Reviews, News and Commentary

NZSO’s Heavenly concert

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

Gustav Mahler / Miguel Harth Bedoya


New Zealand Symphony Orchestra

Auckland Town Hall

November 3


Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington

November 10

Napier Municipal Theatre

November 11

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

Before the main work on the programme of the NZSO “Heavenly” concert, Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No 4, the orchestra played the young American composer Gabriella Smith’s “Tumbleweed Contrails”.  Just as Mahler’s works often reference the natural world, Smiths work was also inspired by Nature and natural forces and it sounded as though the composer had been inspired by the sounds she would have detected with her ear to the ground, pressed up against a growing tree,  or immersed  in a flowing stream.

The work is  mixture of the sounds of Nature – animal, birds and insects along with  the sounds of wind in the trees and the burbling of water. She seems to have taken these sounds and then slowed them down or sped them up so they are only just recognisable. Throughout the work there is a constant whispering as through the spirits of all these elements was being fed into the composition and then in the final moments of the work we realise what we can hear is probably the breath of the composer herself.

The rhythms of Nature have been transposed into music and seem be following mathematical shapes and  sine waves. It is this mathematical rigour which conductor Miguel Harth-Bedoya then applied to his conducting with  precision and exactitude giving the work a sense of profound insight and sensitivity

One of the impressive things about Mahler’s music is that the man looms out of the music. He is present at these performances, with the conductor becoming his alter ego and we are presented with the man and his struggle to express himself through his music in a way few other composers manage to do.

Mahler had a relationship with Sigmund Freud both as a client as well as friend and in much of his Symphony No 4  the music appears to be attempts to understand his inner psychological states. As an autobiographical work it alludes to the composer’s personality as well as his own family’s encounters with death and despair.

Central to the symphony is the song  “The Heavenly Life” which is sung in the final movement. The song is a child’s version of heaven, but as with his other works this childlike, innocent vision is tempered with notions of death.

Mahler’s task was to complement the naive, childlike tone of the poem, and also the convey the ethereal lightness of heaven. The orchestration is light and the instrumentation distinctive, with bells, flutes and pianissimo strings. The soprano solo adds the final heavenly quality.

Mahler’s symphonies have so much drama, invention and contrasts that it would probably easy for them to be conducted without too much control but conductor Miguel Harth-Bedoya, was quite clearly in controlling the orchestra so that subtle nuances were made evident and individual instruments were allowed to shine.

The  contrasts and contradiction in the music need to be realised and Harth-Bedoya and the orchestra achieved  that, providing sounds that ranged from the from the childlike to the mature and from the bold strokes to the simple gesture.

The first movement with its sounds of sleigh bells evoking the child’s delight in Christmas  are soon followed by darker undertones. Then there was an exquisite passage of angelic voices delivered by the four flutes and later the sound of the bells themselves seem to cast an ominous sound.

“Self-Portrait with Death Playing the Fiddle” by Arnold Böcklin

The second movement picks up on themes we heard in Gabriella Smiths work with numerous references to Nature, birds, Spring and an awakening again there is a darker element which refers to the painting “Self-Portrait with Death Playing the Fiddle” by Arnold Böcklin which obsessed Mahler. This image was given form by Concert master Vesa-Matti Leppanen playing on a slightly discordant gypsy violin

Harth-Bedoya created some enchanting ethereal moods in the third movement  “Ruhevoll” (Restful) where the music conveys the transition from earthly state to heavenly life

Madelaine Peirard gave an impressive performance in  the final movement singing “Das himmlische  Leben” (The Heavenly Life). From the  outset, this movement had been the destination and source of the entire work with many of the  previous musical themes repeated in the song, its motifs  creating a sense of arrival and completion.

Madelaine Peirard

While the poem is a depiction of heaven as seen through the eyes of a child there is also a disconcerting element and one of the verses has the lines

‘We lead a patient

Innocent, patient

A dear little lamb to its death”

Rather than singing in the  childlike voice which Mahler seems to have preferred she took on the voice of an angel carrying the work with an astute understanding

She inhabited the stage with a real presence  giving the song and  expressive, vibrancy  which was  at time ecstatic and at others tender and joyful.

Reviews, News and Commentary

The Artist: A hectic show where Picasso meets Marcel Marceau and Mr Bean

Previewed by John Daly-Peoples

Created by Thom Monckton & Sanna SilvennoinenQ Theatre

A Mulled Whine Production

Q Theatre

November 8 – 12

Previewed by John Daly-Peoples

“The Artist” was on at the Auckland  Arts Festival a couple of years ago and at the time I wrote the following review.

