Backstage - Festival Reflections

Douglas Wright’s Rapt.
La Odisea
First Love
The Sound of the Oceam
Now that the Spiegeltent has gone back into its containers and headed off to the next festival on

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Now that the Spiegeltent has gone back into its containers and headed off to the next festival on the circuit, Renee Liang reflects on the Auckland Arts Festival 2011 in her last Backstage blog.

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The Auckland Arts Festival bowed out on Sunday night, but not without a last flurry of premieres and special performances.  One, much-anticipated was the world premiere of Douglas Wright’s Rapt on the final Wednesday, a work which pulls together the languages of dance, music and visual arts into a richly layered, dream-like piece.

I admit that I didn’t quite get all of the strands, but I was intrigued by the central bird-headed figure - reminiscent of Bill Hammond’s mysterious bird-creatures, with the same qualities of vulnerability and threat.  The ‘humans’ in this piece had unusual qualities too – some gifted with oracle-like prescience, another with a lovely singing voice, and all with the gift of mesmerising movement.  It seemed to be a piece more about feeling and exploration rather than a central thesis.

I was also lucky enough to see First Love by Samuel Beckett, a 75 minute monologue performed by Conor Lovett, credited as one of the world’s foremost Beckett exponents. First Love is supposed to be a love story, but possibly it’s better described as an anti-love story, narrated as it were by a central character who seems incapable of recognising love (my brain was fiddling about with a diagnosis of autism as I watched).  I was intrigued by the way Lovett held our attention for the duration, with a minimum of movement - the set, consisting of two benches, was used just once for a few seconds, with him standing the rest of the time just to the right of the bench. It was great just to watch and learn – although the minimalist staging also meant that I never fully forgot that I was watching a play.

The Sound of the Ocean, a percussion concert by U Theatre, was the standout opening of the week for me. These Taiwanese musicians commit to their music by adopting the aesthete lifestyle, living in their own mountain enclave. They include meditation and special exercises in their creative process. The international Festival circuit must be a huge contrast to their mountain camp, as they tour widely and win many awards.  Their show, which aims to give audiences the experience of ocean/water in its multifarious forms, is very much an experience rather than a concert.  As they moved from the rousing opening to the show-stopping finale, I felt an overwhelming sense of inclusion (although I couldn’t suppress a giggle as they wheeled out progressively more impressive drums and gongs – the drummer’s version of a flash car.) I loved the fact that the drumming was not over-miked and I didn’t have to wear earplugs (more than I can say for other shows at the Festival) but the gentle vibration in my sternum had me feeling both stimulated and very, very relaxed. 

My favourite show of the Festival?  Nothing has eclipsed La Odisea – for its heart, political intent and pitch-perfect use of classic theatre techniques.  They remind us that often it’s the simple things that mesmerise and move us the most – and that theatre has a serious function beyond mere entertainment.

And now that the Spiegeltent has gone back into its containers and headed off to the next festival on the circuit, it’s time to reflect. Was this year’s Auckland Arts Festival successful?

Yes, if the quality and range of the artists is anything to go by.  In terms of patronage, my impression was that some shows could have been better attended, and the relatively steep ticket prices (starting around $50-60 for most, even the ‘family shows’ like Vietnamese Water Puppets) might have had something to do with that.  It was nice to see students and others being offered ticket deals, and I also saw many familiar faces from our arts community. The free shows and ‘tasters’ on offer certainly attracted good crowds, and it was great to see the revamped same-but-glossier Aotea Square more populated than it usually is. 

Together with the Auckland Fringe, it’s a great way to start the year and with new shows already being advertised, no doubt we will keep flying from here.

Written by

Renee Liang

23 Mar 2011

Renee is a writer who is exploring many ways of telling stories, including plays, short stories, poetry (which she also performs), and cross-genre collaborations with composers, musicians, sculptors and filmmakers.

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