October 22, 2015


Artistic Director Shelagh Magadza has announced the New Zealand Festival’s programme of events taking place in Wellington over three weeks from 26 February – 20 March 2016.

Founded in 1986, the New Zealand Festival is Aotearoa’s largest celebration of cutting-edge arts and culture. One of the five biggest festivals in Australasia, it has sold approximately two million tickets across the past 15 Festivals and drawn a total attendance of more than five million people to its free and ticketed events.

Known in New Zealand as a trailblazer and champion of art in all its forms, the Festival celebrates its 30 year anniversary in 2016 with a programme designed to “kick up the arts!”

Shelagh says, “For this milestone Festival we’ve pulled together the very best international artists. We’re creating experiences you wouldn’t be able to enjoy without flying across the world, and bringing them right to your doorstep. We seek out the very best for our audience, from those who have been to every Festival since 1986 to those joining us for the very first time next year. We encourage everyone to discover what great art can do for you”.

The 2016 Festival programme celebrates an array of iconic artists. One of the USA’s top 25 most influential people according to Time magazine, trumpeter and band leader Wynton Marsalis is the biggest name in jazz. The ensemble he leads, the Jazz at Lincoln Centre Orchestra, make their home in the 16-acre global hub of art and performance in Manhattan, New York City.  The JLCO and Wynton Marsalis will be staying in Wellington for nearly a week for a special Residency, performing Marsalis’ Swing Symphony with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, a jazz concert, and delivering an education programme for Kiwi students.

Adored by celebrities from Alan Rickman to Madonna and considered one of the most important artists of all time, the life and art of the late dance-maker Pina Bausch will be recognised through a series of events. Including the first ever appearance in New Zealand of her extraordinary company Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch, it also features a selection of films and a limited release of the Academy Award-winning Wim Wenders documentary Pina!in November. 

On the theatre stage, the surreal world of painter Salvador Dalí is brought to life through the extraordinary imagination and dazzling acrobatics of Compagnie Finzi Pasca in La Veritá; acclaimed UK theatre company Kneehigh brings its madcap musical Dead Dog in a Suitcase, which featured in The Guardian’s Top 10 shows of 2014; and a striking two-tier stage is built in the Opera House for cinematic theatre show Cineastas.

Indie lovers will have much to enthuse about when Sufjan Stevens brings fans songs from his acclaimed new album and his “truly spectacular” (The Guardian) stage show.  Music legends Paul Kelly and Archie Roach join the Black Arm Band collective of indigenous musicians for dirtsong– a night of music and film which comes from the heart and people of Australia.

The songbooks of American idols Tom Waits and Joni Mitchell are given fresh takes by quirky Canadians, L’orchestre d’hommes-orchestres and Kiwi songstress Julia Deans. And anyone who went to university in Otago in the 80s will want to secure a ticket for a tribute to Flying Nun records Dunedin Double: two nights of nostalgia and great music as The Chills and The Verlaines play a one-nighter apiece.

In classical music, a visionary of the 17th century, Claudio Monteverdi’s sublime Vespers is performed by Italian baroque masters Concerto Italiano.  And US composer John Luther Adams’ meditative open air performance Sila: The Breath of the World will appear on the Wellington waterfront, in a large-scale free music event. 

Some of New Zealand’s most influential performers are also heading to Wellington for the anniversary celebrations. Dame Kiri Te Kanawa will give a one night only concert with Voices New Zealand; dance icon Douglas Wright stages his startling and sensual A Kiss Inside and the Royal New Zealand Ballet returns to the Festival for the first time in a decade. New Zealand Arts Foundation icon Ross Harris joins forces with Vincent O’Sullivan to commemorate WWI with the world premiere season of Brass Poppies; while fellow Laureate John Psathas has gathered together 150 musicians from across the world for his monumental “love letter to peace”, No Man’s Land.