“The Artist” should come with a warning – make that two warnings. Don’t sit in the front row. You could get to go on stage as The Artist’s stooge. Also, if you can remember where it is, bring along a table tennis paddle.

We are in an artist’s studio where we encounter The Artist (Thom Monckton) who over the course of an hour produces / assembles / finds several artworks which in the end are brought together for an art exhibition. Monckton explores a number of the tropes about art and artists which he plays with or gets lost in.

He must be a French artist because he wears a blue and white striped top but no beret – so he is bit like Picasso, but his activities have him more like Marcel Marceau the great mime artist. But then again he is also disconcertingly like the very un-French Mr Bean.

Monckton is a conjurer, acrobat, mime and contortionist  who creates endless visual jokes, making use of the artists  equipment and the everyday items of the studio. His attempts to get hold of a brush have him entangled in a table, a set of shelves and a rogue ladder while his attempts to secure some fabric to a stretcher  with a staple gun are complicated, hilarious  and dangerous.

There is an elaborate set-up around a still life where the fruit are given a life of their own and the traditional image of a bowl of fruit, bottle of wine and glass gets reworked in a clever visual  joke where the artist paints one of the real green apples red so it matches the apples in the painting .

There was a bit of audience involvement. One  young woman was cajoled onto the stage to sit for a portrait and then got given the job of painting artist’s portrait. There is also a rapid game of ping pong (remember the paddle) as he fires balls into the audience. The audience provided feedback with waves of laughter, but Monckton was particularly  concerned with the chuckles of a young child pointing at his watch, letting the parents know it was past the young ones bedtime.

Monckton displays brilliant timing and pace in a mixture of physical theatre, mime and visual humour which makes this act classy and entertaining.

While he is silent apart from a few guttural phrases the background sound and music are brilliantly integrated into the performance.

THE ARTIST performance schedule
12 October, 6:30pm
Addison Theatre – Baycourt
As part of ESCAPE Festival
8 – 12 November
7:30pm Tuesday – Thursday l 6:30pm Friday – Saturday
Rangatira, Q Theatre
Book at
New Plymouth
15 November, 6pm
plus schools performances on 16 November
Theatre Royal – TSB Showplace
As part of the SpiegelFest

Reviews, News and Commentary

Making Space: New Zealand Women Architects

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

Making Space: A history of New Zealand Women in architecture

Edited by Elizabeth Cox

Massey University Press

RRP $65

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

The names of major female architects don’t feature greatly in the history of architecture. Recently there has been Zaha Hadid who was the first woman to win the Pritzker Architecture Prize but there have been few successful women architects with  important architectural and design careers such as  the American Julia Morgan who designed several hundred buildings  including the famous Hearst Castle. 

There was also Eileen Gray who may have inspired some of  Le Corbusier’s thinking and   the designer Charlotte Perriand who created some of the furniture credited to Le Corbusier.

However few could name a successful New Zealand female architect.

Now a new book, “Making Space” looks at the history of New Zealand female architects and designers

The book has been edited and substantially written by Elizabeth Cox along with 30 leading women architects, architectural historians and academics. They have contributed original research as well as personal accounts of involvement in the profession and include  information about many whose careers have until now been lost to the historical record. It also looks at those using architecture to benefit communities, the careers of women in associated industries, and the changes that  have resulted in improvements to working in  the profession.

We are introduced to some women who designed building at the beginning of settlement in New Zealand. There was Marianne Reay who designed St Johns Anglican Church in Wakefield just out of Nelson in 1846 and there were Ellen and Mary Taylor who designed and built the original James Smith’s store on Wellington Cuba St in the late 1840’s.

These women and others were not trained as architects but applied practical skills to their designs.

Later women gained more formal training with woman such as Kate Beath who was contracted to an architectural firm in Christchurch in 1908 where she began her studies.

Later there was Lucy Greenish who is considered to be the first woman to establish her own practice  as an architect in Lower Hutt in 1927. In 1913 she  was the first woman to have been elected as an associate of the New Zealand Institute of Architects having worked in architectural practices since 1908.

There is an account of the life of the entrepreneurial  Esther James who not only worked as an architect but was also a  developer and builder, where she made her own concrete blocks. Her main claim to fame was walking the length of the country in the 1930’s to promote New Zealand made goods and then repeating the activity in Australia walking from Melbourne to Brisbane.

