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The Fest Test: Ducks and Bikes

As someone who this week feels constantly enroute, rediscovering my city, production En Route is clearly the show for me.
I'm writing at the self-dubbed 'corner of cool' on K Road, a Biz Dojo hot desk for The Big Idea, with friends Margaret Lewis and Elisabeth Vaneveld of TBI and Candy Elsmore of Arts Regional Trust.
I cross the road to Allelujah Cafe for pie with Eyecontact editor John Hurrell and artist and old friend John Radford. This morning I feel like I'm in the middle of the national arts web motherlode.
En Route down an alleyway
Site in En Route
My old place of work Queen Street, En Route
Atop a car park in En Route
As someone who this week feels constantly enroute, rediscovering my city, production En Route is clearly the show for me.

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The latest Auckland Arts Festival blog from Mark Amery.

The latest Auckland Arts Festival blog from Mark Amery.

The ducks in the pond at the Domain are looking much happier now the Groupe F fireworks are over. Ducks are a very good barometer of mood I think, very grounding. They look as contented today as I feel. As one of the characters in Wellington playwright Paul Rothwell's noughties play Hate Crimes says, throwing bread, as the lights fade, "we'll always have the ducks".

I stopped in the Domain 'enroute' to K Road on my bicycle. Yes, thats right. I've given you planes and buses in this blog and now I move onto the bike. Soon in this piece I'll be alighting for some pedestrian activity. Swimming is surely next on the list. For the cyclist its hair-raising out there. The Domain and Auckland's waterfront provide a few meagre spots of calm for the cyclist in the traffic-choked chaos. Today I ride across Grafton Bridge where the traffic lights give me a letter B for go instead of a green light: bikes and buses. That's a start. 

I'm writing at the self-dubbed 'corner of cool' on K Road, a Biz Dojo hot desk for The Big Idea, with friends Margaret Lewis and Elisabeth Vaneveld of TBI and Candy Elsmore of Arts Regional Trust. And while they're jesting, it's not only very friendly here it is very cool. Here they are pictured waving to you.

I cross the road to Allelujah Cafe for pie with Eyecontact editor John Hurrell and artist and old friend John Radford (you really should check this out. This morning I feel like I'm in the middle of the national arts web motherlode. St Kevin's Arcade is one of my favourite old teenage haunts. Hurrell rescues a kingfisher that has flown in through the window. Sharp beak, John borrows a plastic bag to protect his hand and off it goes into a Myers Park Pohutukawa. Here are the two Johns pictured post Kingfisher incident. Kingfishers in central Auckland, who would have thought.
 
As someone who this week feels constantly enroute, rediscovering my city, production En Route is clearly the show for me. The Australian company One Step At A Time's show follows a slew of other city based urban adventure productions worldwide which equip you with an MP3 player and your mobile phone and send you off into the city following a series of instructions. It's the treasure hunt of childhood for grown-ups. Part of En Route's charm is that it's as much about how instructions are given as the journey itself - as well as electronic devices, at various points you're taken by the hand, given maps, written instructions, a piece of chalk, money and asked to phone a friend (I get to speak to my partner and my little girl in Paekakariki in a hotel atrium off O'Connell Street).

For an hour and a half there is the bliss of leaving everything behind you and following someone else's directions, down alleyways, through buildings and onto rooftops. Places that in my time working in the city I never knew existed. Even those very close to the shiny Queen Street office tower I once worked in, trying my hand at being a Junior Solicitor in my early 20s.

The project asks nice questions for the participant about their comfort in the city's public spaces and their sense of ownership of the city. Putting yourself in someone else's control is, for the first half, a little Big Brother sheep-like alarming, for the second half, as you relax  rather liberating. En Route is light on explaining what you see, its history and significance. It's left up to you to create your own story of the city. It's the antithesis of the tourist guide in this respect and, whilst I like this quality, the soundtrack and the creators fragmentary breaks into philosophy, poetry and chatter felt banal and a little underdeveloped. Dare I say it, fringy. Even stronger local collaboration in the actual scripting (local music and narrators feature) would have helped.

We must have looked like complete stoners to the staff in the places we crossed through, trying to follow the slew of instructions. Whether intended or not the work is a pretty powerful commentary on how dislocated we are becoming in our cities as we wonder through in our own headphoned and mobile connected bubbles. As I grew comfortable in my new mode I become increasingly wary of the other people in the environment about me. Is that carpet cleaner in on it as well, that bellhop? Who is in the know? At times I feel like I'm in a David Lynch film. Walking through alleyways and foyers you see a whole different side of the city: namely the workers who keep the city running, at work or having a quick fag break.

En Route is thoroughly recommended, but I question whether it would have been stronger if the festival had invested in the development of a true Auckland equivalent, rather than bought in this international company.

En Route transports you in the way good theatre does so well. 90 minutes out of your daily life to reflect on what's presented to you. At festivals nothing is more popular in this regard than the cabaret. A good night out with a few drinks, and a bit of mild raunchiness. So for Cantina I invited my mother.

I wasn't looking forward to seeing Cantina at the Festival Club in Aotea Square. I'm not a great fan of circus and cabaret - I'm a story and ideas man. So perhaps my expectations were low, but this has actually been my pick of my festival experience thus far. The key is that these guys (more Australians) aren't just great acrobats, they're great dancers, actors and musicians to boot, and move seamlessly between these disciplines.

The whole thing is stitched together with a beautiful sense of style and aesthetic. You find yourself at some 1930s raving risque party, handsome dapper-suited gents and women in floral dress and stilettos, tightroping and throwing themselves across the small central circular space, with a wide array of antique musical accompaniment: accordion, mandolin, uke, pianola, musical boxes, weeping saw, washboard, vibraphone and spoons. Utterly charming, totally nostalgic but these guys are great physical actors, the common motif a contained violence with their bodies with Moet bottles and broken glass. Refreshingly the women in sharp stilettos are in control and the men the stud muffins. The male nudity is unapologetically gratuitous. Mum loved it.

As for the bike, I've taken to riding on footpaths. If a copper stops me I'll give him or her an earful.

Written by

Mark Amery

13 Mar 2013

Mark Amery has worked as an art critic, writer, editor and broadcaster for many years across the arts and media.