his head.

In 1916, a group of poets and artists in Zurich turned against academism and all common beliefs about culture. Their ideas were picked up by others and it was therefore not long before the Dadaists began making “anti-art” such as noise concerts and nonsense poems. Their views formed the breeding ground from which surrealism originated in 1924. Many Dadaists later joined the Paris surrealists around André Breton.

In response to the atrocities caused by the First World War, the surrealists rejected the rational and everything that is traditional. Instead, they wanted to make art that was contrary, irrational and shocking. Andre Breton who wrote the first of his several Surrealist Manifestos in 1924 defined surrealism as “Psychic automatism in its pure state, by which one proposes to express—verbally, by means of the written word, or in any other manner—the actual functioning of thought. Dictated by thought, in the absence of any control exercised by reason, exempt from any aesthetic or moral concern”.

He also noted that surrealism could be applied to the other art forms such as poetry and literature stressing the  importance of the dream as a reservoir of Surrealist inspiration.

Probably the most recognisable artist in the exhibition is Salvador Dalí. His works includes some iconic paintings quirky prints, playful sculptures and unsettling film.

Salvador Dali “Couple with their heads full of clouds”

In surrealism, everyday objects are used to create unusual situations and René Magritte is a master of this depicting mental images and creating works that transform reality and confuse the viewer. In true Surrealist form, alongside the likes of Dali, his paintings are never a mirror of the reality surrounding us, it is a mirror of the reality imagined by him..

Te Papa was able to obtain the exhibition which is the only venue in the Asia Pacific region because the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen is currently undergoing large-scale renovation work so the museum has been able to make available art from their extensive collection.

The catalogue is richly illustrated with an extensive text. The various chapters provide an excellent introduction to surrealism and the artists at the centre of the various movements which contributed to it. The background to many of the works is often as interesting as the works themselves.

Rene Magritte “Not to be reproduced”

Magritte’s “Not to be Reproduced” was one of three works commissioned by poet and Magritte patron Edward James for the ballroom of James’s London home. The work depicts a man standing in front of a mirror  (possibly James himself) but while the book on the mantelpiece is reflected correctly, the man’s reflection shows him from behind. The book itself adds another level to the mystery being a copy of Edger Alan Poe’s Les aventures d’Arthur Gordon Pym), a French translation of “The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket”

There are several other large works by Magritte in the show including “The Living Mirror” of 1928, This  work with word inscribed over clouds has connections with Colin McCahon Cloud and number works of the mid 1970’s.

As well as his famous “Mae  Wes t Lips Sofa there are the  half dozen major paintings by Salvador Dali including ”Couple with their heads full of Clouds”  and “Impressions of Africa” which includes a self-portrait.

There are a couple of fine dreamy works by Paul Delvaux such as “The Red Tower” and there are several works by Marcel Duchamp including one of his exhibitions in a box containing 68 small works by the artist.

While Women have always played a role in the Surrealist movement, this was for the most part, as objects of masculine desire and fantasy as many male surrealist artists had a  blind spot when it came to gender politics. For them, the female body became the ultimate Surrealist object, mystified and fetishized.

Leanora Carrington “Again the Gemini are in the Orchard”

The exhibition does feature half a dozen female artist who carved out careers  including Eileen Agar’s “Seated Figure” which combines her interest in Cubism as well as Surrealism., Leanora Carrington’s Bosch inspired  dreamscape “Again the Gemini are in the Orchard” and Unica Zurn’s hallucinatory works. There are also works by  Rose Adler, Meret Oppenheim and Elsa Schiaparell,

There are a set of etchings by Salvador Dali produced to illustrate “The Songs of Maldoror”, a number of etchings by Max Ernst, several fetishist photographs by Hans Bellmer and a suite of works by Max Ernst.

The book also provides a history of the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen and its efforts to build a major collection which often involved negotiations with Edward James

Several surrealist films are in the show including  L’Age d’Or (The Golden Age) (1930), by Luis Bunuel & Salvador Dali and  Entr’acte (Intermission) (1924), by Rene Clair

There will also be one screening of the Alfred Hitchcock film  Spellbound (1945), for which Salvador Dali created some dream sequences.

