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Lowdown: Breaking Bad News For Dancers

19 Oct 2023

A door closes just after it opens in what now shapes as a one-off golden opportunity, unprecedented collaborations for Aotearoa creative forces, big announcements and homecomings for the NZ arts community.

John Vaifale AKA Happy Feet. Photo. Graeme Murray.

One and done.

It's not often you'll find The Lowdown delving into the world of Olympic selection - but it's not often a skill set that's such a promising creative medium finds itself in the international sporting spotlight.

The announcement of the new sports for the 2028 Los Angeles Olympic Games this week were celebrated by those getting the promotion - but it came with a blow for the dance community, with confirmation that Breakdancing won't be back on the menu after next year's Paris Olympics debut.

The incredible feeling of recognition on the highest event stage has caused a glow through Dancesport since its unveiling - but to know that it won't be renewed, even before getting a chance to throw down any moves, leaves a bitter aftertaste.

The Lowdown reached out to the Bboy community through those taking part in Capture - a groundbreaking mix of live and digital breakdancing performances currently wowing crowds at Aotea Square until 21 October.

The consensus - a sadness at the short-sightedness. 

John Vaifale AKA Happy Feet has been selected to represent Aotearoa at this World Championships in Germany and expressed his disappointment to The Lowdown.

"It really is such an athletic sport in my eyes - (we do) the same amount of training you see runners, pole vaulters, discus. It’s just as hard work to train breakdance and add the element of music that other sports have. If only they could see the potential for it to be a long-term Olympic sport, and see how much of the younger generation they’d inspire."

Showdowns galore at Capture's TECHnique event. Image: Supplied. 

Andy Ha AKA Astro Andy, part of the same TECHnique event as Happy Feet during Capture's run, told The Lowdown it's not something they didn't see coming. 

"The fact that a dance style that was birthed from the streets of Bronx, New York made its way to the Olympic stage is a huge milestone in itself. For the competitors, I can only imagine the pressure and excitement they feel right now to be a part of possibly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. 

"It's not about representing your country anymore, it's about representing breaking and proving why we deserve to be here. You better be prepared to watch this category in the 2024 Paris Olympics because this may very well be the best breaking we will see in the next decade."

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John Vaifale AKA Happy Feet in performance. Photo. Graeme Murray.

New Zealand's biggest all style street dance collective, Projekt Team (of which Happy Feet is a member) told The Lowdown  "It's truly disappointing to learn that Breaking won't be part of the 2028 LA Olympic Games, especially considering that Breaking originated in the very country that is hosting the event. Breaking serves as a blueprint for many other street dance cultures, and its journey toward Olympic recognition is inspiring for the entire street dance community.

"Now, more than ever, it's crucial for the global b-boy and b-girl community to stand up and rally behind the 2024 Olympic Games and the breakers who will represent this culture. We must showcase to the world why breaking deserves its place on the Olympic stage. It's also essential to continue supporting local breakers in our respective countries and events organized by other organizations.

"This is the perfect time to acknowledge the positive impact that Breaking has had on many lives and to demonstrate it deserves Olympic status by actively supporting and nurturing the scene."

ATC sharing the TLC

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 O le Pepelo, le Gaoi, ma le Pala’ai | The Liar, the Thief, and the Coward. Image: Supplied.

A rising tide lifts all boats.

In an environment where funding can be scarce and increasingly competitive, it's all too easy to view those who work in the same field as you to be your competition. It's seen in sectors all over the country.

But the announcement of Auckland Theatre Company's (ATC) 2024 programme is a clear sign that the bigger picture and the smartest move is to build a supportive ecosystem with those who share your passion.

He waka eke noa - we're all in this waka together.

ATC Artistic Director & CEO, Jonathan Bielski told The Lowdown “Our 31st programme sees us partner with Te Pou Theatre, Nightsong, Silo Theatre, I Ken So Productions, Auckland Arts Festival and Agaram Productions. 

"These are brilliant and exciting theatre artists who are pushing forward with powerful storytelling. We make better theatre - and our company is enhanced - by the friendship and generosity at the heart of these joint ventures.” 

First-time partnerships with the likes of Nightsong and Silo is quite an extraordinary breaking of bread and sign of the impact unity within the sector can have.

The list of collabs is the striking element for the eight plays announced for ATC's plans next year, as they tout the success of having more than 50,000 people witness its 2023 offerings. In all, five works by New Zealand playwrights - four of which are world premieres - as well as a fresh take on one of the most popular stories ever told.

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Hyperspace. Image: Supplied.

