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Photo: Photograph at signing ceremony (left to right): New Zealand’s Commissioner-General to Expo 2020 Clayton Kimpton; Ngā Tāngata Tiaki o Whanganui Chair Gerrard Albert; Te Urumanao Gardiner; NZTE CEO and New Zealand at Expo 2020 Steering Group Chair Peter Chrisp; Ngā Tāngata Tiaki o Whanganui Trustee, Joey Allen
Nelson Youth Theatre performing Grease at Edinburgh Fringe - supplied
David Eggleton. Photo credit: F. Neuman.
Mark Amery with the Lowdown #60: the latest arts news


Getting Attention from the Top

This week saw the passing of a theatre actor who embodied public qualities treasured in such a role: skill, matched with generosity, hospitality and a wicked glint in the eye. Ray Henwood passed aged 82 and the tributes have been flowing. It’s only two years since Ray played King Lear at his beloved Circa, and a full 54 since he joined Downstage Theatre (pictured is Ray second to left at a play read, produced by Nola Miller - in beret but of course -  in 1968) . On Twitter ATC artistic director Colin McColl wrote “besides his acting, we remember Ray with affection for his beautiful Welsh lilt, his ability with language, his gentlemanly demeanour, his vast general and scientific knowledge and his ability to tell a good yarn. We’ll miss you boyo!”

Such was the turn of affection for Ray this week that it merited a media release from Arts, Culture and Heritage Minister Jacinda Ardern on his passing.  Lovely, but where were the releases for Raymond Boyce, Shiona Dunlop Mactavish and Peter Peryer - to name just a few significant artists passing in the last year? It’s the first time since Geoff Murphy left us in December last year such a media honour has been bestowed. Perhaps, like life itself, the rationale is who you know and where you are in the heat of the moment.

Jacinda Adern also this week met with choreographer Parris Goebel who has been announced as New Zealand's ‘entertainment and cultural curator’ for the Dubai World Expo in 2020. Given these diplomatic tourism platforms need for talent and glam with a sprinkling of popular cultural integrity, Parris looks to be a very smart choice. In her statement she says "we will showcase New Zealand's finest talent from music, dance, drama, street art and show the world what makes us special.”  

Will Aldous Harding appear, uttering the infamous line from her fabulous new album Designer “What. Am I doing. In Dubai?!” There is a potential connection point for them both: in October Auckland’s Q Theatre hosts Tempo Dance Festival’s showcase of NZ choreographers responding to Aldous’s music (Dances with Aldous) alongside Parris’s work Girl, a “look into the journey females take to discover their inner power.”

Signing ceremony for Expo 2020 - supplied.

In less reported, but arguably more significant news, Expo 2020 have also announced that the indigenous environmental ethos of kaitiakitanga will be the theme of New Zealand’s pavilion, inspired by the world-first legal status accorded to the Whanganui River. New Zealand Trade and Enterprise and Whanganui Iwi have signed a memorandum of agreement. The all-important pavilion has been designed by Jasmax, using the concept of the waka taonga. Fascinating from the drawings is a relationship in form to Andrew Patterson’s Len Lye Centre.

Lights on Te Arawa

From Whanganui to Te Arawa: Rotorua is culturally in the spotlight this month. Ardern also confirmed significant funding towards the reopening of the Rotorua Museum in its historic mock Tudor wooden building. $15 million from the Provincial Growth Fund and $5 million from the Regional Culture and Heritage Fund sees the $55 million project on track. The building closed in 2016 following a seismic assessment and Rotorua has been without its public gallery and museum ever since, a significant gap. 