Reviews, News and Commentary

NZ Opera’s Figaro is a dazzling piece of theatre

Reviwed by John Daly-Peoples

Richard Ollarsaba (Figaro) and Jonna Foote (Susanna) Image – David Rowland

The Marriage of Figaro by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Libretto by Lorenzo da Ponte from a work by Beaumarchais

New Zealand Opera

Aotea Centre, Auckland

Until June  13

Then Opera House Wellington June 23 – 27 and Isaac Theatre Christchurch July 8 – 13

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

Napoleon once remarked that Beaumarchais’ original play The Marriage of Figaro which had been condemned and censored after its first production for anti-aristocratic ideas was an example of the revolution in action. Mozart’s version of the play which premiered in 1786 in Vienna was permitted only after Mozart and the librettist Da Ponte had assured the Emperor Joseph II that the political aspects of the play would be removed. While the more political aspects of the original were removed  Mozart’s creation has an underlying anti-establishment theme.

Mozart like a number of the liberal thinkers of the late eighteenth century was a closet revolutionary who introduced his ideas about a new social order and personal responsibilities into his all his late operas. Despotic royals always get their just desserts with their frailties, deceptions and lack of morality exposed.

The opera tells the story of Figaro who is about to be married to Susanna. He is a servant in the court of Count Almaviva who sees himself as one of the great liberals of the time as he has repudiated the long established “droite de seigneur” at his court but even though that is the official line he is intent on bedding Susanna.

Most of the opera is concerned with thwarting the Count in his endeavours. But there are other parts to the convoluted tale such as the  Countess who is aware  of her husband’s dalliances and seeks to outwit him. Then there is Cherubino, a youth who is infatuated with the Countess and most of the other women. Another sub plot which adds to the complications. Marcellino, Dr Bartolli’s housekeeper has lent Figaro some money and demands that he marry her if he cannot repay her. The various plots create havoc by introducing deceits, disguises and secret letters.

John Moore (Count Almaviva) and Jonna Foote (Susanna) Image – David Rowland

Lindy Hume’s  latest production of the work for NZ Opera is a dazzling piece of theatre with extraordinary voices and inspired acting .

Emma Pearson sang the role of  the Countess with a silvery, opulent voice and with her Act 3 “I remember his love so tender” (“Dove sono”) she emanated a delicious warmth, bringing a strong feeling of sadness. Joanna Foote as Susanna created a multi layered character who exuded confidence as through she were born to the role. When she was on stage, she seemed to galvanize the rest of the cast, singing with a captivating freshens and liveliness.

Figaro sung by   Richard Ollarsaba performed with a rich controlled voice, his every gesture finely tuned while John Moore  gave a superb account as the dissolute Count Almaviva inhabiting the stage with a commanding presence.

Bianca Andrew’s frisky Cherubino was a natural comic actor with an equally mischievous voice.

Emma Pearson (Countess Almaviva) and Bianca Andrew (Cherubino) Image – David Rowland

The rest of the cast of Kristin Darragh (Marcellina), Andrew Collis  (Don Bartolo), Andrew Grenon (Don Basilio), Imogen Thirlwall (Barbarina) and Joel Amosa (Antonio) were also superb, all  displaying an intelligent approach to their parts with singing which conveyed character and emotion.

The set design by Tracy Grant Lord took a minimalist approach with a series of light filled boxes which were used to create a series of spaces – drawing room, bedroom and garden. Their translucent shapes highlighted the frequent reference to notes and legal documents which disrupt the narrative as well as the shower of paper which concludes the opera.

Another aspect of the design and costumes managed link the eighteenth century and the present with elegant furniture  mixed with schoolroom seats while flowing white gowns and dapper clothes contrasting with twenty-first century suits.

Galvanizing the whole performance was the glorious music which was delivered by the Auckland Philharmonia under the baton of the enthusiastic Zoe Zeniodi.

Reviews, News and Commentary

“All That was Solid Melts” examines our disrupted world

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

Douglas Gordon “Private Passion”

All That was Solid Melts.

Auckland Art Gallery

Until October 10

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

The latest exhibition at the Auckland Art Gallery “All That was Solid Melts” is one of the most challenging and stimulating shows the gallery has mounted for some time.

Curator of the show, Juliana Engberg, has  created an exhibition which takes the current Covid climate as a starting point looking at the way that so much of what we regarded as normal about our day to day lives  was disrupted, put on hold and questioned. We have seen that our lives and the lives of others can be completely altered not just by the Covid pandemic but also by events such as the Christchurch earthquakes, the White Island eruption and even the recent floods. These catastrophic physical changes mirror the local and international geopolitical changes and adaptations which are taking place.

The show examines how artists have responded to various crises in the past and how individuals and society deal with destruction, grief  and the unknown. There is no obvious narrative through the show  though the viewer goes on something of a picaresque journey, encountering individuals, events, and myths. The viewer will establish  their own connections – personal, historical, political, spiritual and philosophical,  mapping their way through the exhibition.