The first one out of the blocks (7-24 February) should be a blast - just judging by the sheer talent involved. Hyperspace (formerly known as Supernova) is the brainchild of rising playwright superstar Albert Belz, co-produced by Te Pou Theatre including the directorial skills of Tainui Tukiwaho and choreographed by the effervescent Jack Gray - given his background as a former aerobics champion, this 90s themed dance homage sounds like a front-runner for most fun you can have in a theatre for 2024.

Pasifika talent gets to shine with I Ken So Productions husband and wife duo Natano Keni and Sarita So's O le Pepelo, le Gaoi, ma le Pala’ai | The Liar, the Thief, and the Coward (5-23 March) - a family power struggle set in Sāmoa with a darkly comic twist in collaboration with Auckland Arts Festival, as well as Award-winning playwright Leki Jackson-Bourke's take on the hit movie Red, White and Brass (18 June -6 July) with John-Paul Foliaki reprising his lead role from its theatrical world premiere and some heavy hitters in the directors roles - Anapela Polata’ivao and Vela Manusaute.

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A mixtape for maladies. Image: Supplied.

Arts Laureate Ahi Karunaharan's new work a mixtape for maladies (19 November-7 December) brings ATC and Agaram Productions together, with Jane Yonge directing a musically driven journey from 1950s Sri Lanka to modern-day Aotearoa.

And what happens when you put one of the most beloved children's tales of all time into the hands of one of the most imaginative forces in Aotearoa theatre for interpretation? I have no idea, but we'll find out when Nightsong's Carl Bland and Ben Crowder unleash their take on Peter Pan (8-28 October) just in time for the end of term 3 school holidays.

Throw in a stellar cast of Jayden Daniels, Zoë Robins, Jarod Rawiri and Sara Wiseman performing West-End hit The Effect (16 April-11 May) under Benjamin Kilby-Henson's direction, Australian show Scenes from the Climate Era (2-24 August) with Silo Theatre and director Keagan Carr Fransch and  Eleanor Bishop taking the helm of Broadway success Girls & Boys (10-28 September) - and there are some big names set to do big things at the ASB Waterfront Theatre next year.

Timing on point

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Auckland Philharmonia Music Director, Giordano Bellincampi. Photo: Adrian Malloch.

It's been a big week for Tāmaki Makaurau's creative institution forward planning - with Auckland Philharmonia also announcing their 2024 plans.

New Chief Executive Diana Weir states she's “immensely proud to lead Auckland’s orchestra as we announce a season of live music to connect, inspire and enrich our city. The year to come features an impressive line-up of over 45 concerts, plus next year we’ll announce many more educational and community events across the region." 

Auckland Philharmonia Music Director, Giordano Bellincampi adds “I can’t wait to showcase the brilliance of our fine musicians alongside a swathe of exceptional international artists. We look forward to sharing many more wonderful and heartwarming moments with our concertgoers next season.”

The annual collaboration with the Australian National Academy of Music (ANAM) - Avengers style - to form a massive Trans-Tasman orchestra is set to be a highlight as they perform Respighi’s Roman Trilogy - with Italian-inspired selections a feature for 2024.

Principal Guest Conductor Shiyeon Sung will continue her role with international additions like prize-winning rising Korean violinist Inmo Yang and French pianist Jean-Efflam Bavouzet sure to appeal to the afficiandos.

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The avenues to open new audiences to the talents of the orchestra sees cross-over collabs with the likes of Che-Fu (performing during Matariki above), important community events such as Tunes 4 Tamariki: Toi Time and the always popular movies with live music soundtracks to the iconic Lion King and fellow Oscar-winning Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

Festi-full long weekend

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A Seat at the Table, part of the Tauranga Festival. Image: Supplied.

The timely arrival of Labour weekend and sunshine gives many of us the chance to indulge in a three-day weekend - and it's the perfect time to head out of town and get a dose of creativity.

Two established events are launching and running for the same time in each Island on Thursday (19-29 October) - The Nelson Arts Festival and the Tauranga Arts Festival.

The synergy continues as they share some of the same acts - with comedian Kura Forrester bringing her skills to both festivals over the course of the long weekend (20 October Nelson - while the likes of Theia x Te Kaahu, Grada, The Savage Coloniser Show (with the incredible Tusiata Avia) and NZTrio will appear in both during the next 10 days.

The Tauranga Festival is the first under new Artistic Director, much-admired theatre director and Arts Laureate Shane Bosher.

Bosher told The Lowdown I've had a blast working with Nikki, Alex and the team to pull together the programme for this year's festival. I'm incredibly lucky to follow on from Gabrielle Vincent, whose programming passions speak loudly and proudly in this programme. I've embraced the challenge of programming into spaces like visual arts and music that I've only ever participated in as an audience member.

