Five hot picks for the New Zealand Festival

AIMIE CRONIN
Last updated 11:38 06/01/2014

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Aimie Cronin visits Wellington ahead of the country's top arts festival and comes back with the hottest tips.

New Zealand Festival artistic director Shelagh Magadza sits in a mid-city Wellington Cafe to talk about the programme. She has three main shows that encapsulate what it's all about: community, environment and being interactive. But Magadza can't stop flicking through the pages. She is so excited about the festival that it's infectious, and she even makes a night with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra playing tunes from Doctor Who sound worthwhile.

She reckons Wellington is about the perfect city to hold an arts festival.

"It really matters here. It's a city where the festival really makes a difference when it's on. When you go to bigger centres like Sydney or Melbourne, you don't get the transformation that you get in Wellington."

She's been in Perth for a number of years, but is happy to be back, to stand at a street corner in the centre of town and see all of her closest friends. Wellington is funny like that. For a big city, there's always someone you know in the foot traffic.

Visiting artists enjoy Wellington for this reason, too - being frequently stopped by festivalgoers who have seen them in shows. "There's a real sense of coming together."

Next year's programme has something for everyone. Here are some of the picks:

The Big Bang

This year's festival opener brings together 200 young people from Auckland, Christchurch, Wellington and the Cook Islands, playing percussion with Strike, Kora and alongside a community choir.

It's drawn from the workshops that Strike percussion does with young people in low decile schools across the country - to motivate them build self- esteem and teach them a skill.

Magadza saw a performance after one of the workshops and was amazed: "It was cute, but they were also bloody good."

The youngsters are all practising in their centres and will come together to practice a few days before the big show in the Civic Square on Friday, February 21 at 8.30pm. And it's free!

Festival Subtlemobs - As If It Were the Last Time and Our Broken Voice 

Two more free events. These theatre pieces are the brainchildren of UK-based artist Duncan Speakman, who is known for making theatre in public places. The whole experience begins with registering to be part of what's called a subtlemob. Think flash mob, then tone it down. Because it's interactive, instructions are downloaded onto an MP3 player, where attendees get told to be at a certain place at a certain time. As If It Were The Last Time is a shared experience and Magadza says it works best when there are around 200 people involved. Our Broken Voice is an individual journey.

"Speakman is quite exceptional, " says Magadza, "he composes music and writes things that capture you emotionally in the way good pieces should."

To register, visit the event page for As If It Were The Last Time/Our Broken Voice at festival.co.nz.

Power Plant2

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Another piece from Britain, Power Plant takes place in Wellington's Botanic Garden. Billed as "more than a walk in the park", the event is about getting people to celebrate their physical environment and Magadza says it's the perfect ticket for "non-hardcore festivalgoers."

She estimates it takes about an hour to walk "through an experience of sound and light installations in a garden at night".

Expect sound, light and fire. "It's like a magic night time walk."

A Midsummer Night's Dream

Magadza was adamant no Shakespeare in the lineup for 2014. But she couldn't resist this "humorous yet heartfelt" take on A Midsummer Night's Dream.

"It subverts the old fashioned way of presenting Shakespeare and it's very tongue and cheek.

"It's just so funny and charming and it has a little Jack Russell starring in it - so how could you not want to go?"

The Crimson House and Stones in Her Mouth

Lemi Ponifasio is an internationally recognised performance artist, who isn't so well known here in his home country. He moved to New Zealand from Samoa in his teens, is based in Auckland, and his work is so provocative, Magadza says he often gets a love/hate reaction from audiences.

In The Crimson House, Ponifasio has a transgender Canadian woman in the lead role, challenging the audience with themes about the role of technology and how we see ourselves. Stones in her Mouth has a cast of 10 females who explore womanhood and Maori- dom.

Says Magadza: "He makes these extraordinary statements on stage that are getting him major coverage anyone with a bit of curiosity about them should go see it."

For more information about the festival, visit festival.co.nz.

NZ Fringe Festival will also be running in Wellington from February 7 - March 2. Visit fringe.co.nz. 

Aimie Cronin was sent to Wellington courtesy of Positively Wellington Tourism. Visit WellingtonNZ.com.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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