The book is filled with histories of the many women who have been associated with the profession but often on the edges along with accounts of the pioneering women of the mid twentieth century such as Lillian Chrystall through to Julie Stout becoming the first woman to win the NZIA Gold Medal this year.

As the book moves into the latter part of the twentieth century and into the twenty-first century there has been a notable shift as women  graduates have increased. In the 1960’s and 70’s there were only ever one or two women in each year at the Auckland University School of architecture, now there is parity.

Generally, there has been a low participation rate of women in the field for a number of reasons including lower salaries, lack of equity and worker well-being in the workplace, lack of role models and mentors and the undervaluing of women’s qualifications and competence.

The book focusses on the way in which societal and workplace factors have led to a more collaborative approach which has seen women adding other skills and perspectives to the profession.

This aspect was realised early on, and Thomas Wilford, one hundred years ago during a parliamentary debate on the NZIA stated “I believe that women architects in this country would bring about the building of a better class of house than we have today”

Women architects now feature at all levels within the profession  and they are a designing an impressive range of building. One notable architect is Bergendy Cooke whose Black Quail House was Home of the Year in 2021. She has also worked international including work on Zaha Hadid’s MAXX museum in Rome.

Bergendy Cooke, Black Quail House

While the book looks at the rise of women architecture it also touches on the changes which have occurred generally in the education, development of the profession and changes in ideas about architecture. It also highlights the growing number and impact of Māori woman in the profession.

The book is a significant resource with over 400 photographs and mention of over 500 women which will add greatly to our understanding of the development of architecture in New Zealand and the impact of individual architects.

Reviews, News and Commentary

North by Northwest takes a comic turn

Review by John Daly-Peoples

Antonia Prebble (Eve Kendall) and Ryan O’Kane (Roger O. Thornhill) Image Andi Crown

North by Northwest

Written by Carolyn Burns

Screenplay Ernest Lehman

Directed by Simon Phillips

Auckland Theatre Company

Auckland Waterfront Theatre

Until November 19

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

“Roger. This is silly”

So says Eve Kendall to Roger Thornhill after being rescued off the face of Mt Rushmore at the end of “North By Northwest”. the latest production at Auckland Theatre Company.

She is right. The whole play seems to be a bit silly, continually turning the dramatic events which occur throughout the play which have been lifted from the film into comic moments.

The play follows the movie scene by scene and also word for word. Just in case you haven’t seen the movie the plot concerns Roger Thornhill (Ryan O’Kane) a twice-divorced New York advertising executive who is mistaken for a man named George Kaplan and abducted by criminal masterminds. He escapes their clutches and a thrilling chase ensues taking him from New York to Chicago and all the way to South Dakota.

Over this time he is variously force-fed bourbon, arrested, beaten up, seduced, shot, pursued and nearly blown up by a plane and then chased across the stone heads of the presidents at Mount Rushmore.

What was a spine-tingling drama  has been turned by director Simon Phillips into a witty romp which takes all the tropes of the chase / espionage movie and gives them a comic twist.

In many ways the approach emulates Hitchcock’s own style of working with humour not far from the dramatic action and although Roger Thornhill  is an ordinary man caught up in  events out of his control, he also demonstrates a few James Bond qualities.

Phillips and designer Nick Schlieper’s set uses simple props on wheels, supported by a square metallic grid of walls that becomes doors, balconies and the edges of buildings. On either side of the set are production suites where miniatures are filmed and projected onto the rear of the stage to enhance the on-stage action. Car chases are filmed using a rotating model hillside, a model plane replaces the biplane from the film and four of the actors faces replace the presidents on Mount Rushmore.

Image: Andi Crown

Cary Grant who played the original Thornhill with a mixture of bafflement and nonchalance but in the play Ryan O’Kane goes for more of the utterly panicked as he races from disater to disater with a pace  and animation which is riveting.

Antonia Prebble  in the role of the femme fatale  Eve Kendall, the professional spy and part-time seductress is totally convincing and an ideal foil to O’Kane.,

The other ten members of the cast paly a myriad of roles from cops, train steward, FBI agent, clerks, auction-goers with Roy Snow as the arch villain   Philip Vandamm,

In the effort to mimic all the scenes from the film the play suffers occasionally from some unnecessary  and overly hectic scenes. At least the actors haven’t spoilt the fun by trying out bad American accents.

