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Lowdown: Major Arts Organisation Backs NZ Talent For Top Job

14 Sep 2023

Instead of bringing in an overseas leader, one of the creative community's staples has brought an ex-pat home. Get the Lowdown on all the happenings and opportunities in your arts news bulletin.

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Ty King-Wall performing in The Australian Ballet's Giselle. Photo: Lynette Wills.

The changing of the guard at the Royal New Zealand Ballet (RNZB) has seen two of the things arts institutions in Aotearoa have been accused of overlooking.

Youth - and local talent.

In fact, instead of chasing overseas names to try their hand in Aotearoa, RNZB has been able to lure one of our own back from off-shore.

Waihi-born Ty King-Wall has been confirmed as its new Artistic Director - after he handed in his notice as Dancers’ Director on the Board of The Australian Ballet.

In his mid-30s, King-Wall takes over from Patricia Barker in the role - who turned 60 this year.

He states "It is such an honour to be the next Artistic Director of RNZB, the company I grew up with and the company which first inspired me to become a dancer.

"I’ve always admired the RNZB’s ability to defy expectations, to create beyond what seemed possible through their tenacity and aroha for the art form. There is so much possibility in front of us."

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Ty King-Wall. Photo: Erik Sawaya.

King-Wall told The Australian Ballet School's website that he's "Excited and elated of course, but I also feel a great sense of responsibility - to protect the integrity of the company, its history and everything that has been built so far. And in particular, to take care of and support its people - dancers, staff, and everyone involved.”

He adds he's looking forward "to be able to return home to Aotearoa New Zealand after living in Australia for twenty years is very exciting, especially to be bringing my family and to share this beautiful country with them. Wellington has always been one of my favourite cities in the world, so I'm really looking forward to being based there. 

"To be able to travel the length and breadth of the country on the company's smalls tour, Tutus and Tour, bringing this incredible art form to as many Kiwis as possible. But most especially, the opportunity to build something really unique and powerful, together with Tobias (Perkins RNZB's new Executive Director), the dancers, the artistic staff, and the entire team at Royal New Zealand Ballet. 

"It is very motivating and energising, I can't wait to get started!“

And it is a fresh start - in every sense of the word.

Executive Director Perkins has had some time to get his feet under the desk this year after Lester McGrath ended his four-year stint abruptly last year.

It sets up an opportunity for the new pair of directors to stamp their own mark on the organisation.

Perkins expresses “The vision and energy Ty will bring to this role is utterly compelling and I am confident that under his leadership the company can look forward to a sustained period of artistic excellence. I very much look forward to working in partnership with Ty to realise his artistic vision for the company to the benefit of audiences across Aotearoa New Zealand.”

RNZB Chair Dame Kerry Prendergast refers to the duo as “A ballet ‘brains trust’ of strong arts leaders who have industry virtuosity, global views but local understanding, and with the broad minds and big hearts to guide NZ’s national ballet company in its forward trajectory and into the future.”

King-Wall knows the pathways - and not just in the traditional areas of dominance. He himself came through the Tauranga’s Dance Education Centre and then the New Zealand School of Dance, on his way to the 2002 PACANZ National Young Performer Award before heading overseas to study at The Australian Ballet School.

His talent has seen him win top prizes and placements across the Tasman - and perform around the world during his impressive 17-year dance career, which he retired from only last year.

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Ty King-Wall in performance for The Australian Ballet's Sleeping Beauty. Photo: Daniel Boud.

King-Wall's teaching resume already includes the Australian Ballet School, NZ School of Dance, National Theatre Ballet School and the Victorian College of the Arts Secondary School.

"Being a teacher or a director is very different to being a dancer. It's one thing to have the information or experience but to be able to communicate it effectively to others is entirely different." 

King-Wall will move from Melbourne to Wellington and begin his new role in mid-November.

Waitangi Day fund opens

The opening powhiri for Waiheke Community Art Gallery's Wai-Rua-Ono-Rua show led by Ngāti Paoa kaumatua Harley Wade. Photo: Supplied.

It's only September - but a window has opened that could make creatives and creative organisations' plans for February a reality.

Manatū Taonga Ministry for Culture and Heritage's (MCH) is calling for applicants for the 2024 Commemorating Waitangi Day Fund  - which includes some updated criteria from the last incarnation following feedback.

Leauanae Laulu Mac Leauanae, Tumu Whakarae Chief Executive of MCH states "The changes to criteria include asking funding applicants to show how their event or activity will increase awareness and understanding of Te Tiriti, celebrate local māori stories, demonstrate meaningful local iwi or hāpu support, encourage wide community participation and meet accessibility needs of their community."

MCH outlines that encouraging other cultures to share their experiences, stories, and perspectives is also a factor - while events need to take place on or near Waitangi Day (6 February), or days significant to the signing of the Treaty in a particular community or rohe.