There are over hundred works in the show mainly sourced from the Auckland Art Gallery’s collections but there are a number of more recent works by both  New Zealand and overseas artists including major video works by Pipilotti Rist and Pierre Huyghe.

Sophie Gengembre Anderson “After the Earthquake”

A number of works from the collection have probably not been seen for many years but are now on show as they expand on the concepts of the show. One such work is by the  French-born British artist  Sophie Gengembre Anderson’s “After the Earthquake” in which she depicts the aftermath of the earthquake which struck the island of  Ischia in 1883 with a female figure slumped over a demolished dwelling.

Providing a New Zealand link to seismic activity is a set of minimalist works by Julia Morison which combine the grey sandy silt of liquification which invaded her studio and a variety of liqueurs which were also destroyed. “Liquerfaction I – IX” are like nine concrete building slabs, the results of the catastrophe repurposed, the artist bringing order to the chaos of the event.

The title of the show is  a misquote from Marx’s Communist Manifesto where he notes that “All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind.

With that misquote Engberg says she wanted to “create a fragment as though it had fallen of the bigger edifice and now I have stuck it back together but didn’t get it quite right and I made it new with a different inflexion so it refers to now. We find ourselves in a time when we do think the ground has shifted and we do think things have changed and we are concerned about what will be happening in the future.”

“So, this show is about encountering those things especially through the metaphors that are rallied by artists to help us negotiate and navigate some of those ideas so we can learn from some of these errors and make it better. We sometimes think we have learned the lessons, we  congratulate ourselves and then we return to the same dilemmas. So we see the repetition of war ecological damage, cataclysms returning time and again.”

In many wasy the show is remarkably dense and multi layered, filled with ideas and concepts Engberg has endeavoured to provide  a number of ways of encountering the show. “I’ve worked hard on the aesthetic journey, thematic journeys as well as sub themes such as materiality. It’s quite episodic and odyssey-like as well. I would like people to travel through time and accumulate memories.”

There are also themes which people will pick up on. “Solitude,  anxiety, grief, ruin, ecological, and geographical disaster. There is also regeneration, fragility, political unrest, new nature and self-healing” If I was a conventional curator, I would have put words like that up on the gallery walls  but that reduces the looking which I would like to encourage. I want people to really look and be tantalised by the images. I want them to feel they are on a visual journey and they are compelled to look at things and take the time .” She also notes that the show  “travels along an emotional trajectory, resting on moments of metaphor and symbols of regrowth and release.”

She gives as an example the works of artist and theorist Piranesi who was fascinated by the ancient architecture of Rome, imbuing the crumbling structures with vitality and romance, referencing the collapse of the ancient Roman civilization.

This reference to Ancient Rome is also seen in the photographs of Helene Binet documenting Hadrian’s Villa  where the crumbling structures are like the bleached bones of an animal.

New Zealand content and New  Zealand imagery is threaded through the show, something that Engberg made a conscious decision about “ “This has been made for a New Zealand audience, it is not going anywhere else. It’s important that people see their own things and to see the works which have been responding to events for a long time. I went down to Christchurch to talk to artists who had been through  the experience of the earthquake.”

An underlying theme in many of the works is religion and the way it has been used as a form of comfort or relief to understand  or cope with disasters. Engberg says “There are aspects of this in the earlier part of the show but not the latter part. Within the whole show I wanted there to be  journey from darkness to lightness., from the faith-based understanding of the work to a more empirical and scientific understanding.” She sees “a spiritualism in the Bill Viola work  “Observance”  and there is a certain religiosity in Franz Sturtzkopf’s  “The Hermit”.

The inclusion of  Juan de Juanes’s “St Sebastian”  is a  reference to the  Black Beath of the fourteenth century when he was seen as the patron saint of plague survival with his body pierced by many arrows. This reliance on the spiritual as a means of denying or coping with disater is also seen in Douglas Gordon’s “Private Passion” where a devotional candle provides both pain and relief to the supplicant hand.

Gustav Dore “The New Zealander”

There are several interesting works such as Gustav Dore’s “The New Zealander” an imagining by the artist of London based on the text by Thomas Macaulay, who wrote prophesying a time in which a lone wanderer – a New Zealander – might sit on the broken arch of London Bridge and sketch the ruins of St Paul’s Cathedral.

Then there is Katie Paterson’s “Fossil Necklace” consisting of 170 beads from various geological eras spanning 3.2 billion years providing  a necklace which tells the history of the world

For Engberg there are a few seminal pieces including works by Bill Viola, Douglas Gordon Pierre Huyghe, Tacita Dean and Pipilotti Rist with the gallery’s collection provided a depth of both contemporary and historical works which allows for insightful intermixing and cross pollinating.