Reviews, News and Commentary

Rooms: Portraits of Remarkable New Zealand Homes

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

Rooms: Portraits of Remarkable New Zealand Homes

By Jane Ussher and John Walsh

Massey University Press

RRP $85

Reviewed by John Daly-People4s

New Zealanders have a fascination with homes and interiors evidenced by the sales of numerous magazines on architecture and house interiors. The former mainly deal with the forms, spaces and structures of building with the other focused on objects, decoration  and the use of the spaces.

Both these elements are brought together in  the new book “Rooms” by photographer Jane Ussher and architectural writer John Walsh looks at the range of interior spaces in New Zealand homes from the small villa through to grand mansions.

It is an eclectic collection which is a mixture of historical, social  and aesthetic enquiry. These are not all images of “home beautiful”, but rather ordinary, lived-in homes but lived in with a sense of the interiors reflecting something of the owners rather than reflecting current design trends.

Carterton House

Jane Ussher is a perceptive and knowledgeable photographer having photographed buildings as diverse as Shackleton’s Antarctic hut through to Government House while John Walsh is a perceptive writer about New Zealand’s architectural history.

In the book Ussher focuses her camera on a range of rooms that she considers to be beautiful, intriguing, distinctive and unique. Shot in a range of locations across New Zealand, from simple cottages through to some of the country’s most important buildings such as Olveston and Larnachs Castle in Dunedin and Mansion House on Kawau Island

The more than 300  images are introduced with an excellent essay by John Walsh who provides context for the interiors as well as the photographers approach. As he notes in his introduction “Ussher’s journey  through some of the nations most photogenic interiors has taken her into rooms with the visual calorie count of French haute cuisine; just looking at portraits of these rooms will make  a viewer feel full. But there are palette-cleansers too, rooms as sparse as those found in traditional Japanese houses or voguish dealer galleries. Actually, the gallery analogy has a more general applicability. The interiors that Ussher most commonly portrays are living or sitting rooms and hallways – spaces with surfaces free for the display of things and experiments in colour.”

Merivale House, Christchurch

In some of these houses it is art which dominates as with Parnell Cottage where there are six images of the place presenting artworks by Jude Rae, Peter Robinson, Michael Hight, Terry Stringer, Layla Walker, Gavin Hurley, Hannah Maurice, Yvonne Todd, Michael Parekowhai Francis Upritchard, Judy Millar, Richard Killeen and Imogen Taylor.

By contrast Otahuhu Studio is represented with just one image – a door painted by the owner /artist Sam Mathews

With The Chapman-Taylor House, Takapuna Ussher seem to have been taken with the juxtaposition of a  yellow glazed vase  and  painting of a yellow glazed bowl by Neil Driver. This house also has a large wall mural by the jeweller Reuban Watts who commissioned the house nearly a century ago.

Westmere House, Auckland

Other interiors are included for their lavish or exotic decorations such as the French wallpaper used in Remuera House featuring an oriental scene which stretches around virtually the whole dining room

With some of the interior Ussher focusses on the minimalist such as Freemans Bay Cottage with its three modernist lamps or the Toomath / Wilson Modernist House, Wellington where the architectural fittings are given prominence.

Some rooms are included because of their use of colour, dramatic contrasts and refined placement of furniture. Other demonstrate the careful architecture design elements while others show how sheer abundance of objects and detail can make an impression.

No individuals appear in these photographs but what we get from them is not just a “portrait” of the room. There is also a sense of the people who inhabit these spaces. Their selected objects, works of art, designer and traditional furniture, the colours and fabrics speak about aesthetic and design decisions which are often very different.

Ussher spent about two years actually taking the photographs but the idea behind the book had been developing for a lot longer as the photographing of spaces and rooms was something of an obsession for her.

“Planning for the trips was complicated by the resurgence of Covid but the time away from the camera allowed me to clarify what I wanted to include in the book so in some ways it was advantageous. The two major Auckland lockdowns meant we couldn’t get out of town to shoot and later on, when the borders were open, we didn’t want to create anxiety for homeowners by being visitors from Auckland into parts of the country with low Covid numbers.”

Brooklyn House, Wellington

“I think trust played a major role. Amazingly, almost no one said no. The fact that we were offering anonymity to people whose homes had never been published before certainly helped, but I also think that they were curious to see what the photographs would say about their space. In some cases, taking the photographs was a very collaborative process, with the owners contributing ideas or helping create a better composition by moving things while in other instances the owners were happy to give me free reign.”

Jane Ussher and John Walsh have created not just a valuable resource and a great coffee table book, this is a work of insight into our history made possible by the breadth of knowledge and experience of the two collaborators.

