Downstage closure mars arts year

Looking back on arts and culture in 2013

TALIA CARLISLE
Last updated 11:07 24/12/2013

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This year was a big one for the arts but the news wasn't all good.

The closure of Downstage cast a pall over the Wellington theatre scene.

The year began with a big name in jazz, Rodger Fox, celebrating the 40th year of his Wellington Jazz Orchestra. Fox used his profile to request government funding to support budding jazz musicians.

Summer Shakespeare celebrated its 30th birthday in February with performances of Antony and Cleopatra in the Dell at the Botanic Gardens.

Miramar's Weta Cave celebrated its fifth birthday.

The Fringe Festival in February entertained audiences with bike- riding detectives, sword- swallowing and more. Organisers said the festival was twice as big as the previous year, with 100 shows and 500 performances.

This year the festival also included online-only webisodes, podcasts and shop window displays in Cuba St.

Shows were held at 36 venues, including Bats Theatre, which reopened in its new Dixon St venue in time for the festival.

The theatre moved from its Kent Tce site, which needed earthquake strengthening. The change of venue proved no problem and Bats had a very strong year, with 66 shows held, many of which sold out.

Other well-known arts venues were also on the move.

Capital E relocated to the former Olympic Museum site on Queens Wharf, because of safety concerns.

Poetry had to move when Newtown's Ballroom Cafe closed and now meets at Meow.

Gay bar Club Ivy reopened this year as Ivy Bar in a chic new Cuba St venue.

James Cabaret will reopen for the 2014 New Zealand Festival.

Scots College's Creative and Performing Arts Centre was opened in March by Sir Richard Taylor.

The school has top-level teachers including Weta Digital's 3D modelling guru Maddie Scott- Spencer and The Hobbit costume designer Gabrielle Stevenson.

Actor Miranda Harcourt taught an acting class there in September, supported by The Hobbit actor Jed Brophy.

The Wellington premiere - impressive though not of Lord of the Rings size - of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug was held at the Embassy Theatre on December 9.

In other film news, Wellington- filmed Eternity received international success. The film's Wellington premiere was held at The Paramount Theatre on March 27.

Eternity celebrated its world premiere at the Saint-Tropez Film Festival, where it received the highest attendance of any film at the festival.

It was also a hit at the California, Madrid, Boston and Cannes festivals.

Another Wellington-produced film that turned heads this year was Shopping, by Mark Albiston and Louis Sutherland. It won seven Moas at the New Zealand Film Awards.

The film's New Zealand premiere was held at Embassy Theatre in May.

It also screened at the Sundance and Berlin festivals.

Wellington teenager Natasha Bishop, only 16, was the youngest film-maker to be nominated at the Japan Wildlife Film Festival.

Wellington continued to offer a vast variety of entertainment.

Popular events included the Wellington Jazz Festival, Homegrown, Diwali Festival of Lights, Chinese New Year Festival, Matariki, Newtown Festival, Wellington Fashion Week, Armageddon, New Zealand Comedy Festival, New Zealand Art Show and World of Wearable Art Awards Show.

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WOW artistic director and principal choreographer Malia Johnston received a $65,000 Creative New Zealand choreographic fellowship in May.

Long-serving dance teacher Deirdre Tarrant was recognised in the Queen's Birthday honours list, as were Sheilah Winn Shakespeare Festival organiser Dawn Sanders and New Zealand School of Dance director Garry Trinder.

Wellington dance crew Infinite were crowned world hip-hop champions in October. The all-girl group won the adult's division in Belgrade.

Big shows to hit town included Stomp, Swan Lake, Pirates of Penzance, Disney on Ice: Princesses and Heroes and NZ Opera's Madame Butterfly.

Top musicians who performed included Fat Freddy's Drop, Six60 and international acts Ed Sheeran, Matt Corby and Passenger.

Shihad were voted Wellington's all-time favourite Wellington musicians in a Wellingtonian competition run during New Zealand Music Month.

Amid all the excitement there was some heartbreaking news with Downstage Theatre forced to close in September after Creative New Zealand pulled its funding.

The country's oldest theatre company would have turned 50 next year.

Dame Kate Harcourt, who performed in her first play at Downstage aged 12, said she was "absolutely devastated" by the news.

Former Downstage chief executive Hilary Beaton soon found a new challenge - as chief executive of Zealandia.

- The Wellingtonian

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