Haere rā and Thank You

It's a wrap on Auckland Arts Festival for 2018. Jonathan Bielski looks back on his first Festival as Artistic Director, and our biggest edition yet.

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Nau mai, haere mai.

With the conclusion of the 10th Auckland Arts Festival, I have been reflecting on the past four weeks.

Few who saw Giselle by the exquisite English National Ballet will forget Akram Khan’s daring, politically-defiant work, which subverted the typical form of ballet to comment on global inequality. Accompanied by the city’s beloved Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra, Giselle was a mammoth project and it was gratifying to have such universally thrilled responses.

In a trio of shows from Australia which represented my 13 years living there, we were honoured to present the New Zealand debuts of Jack Charles V The Crown from ILBIJERRI Theatre Company and JUNK from Flying Fruit Fly Circus, together with a much-anticipated return of ERTH with Prehistoric Aquarium. Uncle Jack charmed Auckland and made deep connections with some of our most disadvantaged and dispossessed.

In the second week, the Vietnamese acrobats and musicians of A O Lang Pho unleashed unbridled elation on the mighty Civic with their delightful new circus-theatre work. Composer Max Richter arrived in Auckland to present his overnight experience Sleep and a concert featuring his new version of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons.

At the Auckland Town Hall, under the creative direction of Tama Waipara, we celebrated the life and music of a great Aotearoa artist and wahine toa, Mahinaarangi Tocker, in Love Me As I Am.  The New Zealand music community gathered for an emotional and celebratory concert filled with waiata, tears and laughter in what represented the centrepiece of our 10th festival. 

This year we invited Aucklanders for whom the price of entry is a significant barrier to attending the theatre to enjoy our new Pay What You Can programme.  Hundreds of people attended shows, from Tea to A O Lang Pho to The Naked Samoans Do Magic, paying what they could afford.

2018 saw a major expansion of our commitment to an access programme, to ensure people who needed special services or assistance were welcomed.  The introduction of $20 tickets and more New Zealand Sign Language interpreted performances, touch tours and audio descriptions for people with vision impairment, and a relaxed show for people with sensory disorders saw a huge increase in attendances from those communities.

Bold, clear voices of Aotearoa have made their mark this Festival. Hone Kouka, Ahi Karunaharan, Aldous Harding, Riki Gooch and his whānau of funk collaborators, Neil Finn, David Mamea with his sweet new play about a Sāmoan mama, Michael Parmenter with his triumphant return to the mainstage, Peata Larkin with her exquisite illuminated artworks, Phil Dadson and the From Scratch genii, and of course the return of The Naked Samoans, among many others.

The creation of our new precinct at Silo Park has been a smashing success for all who worked on it. The vision of welcoming a new audience to the Festival has come to fruition. Our partners in the Festival Playground, Fresh Concept and artist Angus Muir, proved to be the best of people and, now, new friends.

The contrast between artists such as legend Lee Fields and youngster Archy Marshall (AKA King Krule) has been delightful to see, as have the varied crowds they draw.

The final weekend saw New Zealand Opera present a glittering new Candide, directed by Stuart Maunder, which thrilled audiences and marked Leonard Bernstein’s 100th anniversary. It was also a privilege to welcome Turtle Island DJ crew A Tribe Called Red to unite with our very own Tiki Taane and Ria Hall in an explosive final Saturday in the Music Arena.

In year two of Whānui, we engaged again with Auckland’s diverse communities presenting the stories they wanted to tell, in ways they wanted to tell them. With the Festival providing context and resource, we were led by artists from the four corners of the city, who created projects that were political, celebratory and enlightening.

Our grateful thanks to core funders Auckland Council and Creative New Zealand, and to major funder Foundation North, without whom we could not present the Festival. The support from corporate Auckland and the personal gifts made by our Patrons enable the Festival to be bold and engage with audiences. I thank them for sharing our vision.

My first Festival is done. I salute the Festival whānau who collaborated with me so generously to create this edition; I am very grateful for their mahi and friendship.

Auckland Arts Festival is handmade by the people of the arts and culture community of Aotearoa with our international guests. Together, we create a festival of ideas, art and performance for the people of Auckland that aims to speak to the cosmopolitan, diverse and globally connected city we live and work in. 

Ko te Ahurei Toi o Tāmaki Makaurau, Tihei mauri toi!

Ma te wā.

Jonathan Bielski
Artistic Director