Reviews, News and Commentary

Foreign Canines: A Travellers Guide to Turkish Dogs

Reviewed by Malcolm Caldcer

A Travellers Guide to Turkish Dogs Photo:  Eleanor Strathern

A Travellers Guide to Turkish Dogs

Amulled Whine

By Barnaby Olson, Jonathan Price, Stevie Hancox-Monk, Andrew Paterson, and Tess Sullivan

Q Theatre Loft

Until 23 October

Reviewed by Malcolm Calder

What Can One Say

I got home after this performance, sat down at the keyboard and wondered what on earth I could write. 

Scratching my head, I figured I just might have to fall back on that old reviewer’s chestnut and outline the basic plot, but comprehensive advance publicity has already done so.  I could comment on the production values and skills this production demonstrates, but that would be an injustice to those who show them.  I could talk about or even ‘rate’ the performers, but they do so themselves far better than my words can. 

Suffice to say that director Jonathan Price has led this ensemble-devised work, built around a true story by Barnaby Olson, to create something that becomes an entity in itself.  We are interested, intrigued and ultimately enthralled.  And we go home feeling pretty damned good about the world in general.

Good successful theatre always requires two essential ingredients: it must tell a simple story well and it must enable a mutual trust between those on stage and their audience.

This story is a simple one.  Turkish Dogs is a can-do, make-it-up-as-we-go-along, truly gentle story of discovery and happenstance.  It’s a journey to which we can all relate whether boomer, parent or someone starting their OE.  Many of us have lived it – or dreamed of doing so, or at least a version of it.    It is peopled by characters we have all met, the majority of whom we like, the occasional one we detest and some we just chuckle quietly about. But we have all met ‘em. In this play they pop up throughout the journey – some more colourful than others, some more memorable.  And, after all, that’s what life is all about.  People.

The second essential is trust.  Any audience gives its trust to a cast that enables a story to be told.  And a cast trusts an audience to understand that story.  This giving of trust happens every time a play hits to the stage.  Sometimes it works.  Sometimes less so.  And very, very occasionally it goes beyond trust, becomes immersive and both cast and audience become one, sharing the experience.  This production has mutual trust in spades.

This is only a small production that delivers on both counts yet somehow still manages to surprise. It should be mandatory for those with even the slightest interest in NZ theatre – and they should bring their non-theatre neighbours along as well.

My prediction: Turkish Dogs has legs and will go further.  At one point I felt it could work pretty well anywhere in the English-speaking world, even in different mediums, although I initially wondered about localising it a bit – you know, a few Australianisms here or the odd Englishism there.  But then I thought no.  It doesn’t need it.  It is a uniquely Kiwi story told in a uniquely contemporary way with not a shred of self-consciousness.  Yes, people elsewhere will get the accents.  If they don’t that’s their problem. Kiwi accents could even become a USP.

Finally, here’s a tip.  Get in well before the show starts.  You just might meet someone worth talking to.

Reviews, News and Commentary

New Zealand Symphony Orchestra 2023 Season

John Daly-Peoples

Sir Donald Runnicle

New Zealand Symphony Orchestra

Season 2023

Paul Lewis who this year performed all the Beethoven Piano Concertos with the NZSO over a one week will be repeating the task again in three concerts Orpheus Reverence and Emperor conducted by conducted by Brazilian Eduardo Strausser. In reviewing his playing earlier this year I noted that Lewis “fully captured the textures, scope and power of the work and the heroic spirit as conceived by Beethoven is revealed to be both physically robust and spiritually refined”. The orchestra will also be playing other works by the composer the including his popular Symphony No 5.

Other symphonic works in the season include Shostakovich Symphony No 10, Schumann Symphony No 3, Copland  Symphony No 3, Bernstein Symphony No 2 and Brahms Symphony No 4.

There will also be Mahler’s monumental, six movement Third Symphony which is  the longest  symphony he wrote  will feature Voices New Zealand, multiple children’s choirs more than 100 musicians and  Grammy Award-winning alto Sasha Cooke.

One of the programmes which focusses on the American composers Copland  and Bernstein also includes a work about another US /NZ artist – Len Lye. This will be “Len Dances” a work by Eve de Castro-Robinson and Roger Horrocks from 2012 from the opera Len Lye which had  short season. Had “incisive  The work was an impressive work bringing together the life of the artist and his ideas in way that showed how “the personal, the social and the aesthetic intersect”

Anne- Sophie Mutter and John Williams Image David Acosta

The music of cinema legend John Williams will be celebrated in two special concert programmes by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra in 2023. The tribute concerts feature Williams’ music from more than 15 films, including Jaws, Star Wars, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Jurassic Park and Harry Potter.

