New Zealand International Arts Festival 2012

Various venues, Wellington

24/02/2012 - 18/03/2012

New Zealand International Arts Festival 2012

Production Details

Haere Mai – Welcome  

Over the course of 24 extraordinary days the 2012 Festival will take you from the deserts of the Sahara to the cultural centres of the world, welcoming back favourite artists from past festivals alongside others new toNew Zealand– all key in shaping the cultural future of our time. I’m very grateful to these astounding artists who bring this festival to life.

Explore this website and you will find an abundance of stories from fairytales to Shakespearean tragedies, a return of the much loved festival tent, spine-tingling sounds from the Baroque to the 21st century, a heart-pumping season of Town Hall Gigs and plenty more to entertain, excite and savour. – LISSA TWOMEY Artistic Director

Everyone who is involved in making the Festival happen does so for the love of the arts and for the joy of bringing this incredible event to life for audiences in Aotearoa. We are privileged and grateful to have such a dedicated team of staff, interns and volunteers. To our audiences from the whole Festival team – it’s your festival, enjoy! – SUE PATERSON Executive Director

At Festival time nothing gives me more pleasure than seeing thousands of New Zealanders and international visitors enjoying the best of the arts in the world’s coolest little capital,Wellington. At the heart of every Festival is our special family of loyal Partners and Patrons. Your commitment and generosity in these challenging times enables us to present this incredible programme. – KERRY PRENDERGAST Executive Chair 

Theatre Wrap Up: Homegrown fare right up there in the highlights

Review by John Smythe 16th Mar 2012

Last Wednesday Downstage hosted a Writers and Readers week lunchtime forum of playwrights called WHY ISN’T THEATRE DEAD YET? Ken Duncum and Dave Armstrong were joined by British playwright Robert Shearman, who kept using the Circa production of Gary Henderson’s Peninsula as a prime example of what theatre does best. Only theatre allows us to accept adult actors playing children and their parents, or a teacher and a dog, with no change of costume, switching instantly from one to another. It trusts us to get it and believe it. A film would cast real children and a dog and something magical would be lost (cf. the stage vs the film versions of War Horse).  

It’s theatre that offers the ultimate magic of ‘make believe’, of willing suspension of disbelief, of having our imaginations stimulated and our consciences pricked, of engaging strongly at a level of human empathy. That’s what makes live theatre worth our investment of time, money and attention.

Yes, of course the other production values – spectacle, illusion, whimsy, visceral action and the design elements – are good to have too but without empathy, subjective involvement, the work becomes objectified; more plastic arts than performing arts; more passive than active.

The theatre content of the festival could be grouped as Solos, Shakespeares, Spectacle and Relatively Straight Theatre – with war as a recurring theme. 

Of the Solos dealing with war, Taki Rua’s Michael James Manaia rates highest for story content, visceral action, empathy and design elements. It’s a powerful performance from Te Kohe Tuhaka. Private Peaceful from the UK’s Scamp Theatre compels us to see how dehumanising war can be, we feel strong compassion for Alexander Campbell’s Tommo, but it’s let down by poor sound and scenery. Could it have been more creatively staged …?

Let’s face it, NZ leads the world in ingeniously devised solo shows so the bar is already high for us. Of the two other solos, Leo with Tobias Wegner from Germany’s Circle of Eleven, offers terrific illusion and could draw more empathy from us, as could Frequently Asked Questions: To Be or Not To Be fromAuckland’s Royale Productions, which was nevertheless very strong on whimsy and performance. Michael Hurst’s Macbeth fighting with his Hamlet is a memorable highlight.  

The Propeller productions of Shakespeare’s Henry V and The Winter’s Tale were strong and clear. Although the former was let down by a weak-voiced Henry and the battles were tame, the latter brought fantastic design elements to the Bohemia scenes. But personally I see no value in the all male casting. Even if they’d cast boys whose voices hadn’t broken in the female roles, as in Elizabethan times, they would still be perpetuating the misogynistic prejudices of yore. The distraction of having to accommodate males playing females adds no value for me. Besides, the best actors by far in The Rehearsal, Playing the Dane were the two women, in what I otherwise saw as a somewhat pointless and finally pretentious show fromIreland’s Peter Pan.  

The top Shakespeare for me was Ngaakau Toa’s The Maori Troilus and Cressida which is heading to Auckland then to London for the Globe to Globe festival. That a lesser-known play performed (without surtitles) in a language I do not speak could be communicated so clearly and have such an impact on a full house attests to an impressive array of performance skills which inexorably connect humans to each other.  