Alongside the big names are a series of experiences to transform the capital, explains Shelagh Magadza: “What we’ve learnt over 30 years is that the Festival isn’t just about what happens on stage. It’s about what happens when art brings people together. Wellington is the perfect stage for our Festival, one of the reasons I believe it has such enduring success – and will get better and better.  So, for Wellingtonians on this birthday year, we’ve got two special gifts in store…

“Opening night in Civic Square on 26 February is going to be a big free dance party, with the incredible mass dance Le Grand Continental®, featuring 150 local dance stars and partnered by Kiwibank. We’re also building you a parent-powered junkyard fairground, full of fun and food. The Contact Festival Playground is free to attend and will run throughout the Festival in Frank Kitts Park, designed for kids – and adults who don’t want to grow up!”

Another family-friendly night out will be the Wellington Airport Season of For the Birds, an avian-inspired light and sound experience at Otari Wilton’s Bush reserve, brought to the Festival by the same artists who delighted 22,000 people at Power Plant in the Botanic Gardens in 2014.

The New Zealand Festival also boasts a major literary and ideas festival. 2016 Writers Week (9-14 March) programme is revealed on 28 January 2016, but early announcements include award-winning US film-maker and author Miranda July, prolific scholar Simon Winchester, brain surgeon Henry Marsh, scientist Adam Rutherford, novelist Patrick deWitt, and cartoonist Kate Beaton. 

The full Festival line-up can be found at festival.co.nz. Tickets go on sale to Culture Club supporters from 23 October and to general public from 2 November.  Early Bird prices end 30 November. 

2016 New Zealand Festival Highlights


Australian dance company Chunky Move perform their unique dance/theatre collaboration, Complexity of Belonging, an exploration of identity, freedom and connectivity.

Acclaimed New Zealand choreographer Douglas Wright’s meditation on the human search for ecstasy, The Kiss Inside, will run for two nights at Wellington’s Opera House.

The Royal New Zealand Ballet will premiere three contemporary dance works under the artistic directorship of Francesco Ventriglia.


Canadian sensation Hawkesley Workman will bring his sexy cabaret The God That Comes to Hannah Playhouse for five nights.

Set on stunning two-tier stage, part play, part film Cineastas traces the works, lives and loves of the Argentine filmmakers.

Alice Mary Cooper’s delightful theatre production Waves traces the story of Elizabeth Moncello, inventor of the ‘dolphin’, more commonly known as the ‘butterfly stroke.’ 

Fresh from the success of The Bookbinder, Trick of the Light theatre company’s new play The Devil’s Half-Acre is set in the Dunedin slums of the 1860s, and will run for five nights in March.

Armed only with a few pieces of chalk and their wits, Chalk Aboutperformers Christine Devaney and Niels Weijer take a playground game and turn it into a playful, funny and often moving look at how we fill in the outlines of each other’s identities.


A sell-out hit at the 2010 Festival, Calexico return with their “desert noir” sound to the festival for a one-off show on 19 March.

A one night only concert at the Michael Fowler Centre: Dame Kiri Te Kanawa with Voices New Zealand Chamber Choir and Pianist Terence Dennis.

The Modern Māori Quartet bring their fresh take on Aotearoa’s old favourites to the Festival for one night only.

Both Sides Now, the songbook of legendary Joni Mitchell, will be performed by former Fur Patrol front-woman Julia Deans in March. 

East meets West in a cutting-edge fusion of modern and traditional music when New Zealand’s most experimental composers collaborate with three of Japan’s most virtuosic performers, the Miyata-Yoshimura-Suzuki Trio.

Free Events

Inspired by a mix of line and contemporary dancing, the free mass dance event Le Grand Continental® will kick the 2016 Festival off in style in Civic Square on 26 February when 150 amateur dancers show off the results of 6 months rehearsing with Sylvain Emard Danse.

The Contact Festival Playground is a gift to the city to celebrate the Festival’s 30th birthday on the waterfront near Frank Kitts Park.  It will host the fantastic parent-powered junkyard fairground Arquitecutra de Feria and Tiffany Singh’s beautiful Fly Me Up to Where You Are flags.

John Luther Adams’ unique composition for outside spaces, Sila: The Breath of the World will be performed by 60 Orchestra Wellington musicians in Civic Square on 5 and 6 March.

After its hit run at Wellington’s Capital 150 celebrations, the Festival is bringing Page Turners back free of charge for those who missed it.

The full Festival line-up can be found at festival.co.nz. Tickets go on sale to Culture Club supporters from 23 October and to general public from 2 November.  Early Bird prices end 30 November. 

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