In Wellington and Auckland, the NZSO will be joined by one of the world’s greatest violinists Anne- Sophie Mutter, a long-time Williams collaborator, including three albums with the Oscar-winning composer since 2019.

Mutter’s performances, led by NZSO Artistic Advisor and Principal Conductor Gemma New, include Williams’ Violin Concerto No. 2, written especially for the Grammy Award-winning virtuoso. She will also perform several of Williams’ movie themes, arranged by Williams for Mutter and orchestra.

Andre de Ridder conductor Photo: Marco Borggreve

Also in 2023, the NZSO will be led for the first time by esteemed German conductor André de Ridder. De Ridder is known for his work across music genres,  ranging from classical and opera, to electronicand pop. He has featured on albums by Gorillaz, electronic duo Mouse on Mars, Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood and Max Richter’s hit 2012 interpretation of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons.

With the NZSO, de Ridder’s three concert programmes include a work by Bryce Dessner of American band The National, jazz great Wynton Marsalis’ Blues Symphony and the outstanding contemporary work Become Ocean by Pulitzer Prize and Grammy Award winner John Luther Adams.

Joyce Yang

Celebrated American pianist Joyce Yang returns for concerts in Wellington and Auckland with the NZSO conducted for the first time by six-time Grammy Award-winning conductor Giancarlo Guerrero. The conductor will also lead the NZSO National Youth Orchestra for two concerts. Another legendary conductor to make his NZSO debut is the renowned Sir Donald Runnicles in concerts with sought-after German-French cellist Nicolas Altstaedt in Wellington and Auckland

Large-scale productions and special collaborations also feature. In Auckland Mana Moana and the NZSO collaborate with a Pasifika choir in performances of traditional songs from across the Pacific.

Innovative composer Alexander Scriabin’s mystical-like “The Poem of Ecstasy” is included in concerts in Dunedin and Hamilton conducted by New and featuring soprano Madeleine Pierard and NZSO Section

 In 2023 the NZSO will perform in Kerikeri, Gisborne, Auckland, Hamilton, Tauranga, Taupō, Napier, Hastings, Havelock North, Palmerston North, Carterton, Paraparaumu, Wellington, Nelson, Blenheim, Greymouth, Westport, Christchurch, Dunedin, Oamaru and Invercargill.

Reviews, News and Commentary

What They Said: Drama meets Dance

Reviewed by Malcolm Calder

What They Said

By Jo Lloyd

NZ Dance Company

Q Theatre – Rangitira


Until October 8, 2022

Reviewed by Malcolm Calder

Taking their cues from one another, seven shell-less terrestrial gastropod molluscs slither slowly onto the stage. One pauses, they all pause.  Another slithers, then a third follows.  They stop.  They continue.  Each is an individual.  Together they comprise a group. 

This opening is a wonderful metaphor for What They Said.  It is an evolving sociological interaction that’s all about collaboration.  Obliquely whispering to, and then encouraging, listening, and working closely with her sound and costume designers is how choreographer/director Jo Lloyd has brought this new contemporary dance work together.  It is created as much by the entire team as by their leader who draws it from them. 

The initial slugs quickly morph into humans who adopt many different personae, both singularly and collectively.  They hear and see one another, agree and disagree, misinterpret and explore, all the while undergoing a seemingly endless series of costume changes, designed by Andrew Treloar, that hint but never state. 

And just like the people I see every day at my local coffee shop, they interrelate, they socialise, they bitch, they moan, they adopt others’ habits and they also experience joy.

Jo Lloyd has said this work is more like a play performed by dancers that both explores and pushes her own comfort zones.  But it is much more than just the dancers and the interactions between them.  Yes, there are words and phrases – deliberately repetitive at times – but not ones that form sentences or monologues.  Instead the dancers’ movements are underlined by a Duane Morrison soundscape and a resulting score to which the dancers mouth, move and mime.  But we are also reminded that dance is at the heart of this work as counting and the word ‘repetition’ both have a lurking omnipresence.

For any creative leader, doing so poses a huge creative risk that requires bravery, supreme confidence, nuanced eyes and ears and a mind that pulls everything together and keeps it on track.  At times I found Jo Lloyd to be a choreographer, at others a director.  She certainly enthrals.