Accompanying the exhibition is a newspaper style catalogue with information about the artworks. Each of the galleries has a set of QR codes to access information on individual works as well.

Reviews, News and Commentary

The Royal New Zealand Ballet’s magnificent production of Giselle

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

Laurynas Vejalis (Albrecht and Mayu Tanigaito (Giselle) Image – Stephen A’Court

The Royal New Zealand Ballet


Kiri Te Kanawa Theatre, Aotea Centre

May 26

Reviewed by  John  Daly-Peoples

The Royal New Zealand Ballet have again showed they are capable of  bringing us  magnificent productions of the great classical works with a Giselle full of splendid dancing.

Giselle is a tale of blighted love which begins with intense romantic love and ends in tragedy. In the first act we encounter exuberant  love while in the second act we see melancholic and heart-rending passion.

It is crucial for a great performance that these two contrasting and conflicting aspects need to be given emotional and physical authenticity through the dancing, the music, sets and costumes. With this production the creative team has ensured that these have all been brought together to create a remarkably powerful narrative which is both close to human experience and at the core of the romantic myth.

Ethan Steifel and Johan Kobborg who had originally developed this production have fine0-tuned the work and it feels to be a much tighter and compelling this time. As Steifel says in the programme notes they wanted to “inject some new pace into the story- telling and add further dimensions and meaning to all the characters”

Mayu Tanigaito was stunning as  Giselle, displaying all the emotions needed for the role  from  demure youthful love, the despair which comes with rejection, through to the regret and despair she displays beyond the grave.

Hers was a performance which displayed through acting and dance an understanding of the complex emotions of the character.

Her descent into madness at the end of Act I was a superb piece of tragic acting. In addition to her distraught appearance, she conveyed that distress in dance. She repeats the same dainty steps she used at the start of the act but they become sombre, slow movements at variance with the music, creating a disturbing discordance.

As Albrecht, Laurynas Vejalis  perfectly played a man madly in love but filled with conflicting duties and desires, throwing himself desperately at Giselle’s lifeless body at the end of Act 1 and wracked with remorse in Act 2.

Hilarion (Paul Mathews) the jilted suitor of Giselle is brilliant in his macho dance-off against Albrecht and electrifying in his dance to the death before the avenging Wilis.

The sets were cleverly juxtaposed. The first act set was bright and colourful, providing a cute little gingerbread house along with jolly peasants, and a romantic vista. The second act set was dark and mysterious, merging the bleak world of the graveyard and the mythical world of the Willis.

The Wilis Image – Stephen A’Court

The Wilis are female spiritual avengers – women who have died because they have been rejected and who now take their revenge on wayward males. This aspect of their supernatural power is a romantic concept of a parallel world reflecting the dual nature of the human condition. The tightly disciplined corps de ballet adorned in their wedding veils gave a chilling, visceral performance. As Moyna, Queen of the Wilis Ana Gallardo Lobaina was animated and imposing in her command of her realm.

As with many of the great classical  ballets there is wonderful music and the Auckland Philharmonia under the direction of Hamish McKeich ensured that the  glorious music of Adolphe Adam flowed through the whole production adding to the drama and emotion of the work.

Reviews, News and Commentary

NZSO’s Fantastic Dreams and Nightmares concert

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

Holly Mathieson

New Zealand Symphony Orchestra

Podium Series – Fantastique

Auckland Town Hall

May 2

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra’s latest concert “Fantastique”  featured Berlioz’s epic work, Symphonie fantastique. Through its five  movements, it tells the story of an artist’s self-destructive passion for a beautiful woman. The work describes his obsession and dreams, moments of anguished and  tenderness along with visions of suicide and murder, ecstasy, and despair.

Berlioz was obsessed with the Irish actress Harriet Smithson, and the symphony was his mating call to the actress.  The music attempts to render the story of his own life intertwined with that of The Artist,  musically and emotionally.

The piece begins with a description of The Artist and the object of his love with an elusive theme which recurs through the work. Then we encounter him at a ball, trying to gain the attention of his love and then in a pastoral setting possibly seeing his beloved with another suitor. A fourth movement is a narcotic dream sequence where he sees himself led to the scaffold in the belief that his love has been rejected.

The final movement is another dreamscape, this time a vision of hell where The Artist is carried into the underworld  watched over by the object of his craving.

Under the direction of an agile Holly Mathieson the NZSO provided an energetic performance of the work ensuring the drama and intensity of the work was expertly delivered. There were the thrilling violins and flutes which conjured up the image of The Artist’s beloved through the two harps leading the delicate ballroom scene to the military band escorting the prisoner to the scaffold and onto the final ominous bassoons and tubas roaring out  the funeral chant of  the Dies Irae. 

