Arts Festival critics choose favourites

TeZukA: "Nothing had really prepared me for the monumental achievement of this theatre piece."
TeZukA: "Nothing had really prepared me for the monumental achievement of this theatre piece."

Arts festival critics have revealed their favourite show - breaking away from the mainstream ''big'' acts and praising those less-expected.

The New Zealand International Arts Festival - which ran in Wellington from February 18 to March 18 - brought various forms of art to the Capital that catered to all tastes.

Those who reviewed the shows shared with us those that inspired them, entertained them and left a lasting impression.

Popular music, world and jazz

Bon Iver, Wellington Town Hall

The highlight of the arts festival for me was Bon Iver, no question. The band played two nights, both sold out, at Wellington Town Hall. And it was exquisite, from the audience reaction, to the crystal-clear sound, to the precision playing.

Here was an example of the festival picking the right musical act at the right time too. I couldn't count myself a fan of Bon Iver's recorded works, but it all made sense with the nine musicians sprawled across the stage, allowing colours to bleed into one, making a sound that was clearly a religious experience for most in attendance.

Popular music, world and jazz

James Hill with Anne Davidson, TelstraClear Festival Club

Should James Hill ever give up his ukulele playing then a career as a stand up comedian beckons. With partner Anne Davidson (cello) the pair slip easily into self-lacerating topical humour, most of it with a keen eye and a dry wit.

The cello and ukulele combination was inspired, breaking down the fuddy-duddy conceptions of both instruments. A concert that will remain long in my memory.

Theatre and circus

Michael James Manaia, Downstage Theatre

Although both overseas and local shows in the festival were of a high standard, it has to be Taki Rua's production of John Broughton's play Michael James Manaia that is the standout production for this reviewer.
Broughton's play is a simple, yet effective and very powerful piece of storytelling which this production, under the direction of Nathaniel Lees and with Te Kohe Tuhaka in the title role, brought to life with energy, power and commitment.

The sheer physicality of the performance, the understanding of the characters journey and the relentlessly rollercoaster of emotions that Te Kohe Tuhaka expressed were exceptional bringing to life Broughton's story with both poignancy and humour.

Theatre and circus

Peninsula, Circa Theatre

On reflection, now that the glitz and excitement of the festival is over, I find that the well-polished shows from the international festival treadmill - and their almost obligatory dazzling technological wizardry so often on display, and which I have thoroughly enjoyed in many productions - carry one along on a wave of excitement.

But they tend to diminish the emotional and intellectual impact a production might have. Jane Waddell's production and her excellent cast, like The Maori Troilus and Cressida, kept things simple, direct, and emotionally moving and though Gary Henderson's play covers well-worn ground it does so with warmth, humour and integrity.

Classical music

The Sixteen The Handel Concert, Wellington Town Hall

The Sixteen, with its orchestra and soprano Gillian Keith gave us a concert of Handel that was near perfection, in the ideal acoustics of the Town Hall. After a first half of some variety, they gave us the Nisi Dominus and then a performance to finish of the brilliant Dixit Dominus that was an ear popping mixture of precision and verve that, as one person said to me: ''could not be bettered anywhere, at any time''. Absolutely right.


TeZukA, St James Theatre

In 2010's Festival, choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui's Sutrawas handsome but not life-changing, so I will admit that when this return visit was announced I thought  ''Okay''.

I had heard of the success elsewhere of TeZukA, but one learns in the trade not to take any review by anyone about anything as the full gospel truth - So nothing had really prepared me for the monumental achievement of this theatre piece - with such an unlikely yet inspired theme (Japanese manga comics), and its seamless integration of dance and music (my favourite thing). Superb and thrilling theatre.