Spectacle, illusion and whimsy supported the empathy we felt for James Thiérée’s  Raoul, from France. His clowning skills are what draw us into his predicament and compel us to share his extraordinary experience. And in Circus Ronaldo’s Circenses from Belgium, which uses all the values of commedia dell’arte to get us relating to their idiosyncratic characters, it’s the backstage boy who aspires to a greater role on stage who especially compels our empathy. 

And at the other end of the scale, size-wise, pre-schooler show White, from the UK company Catherine Wheels, had heart as well as magic, and we couldn’t help but empathise with the character who wanted to add colour to their lives. Masi from Nina Nawalowalo’s The Conch – a New Zealand/UK/Fiji combo – included superb illusions which required mind-boggling discipline from the unseen operators. And it could also go deeper with the human story; share the quest and experience more engagingly. 

There was some lovely whimsy and excellent performance elements in Kneehigh’s The Wild Bride from the UK, although I found the premise flawed (the contract with the Devil is for everything in the father’s back yard; the daughter’s state of cleanliness etc was never specified in the deal). The Animals and Children Took to the Streets, by 1927 also from the UK, includes brilliant audio-visual work but its moral – ‘forget the poor people, they’re irredeemable’ – discomforted me, which was (I hope) the point.

There was powerful performance spectacle in Beautiful Burnout from the national Theatre of Scotland (andUK’s Frantic Assembly), and it told the truth about boxing, but I didn’t find the monologue format conducive to empathy. Maybe that horrible TSB Arena space worked against it.

Tawata Productions’ very theatrical Tu – by Hone Kouka, inspired by Patricia Grace’s novel – was a major highlight for me. By focusing on how war affects one whanau it probes many dimensions of our being: a very rich taonga indeed.

So, out of all that, what was the most magical moment for me? It is in Peninsula (still on at Circa until 31 March), The 10 year-old kids are throwing stones –imaginary; they mime it – at a mentally retarded and therefore unpopular girl (also unseen). And after the others realise they’ve gone too far and it’s wrong, Michael, the central character who we have come to know very well and care about a lot, keeps going. Stone after stone. And we have to deal with it. We have to work out why, and why the others just stand and watch, and we do because we have felt such empathy with him; with them all. We’ve all been there at some point in our lives. We know that another unresolved social injustice has led to this one … We work it out in the silent space provided. We get it. And the ‘satisfaction’ we gain from this is directly related to what we’ve been provoked to contribute.

So the New Zealand productions have been right up there with the highlights of this festival. And if this was a world cup tournament that would be the most important thing to all New Zealanders! OK, it’s not a competition – except all the shows are competing for ticket sales … It’s a celebration of artistic excellence. And we should certainly celebrate what we have brought to this pot-luck feast of exotic and homegrown fare. 


John Smythe March 17th, 2012

In the DomPost Festival round-up Sir Ian McKellen rates Tu and Peninsula. I agree – and would add The Maori Troilus and Cressida.  

But Neil Plimmer must have been having An Early Autumn Night’s Dream to have seen Twelfth Night at the Opera House. I think he meant The Winter’s Tale

Shaker March 16th, 2012

Isn’t it great that so many people have been exposed to Shakespeare in New Zealand – including 80,000 young people over the 20 years existence of Shakespeare Globe Centre New Zealand (SGCNZ) – that Lissa Twomey and her team had the confidence and temerity to include 6 Shakespeare based productions (including Germaine Greer’s session) in this year’s Festival.

That the most popular Maori Troilus and Cressida came about through Rawiri Paratene being selected and assisted in fundraising by SGCNZ as a Shakespeare’s Globe International Actor Fellow  in 2007...when he was seen by the Globe’s Artistic Director, Dominic Dromgoole...and offered the role of Friar Lawrence in Romeo & Juliet there in 2009...and then invited to (co-)produce The Maori Troilus & Cressida which will open the Globe to Globe season at Shakespeare’s Globe as part of the Cultural Olympiad on April 23 this year.

Also in the production is 2011 SG International Actor Fellow via SGCNZ, Maaka Pohatu, and 1999 SGCNZ Young Shakespeare Company member, Matu Ngaropo. Matu followed that time by becoming the first New Zealanders to do an Internship at the Globe in its Globe Education Department.  In addition, SGCNZ cast and partially rehearsed the young boys for The Rehearsal:Playing the Dane. Most of them are about to perform in this year’s SGCNZ University of Otago Sheilah Winn Shakespeare Festival.

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