Frightening outbursts alternated with moments of the greatest tenderness. Massive onslaughts by the percussion and timpani contrasted with the  delicacy and  melancholia of the ballroom and pastoral scenes.

The first half of the programme featured two dream works one by Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu’s “Dreamtime” (Yume no toki)  and “The Third Dream” by New Zealander Dorothy Ker. 

Takemitsu’s “Dreamtime” references the aboriginal approach to storytelling which employs, symbols, myth and visions to explain the known world and its connection to the past and the spirit world of guiding forces.

The work was  intended as music for a dance work by choreographer Jiri Kylian and the sweeping sequences of the work convey the notions of bodies in  motion. These moments of swelling drama connect also with the composers view  that  they are like the surge of the giant wave in Hokusai’s “The Great Wave”. These lyrical  balletic sequences also contrasted with some unsettling suspense film style music.

Overall, the work had a cinematic feel with shifting layers of  sound morphing into another as in a dream where one intense vision is replaced by another often with shocks at the changing perspectives. This shifting from the ethereal to the earthly from the lyric to the discordant was emphasised by the instrumentation which  emphasized contrasts of texture, volume and invention leading up to the final moments where the music evaporates into silence and light.

Where “Dreamtime” was full of light  Dorothy Ker’s “The Third Dream” was full of lightning, with sharp bolts of sounds resounding through the work. From the drama of the Wagnerian  opening to the final blasting tubas this was a work which verged on the nightmare.

A lot of the time the instruments were played in unconventional ways pushing the instruments and the players  to the limit. The timpani were stroked by hand and the strings players employed different bowing techniques along with plucking strings and slapping their instruments.

Future NZSO Concerts


Holly Mathieson Conductor
Alien Weaponry Band 

The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra joins Aotearoa New Zealand metal band Alien Weaponry described by  by Revolver Magazine in the USA as “one of the most exciting young metal bands in the world right now”. The three-piece from Waipu deliver emotionally and politically charged stories of conflict and grief with a warriorlike attitude.

Hamilton May 22

Christchurch May 29


Holly Mathieson Conductor
Kevin Keys Narrator 

An interactive family concert, with narrator Kevin Keys presenting popular classics including music from Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker Suite”, Dukas’ “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” and the theme from “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” by John Williams’.

Hamilton May 23

Christchurch May 30

Reviews, News and Commentary

The Walters Prize offers multi-facetted stories, myths and histories

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

Sonya Lacey “Weekedn”

The Walters Prize 2021

Auckland Art Gallery

Until September 5

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

This year is the tenth Walters Prize exhibition showing a range of contemporary art practices with work  by  Fiona Amundsen, Sonya Lacey, the Mata Aho Collective and Sriwhana Spong,

All the works are tell multi-facetted stories, myths and histories linked to investigations by the artists, so they become a mixture of autobiographical and biographical.

Fiona Amundsen’s “A Body that Lives” employs film and photography focusing on several aspects of the Pacific War, bringing together declassified archival footage, witness testimonies and documentary footage shot in various locations.

The work focuses on the both the Japanese and American experience of the war. The images of  destruction – a map of the devastation of Tokyo, planes strafing installations and on bombing raids, American forces using flame throwers are contrasted with the peaceful Cowra  Japanese Memorial Gardens in regional New South Wales,

While there are images of the horror of the  war the exhibition provides little history  condensing it down to the memories of four personal experience including an American war veteran, a Japanese anti-war activist and  memories of the 1945 Battle of Okinawa.

Dominating the exhibition is an interview with Mr Teruo Murakami, a survivor of the 1944 ‘Cowra Breakout’, when one thousand Japanese prisoners of war attempted to escape from the Cowra prisoner of war camp.

His head  moves in and out of the closely cropped frame as he remembers the event, his disjointed memories echoed by the fragmented images of the war on the various screens .

Sonia Lacey’s “Weekend” uses collage, video, film and sculptural forms to animate her  research into the history and social aspirations of the St Bride Foundation in London which was established in the late nineteenth century to provide leisure facilities including an indoor pool to better the lives of newspaper workers of nearby Fleet St.  Some of the works conflates ideas around newspapers and the notions of memory contained in newspapers.

The space she creates  is intended to provide the dimensions of the pool and its structure with the bath’s steps providing a viewing platform for the major element of  the exhibition which features a slowly evolving site of abstract images referencing the  murky waters of the baths.

This mesmerizing cinematic panorama of images seems more like satellite images of Earth with continually unfolding landscapes and the changing textures of the land – rural areas, the course of rivers, the ridges of hills, as well as the occasional scudding cloud.