Bringing her highly-credentialled background from Melbourne, she has created something very special for this NZ Dance Company world premiere as a part of the 2022 Tempo Dance Festival and something that celebrates the company’s 10th year.

What They Said is hard work for audiences and, as Jo herself mentioned in her post-performance korero, this work provides no answers for audiences, merely the potential of food for thought – perhaps at some time in the future.

Reviews, News and Commentary

Auckland Philharmonia’s 2023 concert series

Previewed by John Daly-Peoples

Khatia Buniatishvil

Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra

2023 Season

Previewed by John Daly-Peoples

One of the highlights of next year’s APO concerts will be the Trusts  concert version of Eric Korngold’s opera “Die Tote Stadt “(The Dead City) which debuted in Germany in the1920’s and  was performed around the globe at the time. However his work was banned under the Nazi regime and it was some time before it began appearing in opera houses, only having its first UK performance in 2009.

I saw it in Frankfurt five years ago and wrote at the time “The opera’s theme of the loss of a loved one and coming to terms with and moving on was a theme which was particularly relevant to a Europe which had suffered widespread loss during World War I but the work can now be interpreted in terms of sexual obsessions and disillusioned sacrifice. There is a surreal element to the work with several dream sequences some of which feature the red dress of the main characters wife.”

Die Tote Stadt (Frankfurt Opera)

“Korngold’s music is expressionist as was much of the art of the period but he managed to combine this with the romanticism of the nineteenth century along with a melodic modernism. There are traces of Verdi and Puccini as well as Strauss and Lehar with the music providing a strong melodic line which gives great scope for all the singers”

As well as the opera the APO will .be playing several other works by Korngold including “Dance in the Old style”, “Overture to a drama”, and the “Sea Hawk Suite” which was his music for the soundtrack of the Errol Flynn movie The Sea Hawk which he wrote when he became a major composer for Hollywood films.

Shiyeon Sun

An important addition to the orchestra next year will be  the appointment of South Korean conductor Shiyeon Sung to the role of Principal Guest Conductor for three years. Sung debuted with the orchestra this year and I noted that “she  guided the orchestra effortlessly through the Dvorak Cello Concerto played by  Julien-Laferrière”..She is a major international conducting force having won both the Solti and Mahler Competitions.

The concerts will feature soloists from Europe, Asia, North America and Australia as well as from New Zealand and include Geneva Lewis (violin)– also daughter of NZ tennis champion Chris Lewis), Lise de la Salle (piano), Jaemin Han (cello), Sergey Khachatryan (violin), Annelien Van Wauwe (basset clarinet) and French-Georgian superstar Khatia Buniatishvili (piano).

Many of the great symphonic works are on the programme including Beethoven Symphony No 9 with soloists Kirstin Sharpin,S ally-Anne Russell, Manase Latu and Teddy Tahu Rhodes. That programme will also feature the composers Symphony No 8.

Other symphonies include Glazunov Symphony No 8, Elgar Symphony No 1, Mozart Symphony No 40, Dvorak Symphony No 9 (From the New World), Schumann Symphony No 1 and Mendelssohn Symphony No 5. There is also Shostakovich Symphony No 5 which the orchestra played this year and I described the work as a “contemplation of the battlefield, the horror of battle and the eerie aftermath. But this is not some reimagining of Tchaikovsky’s triumphant 1812 and it  sems very relevant to the present day as Ukraine had been focus of Russian territorial ambition in WWI and the site of much fighting and destruction.

There are a number of notable concertos being presented  as well  with the Haydn Cello Concerto No 1, Prokofiev Violin Concerto No 1 the Bruch Violin Concerto No 12 and Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No 1.

Next year will be the 150th anniversary of Rachmaninov and the orchestra will be playing several of his works including his Piano Concerto No 2, Symphonic Dances, Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini and his Isle of the Dead.

As usual he orchestra is providing some popular concerts with   a tribute concert to late, great Broadway icon Stephen Sondheim and a family-friendly romp through Saint-Saëns’ Carnival of the Animals, featuring the comedic talents of Dynamotion which includes performances from Chris Parker, Alice Canton, Lara Fischel-Chisholm and Tom Sainsbury.

Several of the concerts have a theme linking disparate works such as the “In the Elements” programme which includes Sibelius’s ;last great work, his one movement Seventh Symphony which has  been described as a cosmic dance. The work will be preceded by three other works which touch on elemental forces with the Vaughan Williams’: “Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis”, Benjamin Britten’s ‘Four Sea Interludes from “Peter Grimes”, and  a new work by Salina Fisher “Taonga Puora Concert”

Matariki celebrations, will feature Rob Ruha, and the multi-award-winning artist Troy Kingi.