Glenis Philip-Barbara (Ngāti Uepōhatu, Ngāti Porou), MCH's Pou Mataaho o Te Hua, Deputy Chief Executive, Delivery explains "Up to $300,000 of contestable funding available for events around the motu that commemorate the signing of Te Tiriti and bring communities together.

"Waitangi Day is wider than the celebrations in Waitangi. Te Tiriti itself travelled throughout the motu, and we want to help communities around Aotearoa New Zealand to celebrate the impact of this document in creating the nation we are today.

"Last year's round helped fund a wide range of events, ranging from kapa haka performances, art exhibitions to full-on community festivals. We look forward to seeing what events will bring communities together with the help of the Fund."

The opening powhiri for Waiheke Community Art Gallery's Wai-Rua-Ono-Rua show. Photo: Supplied.

One of the last round's successful applicants Fiona Blanchard - Director of Te Whare Taonga O Waiheke/Waiheke Community Art Gallery - told The Lowdown that it made a great impact on the island, with over 8,000 visitors attending the Wai-Rua-Ono-Rua exhibition between 3 Feb - 19 March this year.

"Primarily," she unpacks "Wai-Rua-Ono-Rua focus was to engage mana whenua, tangata whenua and the local community. However, the exhibition drew interest from Tamaki Makaurau-Auckland’s general public, in addition to connecting with local history networks, tour groups, our national and international tourists, senior citizens and other resident diverse demographics, including family groups. 

This year, fellow artists and arts practitioners and their friends and allies took a noticeable interest in connecting with a sense of nationhood.

"The growing impact of Wai-Rua-Ono-Rua began to manifest before the exhibition even opened; with an enthusiastic commitment from local Māori artists and community anticipation. The integral nature of taonga/artworks invites discussion and korero - the exhibit was a vital catalyst for expanding our community’s awareness and appreciation of Te Tiriti o Waitangi, its partnership, historical context (nationally and regionally) and our sense of belonging.  

"This year’s artwork was of an exceptionally high quality, produced in response to the exhibition’s overarching theme. Displayed pieces were accompanied by traditional weaving demonstrations and workshops (conducted in situ) in the Gallery’s exhibition spaces, along with a traditional Māori kai workshop, Weekend Curator Korero/Talks and a presentation to the local high school - focusing on the exhibition’s context, history and the importance of local artists inclusivity."

If exploring these themes is on your radar - applications are open until 13 October.

Cool gig

Speaking of interesting opportunities - not many can take you to the ends of the earth.

The chance to use your creative skills to help tell the story of Antarctica has opened up again after a three-year, pandemic-enforced hiatus.

Artists, writers, educators and media have been invited to apply for Antarctica New Zealand's recently re-opened Community Engagement Programme (CEP) "to further foster the long-standing relationship New Zealanders have with the continent".

Under its previous guises of the Media Programme and the Artists and Writers Programme - the likes of musicians Sir Dave Dobbyn and Don McGlashan, Writers Tessa Duder and Margaret Mahy, poet Bill Manhire and artists Sir Graeme Sydney and Dick Frizzell have all visited the icy continent to be inspired and share its story.

There have been some impressive projects, like the two videos that bookend this topic.

The announcement details "We’re looking for innovative proposals that align with Antarctica New Zealand's vision, Antarctica and the Southern Ocean: Valued, protected, understood.

"The programme encourages applicants to submit proposals of the highest quality. The number of opportunities for travel to Antarctica are limited and vary each year. We are interested in applications with fresh ideas for bringing Antarctic stories home, particularly stories about scientific research. We want applicants to demonstrate their outreach ability and to demonstrate a genuine interest in Antarctica, science and the environment."

Aside from availability, resources, medical clearance and being able to get Christchurch for the flight to the southernmost landmass - you're really only limited by your imagination - as the videos of previous creatives selected illustrate.

If this sounds like a bit of you - proposals close on 1 November, while successful applicants will travel to Scott Base during the summer field season, between October 2024 and February 2025.

Ka rawe!

IA's Moetu Smith and Reti Hedley - part of this year's Waiata/Anthems collection. Photo: Jason Crane Photography.

Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori is in full swing - and the acceptance and integration of te reo continues to make great strides. From classrooms where it's finding daily use among our tamariki, to billboards across the motu - even in service stations, street signs and of course - throughout the creative community.

In case you missed it - The Big Idea delved into how the next generation of creatives are embracing the opportunity to use te reo to tell their stories authentically and on their terms.

In-demand Māori arts leader, advocate and choreographer Jack Gray has penned his thoughts on how te reo is now something he confidently uses around the world - including during his current trip to the United States - it's an engaging read.

It includes him introducing an international collection of dance students to the acclaimed and fast-becoming iconic Waiata/Anthems collection, which has grown impressively again this year.