The Mata Aho Collective’s work “Atapō” was co-created with Maureen Lander and originally included in  Toi Tū Toi Ora: Contemporary Maori Art.

As with many mythologies, death and the afterlife are the realms of gods who are often in conflict or have ambivalent roles.  Mata Aho have developed their work around the story of Hine-Titama, the incestuous  daughter of Tane who journeyed to the Underworld to become Hine-nui-te-po  , the Goddess of Death and Darkness.

The ideas around death, transformation and new life are paralleled in various other mythologies and notions such as the Greek myth of human lives being woven by The Fates. In a sense the members of the collective have become  latter day versions of these Fates.

Mata Aho Collective, Atapo

The large Hine-nui-te-po consists of multiple layers of fabric as through on a giant weaving loom with small inserts of colour woven into the fabric marking out the passage of time.

With the brighter Hine-Titama seen through the dark folds of Hine-nui-te-po there is a link between the two works and they become a metaphor for the transition between life and death, between myth and reality, between dream and illusion.

Sriwhana Spong’s “The Painter-Tailer”  centres around the home of her paternal Balinese grandfather who was also an artist. This makes the work both biographical and  autobiographical combining both the artist’s world and that of her grandfather. As well as visual art elements there are many musical  and audio components linking East and West  The installation includes the artists own work, video of her grandfather’s art along with  Spong’s  several sculptural instruments inspired by the Indonesian gamelan.  There is a further musical reference in the fabric works made by the artist which uses the coat tails of a conductor’s formal suit.

There will be a performance in the Sriwhana Spong space utilising her personal orchestra each month with the first confirmed performance date on Saturday, 19 June.

The Walters Prize will be judged later this year by Kate Fowle, director of Moma PS1 in New York with the winning artist announced at the Walters Prize award dinner to be held in the Gallery on Saturday 7 August.

Reviews, News and Commentary

ATC brings Brecht’s great political drama to the stage

John Daly-Peoples

Michael Hurst as Galileo

THE LIFE OF GALILEO by Bertolt Brecht
Auckland Theatre Company
ASB Waterfront Theatre

22 June – 10 July

Bertolt Brecht’s “Life of Galileo” is one of the great pieces of political theatre of the twentieth century but has rarely been performed in New Zealand. Now Auckland Theatre Company will be presenting the work with Michael Hurst in the title role stars along with  Rima Te Wiata and an ensemble cast directed by ATC Creative Director Colin McColl

The play links  Galileo’s Italy of the 1600s with  Brecht’s post war Europe. In Galileo’s time, new scientific ideas were emerging that challenged centuries of religious understanding of the world while in Brecht’s time, new political systems were coming to power in the form of fascism and communism.

New scientific knowledge in Galileo’s time as well as the political changes in Brecht’s day were met with extreme resistance with Galileo facing the religious police in the form of The Inquisition,

Many of the issues around the play relate to the  Aristotelian view of the universe where the Sun and all other heavenly bodies revolved around the Earth a world view the Church accepted and promoted. Others, such as  Copernicus, had promoted the heliocentric model (of the Earth revolving around the Sun) that challenged Aristotle. In the eyes of the church this was heresy.

A 2019 New York production of the work noted that “Central to the German playwright’s philosophy of theatre-making was a Marxian horror — a real, urgent social distress over the failure of society — and an unshakeable accountability for its mending. The Brechtian aesthetic, present in all his work, is thus an identification of what needs to be changed — some alienated world — and an understanding of how theatre might represent the changing of that world. He gives us a theory of our reality and a theory of art, theatre as an autonomous understanding of that reality.”

An Australian production of the work also in 2019 said in relation to the contemporary themes in the play that “Brecht could not have foreseen the obvious parallels between the church and contemporary climate science deniers, but he shrewdly foresaw that science would always be shovelling aside the comforting sludge of ignorance. The resultant play’s fascination lies in its almost homely insights into Galileo’s genius and into his abjuring his revolutionary astronomical discoveries before the Inquisition.”

Reviews, News and Commentary

Culture and family clash in Single Asian Female

reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

Xana Tang (Zoe), Bridget Wong (Mei), Kat Tsz Hung (Pearl) [Image Andi Crown]

Single Asian Female  by Michelle Law

Auckland Theatre Company

Auckland Waterfront Theatre

Until May 15

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

Single Asian Female opens with a karaoke style version of Gloria Gaynor’s “I will survive”, the song about the discovery of personal strength following a devastating breakup. It is sung by Pearl (Kat Tsz Hung), the owner of The Golden Phoenix a Chinese restaurant, newly divorced and facing an uncertain future.