The hugely popular big-screen film in concert adventures return, with two of Disney’s modern classics scheduled, a Halloween film-in-concert performance of the 1993 film Hocus Pocus and in September, the APO heads to ‘infinity and beyond’ with the Pixar classic Toy Story.

Reviews, News and Commentary

The Made: A hilarious romp … with some food for thought thrown in

Reviewed by Malcolm Calder

 Hannah Tasker-Poland (Arie) Joe Dekkers-Reihana (John) Alison Bruce (Alice)  

The Made

By Emily Perkins

Directed by Colin McColl

Auckland Theatre Company

ASB Waterfront Theatre

Until 8 October

Reviewed by Malcolm Calder

Many years ago my then 7-y-o daughter received a birthday gift in the form of a tamagotchi or toy-pet.  Many of her cohort had similar tamagotchis and sustaining their welfare, longevity and happiness became a short-lived but major part of the kids’ lives.  

This half-buried memory leapt back into vivid and immediate focus when ‘I-woke-up-and-was-very-happee’ cyborg Arie (Hannah Tasker-Poland) who graces the stage with immobility right from the time the audience is first admitted, swings mechanically into action in the opening scenes of Emily Perkins’ hilarious new play The Made.

Chief protagonist Alice (Alison Bruce in a standout performance) is a driven, down to earth, working mother desperately trying to secure funding to develop her cyborg into a sentient* robot.  But successful sentience is a sometime thing and her claim for R&D funding is rebuffed while she staunchly suffers the trials and tribulations that middle age has thrust upon her. 

The sudden arrival of Alice’s mercurial drug-dealing, university dropout child Sam (played with verve and endearing vigour by Murdoch Keane) reveals that the future may lie in … mushrooms!  And this opens the door to … well, to a plethora of issues that are as relevant today as they are to the future.

Colin McColl ensures that the mirth flows in The Made.  He keeps the audience in stitches with the two cyborgs at point using highly successful one-liners, sight gags, deliciously overacted situational comedy and a more than capable cast.

Both cyborgs have a physical presence that features throughout the play.  Sam’s ‘Nanny’ (Bronwyn Bradley) is a kind of accidentally-sentient Mk 1 prototype.  She is rather unceremoniously unpacked from a box before demonstrating brief traces of sentience and goes on to reveal shreds of nuance!  And the aforementioned Arie, probably best described as a Mk 1.5-attempted-sentient with shortcomings, then jitters and judders her way throughout – sometimes at the most inopportune times – and always wakes being ‘very-happee’.

The issues that arise are immediately apparent and very, very funny.  How should we relate to inanimate things?  Why do humans try to make humanoid likenesses?  Do, and should, robots have feelings? What about interaction and who is ultimately in control?  What about procreation?  These, and a range of other popular conceptions and misconceptions, are what audiences will quickly love and laugh themselves silly over.

While the play quickly grabs its audience by the throat and thrusts issues in its face using outrageously unashamed comedy, playwright Emily Perkins skilfully allows other broader issues to bubble away just beneath the surface, The Made also reaches a completely different level and therein lies its real heart.   

Ultimately this is a play about humanity, about family and about values.  Alice questions sexual roles and stereotypes, marriage breakup, business decision-making and processes, as well as middle-age and menopause and more than a few other things as well.  All from that clear woman’s perspective. 

In her background, former cello-playing husband David (Peter Daube) is styled as her anchor, even if she does not initially realise it.  The Director (Adam Gardiner) from whom she seeks more funding furthers a business-as-patriachy theme in an appropriately two-dimensional role, and most of the other cast members also remain important caricatures that enhance the comedy.  With delightful irony, it is the effervescent Sam who steals the show and who will quite possibly best accommodate future-world. 

Production values in The Made maintain the high standards expected of Auckland’s premier theatre company.  There is a simple two-set stage, a well-handled sound-scape and some subtle cyber-voice generation. 

So, on balance, congratulations to ATC for generating new work, especially from a writer who is a standout among Aotearoa’s more recent generation of literary high achievers.

Meanwhile my daughter still wistfully concedes that she loved her tamagotchi years ago … and reckons the tamagotchi loved her back too.

*sentient – having reactions like living things would, ranging from positive states like pleasure to negative states like pain.