As well as listening to these powerful tunes - you can find the stories behind them on the Waiata/Athems Youtube channel.

Reconnecting with Te Ao Māori is also represented in this year's Someday Stories, the seventh editor of the annual series of sustainability-focused short films by emerging young filmmakers from Aotearoa.

Tō Te Wai tells a story of a woman’s ambitious nature-led project clashing with local iwi, forcing her to confront the idea that she has been too far from home for too long.

Directed by Actor’s Program graduate Georgia-May Russ (Waikato-Maniapoto), and produced by Jewels King (Waikato-Tainui, Taranaki, Ngāti Hine), half its dialogue is spoken in reo Māori. 

Russ expresses “This kaupapa has given the opportunity for our cast and crew to find themselves, their purpose and sense of belonging. Filming Tō Te Wai became more than just your average filmmaking, it was an emotional journey for all of us. Reconnection, discovery, and inspiration. We filmed and stayed on a marae, we were all one big whānau.”

Top turn out

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APO's Community Play In. Photo: SAVS Photography.

It's an easy (and sometimes lazy) trope to suggest traditional forms of art face a struggle to hold relevance.

Take a look at the incredible scenes in the above picture to illustrate passion remains strong for classical music.

A record number of community musicians took part in the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra’s (APO) Community Play In last weekend - over 350 musicians (from instrumentalists to singers) performing together with APO musicians in the Auckland Town Hall.

Skill levels were varied - from budding young talent and experienced performers, through to people who hadn’t picked their instrument for years or sung in a choir before - but all reports are everyone had a blast under the baton of conductor David Kay and choral conductor Vanessa Kay.

Director of APO Connecting, Thomas Hamill, says, “We’re thrilled to see the ever-growing popularity of Community Play In and are proud of the value that it provides by enriching Aucklanders’ lives and removing barriers to orchestral music. It’s a great chance for musicians and singers of all abilities and ages to perform alongside our professional musicians; 

"I love seeing the learning and special connections that occur through beginners and experienced musicians playing side-by-side and performing on such a grand stage as the Auckland Town Hall.”

Theatre on the menu

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Now THAT'S a cake - the cast of Tauranga Musical Theatre's Matilda. Photo: Media Masters.

Hats off to a tasty innovation through another backbone of grassroots creativity - community theatre.

Not usually considered in the same breath as trendy cuisine - Tauranga Musical Theatre's pulled off a classy pairing with popular local restaurant Sugo creating a menu specifically to accompany the upcoming season of Matilda - The Musical (21 September - 7 October)

A themed pre-theatre menu  – including one for kids – has been designed by Sugo’s Ian Harrison, to enjoy before a short walk down to the show at Baycourt Community and Arts Centre. 

And for anyone who knows Roald Dahl's endearing classic about Matilda Wormwood, a precocious young girl with the gift of telekinesis, who loves reading, the attention to detail with the menu is impressive.

“Bruce Bogtrotter’s Chocolate Cake” and “Miss Honey’s Honey & Orange Cake” sit alongside everything from spanner crab & parmesan risotto to “Mr and Mrs Wormwood’s mozzarella sticks”.

Finding clever ways to add to the theatrical experience is a sure sign they've got their heads screwed on straight in the Bay. 

Screen success

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Photo: Supplied.

Finally - some impressive stats to wrap up what's been declared an "Epic" edition of Whānau Mārama New Zealand International Film Festival (NZIFF) for 2023.

After closing in the weekend with the last screenings in Matakana and Nelson - organisers have proudly proclaimed a tsunami of stats.

3752 hours - or 156 days - of non-stop viewing, 100,000+ tickets sold with 47 countries represented across 31 venues and cinemas in 16 regions across Aotearoa. In all, there were 89 filmmaker-in-kōrero sessions, 45 filmmakers travelling to screenings including six international guests with an impressive 3319 school students participated in the NZIFF for Schools programme and 16 Access screenings (low-sensory, open captions and audio-described).

Film Festival General Manager Sally Woodfield notes, “While 2020 was a horror year for the cultural sector with work not able to be shown in theatres and for the film festival, a very small hybrid delivery, it was 2021 and early 2022 where it was more challenging and the economics just didn’t stack up."

While acknowledging crucial support from MCH and Te Tumu Whakaata Taonga: The New Zealand Film Commission, she adds “It is so important that those who bought tickets know how grateful we are for their support of New Zealand’s world-class film festival. We also acknowledge that it has been an extremely difficult three years for creatives from across the sector, throughout Aotearoa, and around the world, many of whom earn very little income from their work.

"We will be working very hard to secure and grow our sponsorship and philanthropic support. These continue to be challenging times, there is a misconception that everything is back to ‘normal’ and we are continuing to work on our five-year recovery and rebuild approach.”

“We have shown we can deliver in an extremely challenging environment; our aim now is to build on that success and re-secure the future of the film festival."