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World Premieres Refuse to Be Cancelled

03 Mar 2022
How Auckland Arts Festival is finding ways to bolster its 2022 line-up, despite the pandemic disruptions.

If a flower can grow through a crack in a concrete path, then creative minds can certainly flourish when it feels like the lights have been turned off.

The Auckland Arts Festival’s one week away from starting in its abridged, Omicron enforced line up - but are still able to find fresh positives - with the announcement of new shows added to the programme - including premieres of long-anticipated work.

Waiwhakaata - Reflections in the Water, a combination of contemporary dance, explosive and innovative physical theatre, taonga puoro, and kōrero tuku iho will now be an online experience, as will perception breaking concert Where Will They Bury My Bones? - composer Gareth Farr’s musical response to our state of mind during times of profound uncertainty. Also added, Artefact: How to Behave in a Museum, which was due to be an in-person dance experience at Auckland Museum, now debuting digitally. 

That’s on top of last week’s announcement of Live Live Theatre’s Little Shop of Horrors - the Lockdown edition, Full Moon Online Folk Ball and Courageous Conversations About Racism, A Stab in the Dark and the Siva Afi Festival, and sits alongside the original online seasons of Lament for Sheku Bayou and The Super Special Disability Roadshow. It brings the online programme to 10 events – a first for AAF.

Festival Artistic Director Shona McCullagh told The Big Idea “it felt vital to do everything we could to support some of the world premieres, especially. So much time, money and effort goes into the planning and creation of these works, often years in fact, and we just couldn’t bear for them to not have an audience. 

“The result has been an even deeper co-production with each of the companies as we have all worked together like beavers to achieve not only the additional artistic ‘layers’ required for pivoting to a work for camera, but also the technical, resourcing and logistical aspects. 

“It’s still heart-breaking having lost so many other works, and it’s a dangerous daily dance with COVID among cast, crew and the Festival team, but we’ll be thrilled if we can pull them all off!”

One of those making what is a seismic shift to a digital delivery is Eddie Elliott, Director of Waiwhakaata.

He told The Big Idea “The goal was to showcase my experiences I have gained over the past 12 years in live performance.

“There are fundamental elements which are embedded throughout my practices that feed off of ihi, wehi, and wana. These foundations are energy based, which are prominently experienced kanohi ki te kanohi. Because of this, shifting from stage to screen is quite nerve-wracking. 

“However, when the decision was made to move the premiere to film, it became clear that there were creative ways in which we could adapt the live show for the screen. And that is how we are working it. Seeing it as an adaption of the live performance, creatively exploring how to draw on those fundamental elements through the screen.”

The performance will be pre-recorded with three cameras - but Elliott still wants to maintain the energy that live brings. “My main focus is to find, and nurture the connection between dancer and audience members. We are trying to do that through camera movement, guiding the audience’s focus points, encouraging the performers to look into the camera, while also looking at ways to heighten the technical elements of the show; music, lighting, set, and having the amazing Taonga puuoro artist James Webster playing live.”

Waiwhakaata - Reflections in the Water. Photo: Supplied.

Elliott has found an additional positive - his whānau outside of Aotearoa will now be able to experience Waiwhakaata.

McCullagh is embracing the new doors about to be opened as well.

“Regarding audience engagement, with digital delivery it is still uncertain, especially as this is our first Festival on the digital stage. But what it does do is broaden our reach and accessibility nationally or, for some events, internationally. 

“It’s a real buzz to now have schools in the South Island now able to participate, for example, and overseas audiences and Kiwis away from home to be able to enjoy shows made in New Zealand. In a way, this has been an opportunity to grow new audiences, which every Festival and company wants to do.”

Auckland Arts Festival has also confirmed the locations for Amanda Parer’s imposing Fantastic Planet installations (see above) - at  Silo Park, Te Wero Island, Aotea Square, Q Theatre roof, Manukau Civic Square and Falls Park in Henderson. 

They join the outdoor events around Tāmaki Makaurau that include to fashion: Dressing Aotearoa and poems by rangatahi in locations across the city as part of Spoken Walls - A City in Verse.


Written in partnership with Auckland Arts Festival (10-27 March), click here for the full programme and to book tickets.