The song is not just an anthem for Pearl and her two daughters Zoe (Xana Tang) and Mei (Bridget Wong), it also applies for the survival of Chinese culture.

In following the lives of  the three Asian women the play explores the various dimension of assimilation, cultural clash and cross-cultural identity and while the play is originally Australian  it has been cleverly adapted with a few local political and social references.

This black comedy presents much of the tensions and conflicts through the lives of the two girls. The older daughter Zoe has just moved back to the family home above the restaurant after Pearl has sold her apartment. She is busy negotiating her musical career, dating,  her relationship with her sister and mother  as well as a possible pregnancy.

Mei is in her last year of high school, dealing with peer pressure, her white girl friends – the sympathetic Katie (Olivia Parker) and cynical, image-focused Lana (Holly Stokes) while trying to integrate her Chinese self into white society. Her major problem is around the forthcoming Formal, the end of year school ball. This is highlighted by what to wear – the lovely white dress she has bought or her mother’s beloved cheongsam. For the after-dance function  her mother is arranging she wants to have a “normal“ party and “normal food” and no chinglish.

Much of the comedy uses the familiar tropes about the outsider “Where do you come from” and there is a lot of self-deprecating humour with a mixture of stand-up comedian gags, pop psychology and fortune cookie style jokes.

The culture clash is also seen in Mei’s attempt to rid herself of all her Chinese possessions and clothes such as her pink jelly shoes much to the amazement of Katie who sees them as cool.

As the writer Michelle Law has noted the play is very much a love letter to people of colour, migrants and outliers but the other dominant aspects and more universal thing about the work is the relationship between mothers and daughters. Pearl may be  the caring, devoted mother but she is also a Dragon Mother who is full of advice on all topics. As Zoe notes, she could never tell her mother about an abortion as “She would never stop talking to me”.

The play touches on a arrange of social issues – privilege, power, and position,  racism the position of women in traditional Chinese society, feminism and the pressures on young women to conform.

Kat Tsz Hung as Pearl provides a vibrant presence in her deliveries, singing and acting while Xana Tang and Bridget Wong offer stereotypes with a  nicely controlled edginess.

The play is a bit long and could have a much tighter narrative. A shortened version would have made more dramatic impact, but the opening night audience was entranced and totally engaged so that at times it  felt as though  we were all sitting there in the Golden Phoenix.

Reviews, News and Commentary

NZSO performs a spectacular Firebird

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

Igor Stravinsky and Hamish McKeich

New Zealand Symphony Orchestra

Ryman Healthcare season of The Firebird

Auckland Town hall

Hamish McKeich Conductor
Diedre Irons Piano

Juliet Palmer, Buzzard
WA Mozart, Piano Concerto No. 23 in A Major
Stravinsky orch. Stravinsky/McPhee The Firebird

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

It was sixty years ago that Stravinsky took to the conductor’s podium in the Auckland Town Hall to conduct the finale of his “The Firebird” during his New Zealand tour.

Film of the concert shows the composer conducting in a measured manner but throughout there are times when his arms are raised making him look eagle-like in appearance.

Sixty year later NZSO conductor Hamish McKeich looking more like a nimble elegant bird led the orchestra in a journey into the exotic and mysterious realm of “The Firebird” which is the first of the composers three major ballet works along with “Petrushka” and “The Rite of Spring”. This was the beginning of a new age of music and ballet and was mainly due to  Sergei Diaghilev, the famous Russian ballet promoter who had established the Ballet russe in Paris. He gave Stravinsky the opportunity to write a score for a ballet based on Russian folklore.

The Firebird is based on the myth of The Firebird, a powerful female spirit bird with magical feathers that provide beauty and protection, bringing both  blessing and curse it for its owner.

Stravinsky uses different kinds of music to tell the story, providing each character – The Firebird, the heroic Ivan the sorcerer Kastchei and thirteen princess – with a musical theme that conveys his or her personality. The human characters are represented by folk tune-like melodies while the mythical characters like the Firebird and Kastchei are represented by the music which is more mysterious, exotic, and unexpected identifying them as otherworldly.

As the music was written for a ballet many of the sequences are intended to capture the sweep and movement of the dancers as well as brief occasions of intimacy.

From the opening where the low shimmering strings are  used to convey the mysterious ambiance of an enchanted garden  through to the thunderous finale, conductor Hamish McKeich kept a superb hold over the orchestra, a sorcerer in his own right. The work was studded with moments of drama and tenderness as well as the excitement of the ‘Infernal Dance’. The narrative is conveyed  by various solo instrumental voices, – horn flute flautist  piccolo, bassoon, and an enigmatic viola,

The first half of the programme featured “Buzzard”  a short work by Juliet Palmer which was inspired by Tchaikovsky’s “Swan  Lake”, Stravinsky’s The Firebird and the jazz music of musicians such as Dave Brubeck.