"The programme is the first full programme we've been able to get across the line since 2019, so in a way it's a response to how shut down our lives have been. We're excited about being able to activate downtown Tauranga with a whole raft of participatory experiences, many of them free - I'm particularly excited to see what audiences make of Mission Control: Mars and Biggie & Smalls 2v2 All Style Dance Battle

"We also made a conscious choice to prioritise artists from Aotearoa - and I'm stoked to have people like Theia, Jason Te Mete, Tusiata Avia, Morgana O'Reilly, Tama Waipara, Katie Wolfe, Ria Hall, Charlotte Yates and old drama school chum Anapela Polata'ivao joining us. Three witches represent!”

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Nelson's no slouch with more than 50 events - including 27 events across Labour Weekend - and anyone arriving in Whakatū this week won't be able to miss it. As soon as they step off the plane, Elisabeth Pointon’s  7-metre inflatable sculpture COULD BE BIGGER (seen above) will meet them at Nelson Airport.

Another curator lured home

Anna Briers. image courtesy Rhett Hammerton_for web.jpg
Anna Briers. image courtesy Rhett Hammerton.

The concerns about talented creative minds heading overseas are real - but it's nice to hear when it's offset by others returning home.

Aotearoa-born curator and writer Anna Briers has been confirmed as the new Len Lye & Contemporary Art Curator at New Plymouth’s Govett-Brewster Art Gallery. She comes with a CV packed with roles in the sector both here and across the ditch - including as Senior Curator at Shepparton Art Museum and since 2019, Curator at The University of Queensland Art Museum.

Due to start her new post in 2019, Briers remarks “As an expatriate curator who has refined their practice overseas for over a decade, I’m delighted to return home to respond meaningfully to the bi-cultural context of Ngāmotu, in a gallery I’ve long admired, placing artists from Aotearoa into conversation with global contemporary artists and ideas.

“The Govett-Brewster Art Gallery | Len Lye Centre has its legacy of being synonymous with robust conceptual ideas and presenting the collection and archive of Aotearoa’s most vibrant 20th century film-maker, kinetic sculptor and thinker—Len Lye.

“I’m looking forward to joining the team and the Gallery.”

Govett-Brewster Art Gallery | Len Lye Centre Director Dr Zara Stanhope states “Anna is a thinker participating in contemporary cultural dialogues who brings an interest in a wide range of art forms and a practice based in generative relationships with artists.

“We welcome her passion for curatorial work which will add new connections and conversations for our audiences and global participants in the Govett-Brewster’s programming of Len Lye and contemporary art.”

“We welcome Anna to the Gallery’s team and Ngāmotu and look forward to supporting and launching her ideas and projects within our programme of exhibitions and events in the coming year,” says Gallery Director Dr Zara Stanhope.

Len Lye Foundation Deputy Chair Andrew Clifford echoed those sentiments. “Anna brings a wide range of interests and energy in the arts and a fitting curatorial and collection management background to the role, which will complement Len Lye’s broad and kinetic practice. It’s pleasing to see her returning to Aotearoa with significant international experience to continue our work with the Gallery in growing Len’s reputation both here and abroad.”

Poetry emotion

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Tim Saunders and Jilly O’Brien. Photos: Supplied.

Some reasons for poetry lovers to smile this week.

After 152 poems from across New Zealand and Australia were entered, the winners of the 2023 Caselberg Trust International Poetry Prize have been announced and for the first time in the competition's 13-year history, first place is shared between two poets - both from Aotearoa.

Tim Saunders from Manawatu for his poem Aloneness and Jilly O’Brien from Dunedin for her poem The Tiriti Translator couldn't be separated - each receive $500 and a week’s stay at the Caselberg House.  Fellow Ōtepoti-based writer Megan Kitching was named runner-up for The Time of the Wetlands - pocketing $250. 

All three will also be published in Landfall's Spring 2023 edition next month.

And the lineup for what's touted as Aotearoa’s first-ever poetry film festival has been found.

After a global call for submissions that received 250 entries, 36 films will compete for the awards on offer on 2-3 November, with a retrospective of 14 poetry films produced in New Zealand bringing the total that will be shown for free at the inaugural Aotearoa Poetry Film Festival up to 50. 

Held at Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington, Associate Professor Alfio Leotta from Te Kura Tānga Kōrero Ingarihi, Kiriata, Whakaari, Pāpāho—School of English, Film, Theatre, Media and Communication, and Art History is the Festival Director. 

“Poetry films are usually quite short and quite abstract. There are so many ways you can approach it, which adds to the creativity of the form.

“It is great to see the first New Zealand festival entirely devoted to poetry film finally coming to light! It has been so exciting to see such a variety of submissions in terms of style, themes, and creative approaches.”