In this  exploration of Russian ballet music Palmer uses a jazzy syncopation along with a taut minimalism to rework the colours and textures of the original music. She overlaps and reworks many of the themes of the original ballets as though she were operating as a DJ mixer splicing and sliding together the various musical threads in a weird echo chamber.

This mixture of the classic and modernist creates sounds which ranges from the effervescent  and raucous to the moody and enigmatic. At times one detects the perfect flows of “Swan Lake” and  at other times the innovations of “The Firebird”.

Also on the programme was an outstanding performance by the accomplished New Zealand pianist Diedre Irons of the Mozart Piano Concerto  No 23.

She played the work with a casual elegance, not so much a challenge as revisiting a well-known friend. Each note was played with deliberation and accuracy particularly noticeable in the opening of the second movement where she carefully and delicately gave great emotional expression to the music. Later in the third movement she become more exuberant and dramatic in her playing .

Throughout she displayed an understanding and appreciation of her role and her symbiotic connection to the orchestra while Hamish McKeich handled the  shifts between moods—innocent, desolate, passionate with a supple deftness.

Future NZSO Concert

The Rite of Spring,

Conductor Emma New

Auckland July 3

Wellington July 10

Reviews, News and Commentary

Beethoven’s early genius revealed in APO concert

Ludwig van Beethoven, The Classicist. Symphonies 1 – 3

Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra

Auckland Town Hall

April 22

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

Last year was the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth and the Auckland Philharmonia orchestra had programmed the composer’s complete symphonies but due to Covid 19 the series was cancelled and rescheduled for this year.

Last night the first of these four concerts, “The Classicist” presented the first three of the symphonies  with a further three concerts programmed over the rest of the year.

The major work of the evening was his Third Symphony ”The Eroica” which had originally been dedicated to Napoleon, but Beethoven dropped that dedication when Napoleon crowned himself emperor.

Even though the Napoleon dedication is gone  the work still reverberates with the ideas around the French revolution, the importance of  Napoleon and his transformation of Europe. At the time of these first three symphonies he had already begun to transform Europe militarily and politically and along with that he had begun its social and democratic transformation with his Code Napoleon.

The symphonies are tied to ideas of the Napoleonic era – revolutionary transformative and dramatic, works that expanded the whole idea of the symphony giving them an epic scope and emotional impact.

Rather than being music with great melodies full of poise and balance this was music which attempted to advance new ideas and placed the composer  at the forefront of the Romantic revolution where narrative, originality and emotion were all-important.

Beethoven’s music stands as symbolising these great changes and conductor Giordano Bellincampi became the embodiment of Beethoven and Napoleon directing the forces of the orchestra.

His conducting of the Third Symphony brought out all the aspects of the work – the tensions and contrasts between the various sections of the orchestra, the lights melodies set against waves of impressive sound and allowing the individual instruments to shine through in short bravura displays.

There were several instances when Bellincampi’s guidance excelled such as in the expressive slow movement, where dark emotions were conveyed by the full-bodied strings along with the delightful “string quartet”  and folksy melody in the final movement.

The first two symphonies provide a backdrop to the third symphony and here the influence of Haydn and Mozart was obvious although few instances of the revolutionary fire of the composer’s later works. There is a distinctive voice evident in the  First Symphony with its innovative opening which is followed by music filled with sudden modulations, abrupt changes in dynamic as well as an impressive use of wind instruments along with  rhythmic tricks.

Throughout these two works there was an exuberant conversation unfolding between sets of instruments. creating a sense of dialogue and narrative among this vast array of musical characters. We are continually surprised by the way in which the composer constructs and develops his themes as though playing musical games. Also obvious was a finely  nuanced collaboration which allowed for an appreciation of all parts of the orchestra equally, hearing clearly the strings, brass, and winds at work together. 

Bellincampi also made apparent the architectural construction of the symphonies, the structures, the building blocks,  the interconnections and the embellishments which gives the music its solidity, vastness and complexity.

Future Beethoven concerts

May 13 The Romantic

Beethoven Symphony No.4
Beethoven Symphony No.5

July 29 The Revolutionary

Beethoven Symphony No.6 ‘Pastoral’
Beethoven Symphony No.7

Nov 25 The Radical

Beethoven Symphony No.8
Beethoven Symphony No.9 ‘Choral’