And it's encouraging times for contemporary Māori arts with Te Arawa. September sees the inaugural Aronui Indigenous Arts Festival in Rotorua, coinciding with the return of the Rotorua Indigenous Film Festival (which began last year). Aronui has been brought together by the New Zealand Māori Arts and Crafts Institute (NZMACI), Te Tatau o Te Arawa, Steambox Films and Rotorua Lakes Council. It’s being directed by actor and playwright Cian Elyse White, who joined council as a Performing Arts Director last October and staged the IHI performing arts festival there last year. The festival includes the premiere of Te Arawa Dance and kapa haka practitioner Rosie Belvie’s Ko Rangi, Ko Papa, a Māori theatre wananga and now Rotorua based actor and playwright Fiona Collins’ play Alofa

Cian Elyse White has recently revived and toured John Broughton’s classic 30-year-old play Nga Puke, which provides a soldier’s Maori Battalion World War Two experience, to Auckland and Dunedin. Here’s an Auckland review at Broadway World.

Fiona Collins (known for work on films like Vai, Moana and The Orator) and her partner Naea Asolelei To'alepai have returned to New Zealand from Samoa where Alofa was developed and premiered, and performed the play at BATS in Wellington this week. The play, set in modern day Samoa, is both rather brave and beautiful, unafraid of talking to violence in Samoan culture. It also plays Hamilton, Auckland and Mangere in September, and it’s being translated into Samoan to enable it to be taken out to Samoan villages and schools. 


Christchurch’s Dr Barnaby Bennett, a major creative thinker and activist in post-quake Christchurch has been appointed Creative Director of November’s Sydney Architecture Festival. The theme? Making. Housing. Affordable. Nice use of fullstops. Can we have a version here? Our festival (this year’s programme now launched) is in September and more a nationwide programme of events.

It was announced on Friday’s National Poetry Day that New Zealand has a new poet laureate: Dunedin based David Eggleton. A man of wit and verve who you can imagine writing poem to reflect all manner of public events, as he told Lynn Freeman, what events he chooses to write about is his call.  Here’s a delightful performance from Eggleton on Dunedin’s steep Baldwin Street on Channel 39 TV - more evidence of Dunedin’s strong independent media. 

David Eggleton. Photo credit: F. Neuman.

Edinburgh Shadows

The shadow of Rose Matafeo was over this year’s Edinburgh Fringe - which finished Monday - as reported by RNZ. But the report focussed on comedy, ignoring that there were 28 performing arts companies at Edinburgh, many successfully returning (as reported at Culture Diary). Two examples: a Slightly Isolated Dog’s Jekyll and Hyde in the Edinburgh Reporter and a Scotsman Review of the Modern Māori Quartet.

And in a rather different Fringe story — that speaks to the festival’s breadth — a 26-strong contingent from Nelson Youth Theatre performing Grease at the Fringe got picked out by The Times. 

Nelson Youth Theatre performing Grease at Edinburgh Fringe - supplied.

Richard Morrison wrote (and I quote because it’s behind a paywall), “the prize for the longest distance travelled with the biggest cast surely goes to the Youth Theatre Company from Nelson… it seems to me that companies such as this represent the true spirit of the Fringe — or, at least, its original idealistic spirit. Yes, it’s possible that some of those youngsters will go on to have careers in theatre, but that’s not why they are here. Nor are they networking with TV producers, or desperately begging agents and critics to see their show. They are here for the thrill of taking part in the world’s largest arts festival and to enjoy other people’s shows.

“It’s unfortunate that this aspect of the Fringe — the fact that at least half of those 3,841 shows are put on by people just for the fun of it — has been overshadowed in recent decades by ruthless commercialisation at the “top end”.”

Pacific Arts with Tautai

It is almost a year since a fono that sought to address a reported “state of crisis” for contemporary Pacific arts organisation Tautai saw the appointment of a new board and new director, poet Courtney Sina Meredith. Tautai’s First Fridays programme, a ‘niu’ initiative has been actively bringing the community together this year and, no surprises, there’s been an increased focus on literature alongside other artforms. Balancing that for the visual arts, Lana Lopesi has been brought on as a Projects Manager

And there’s some new international reaching. This week Tautai announced an international artist residency: New York based Tongan artist Vaimoana Niumeitolu is here from September. And Tautai are calling for proposals for an upcoming group exhibition of artists from Aotearoa and Australia at Blak Dot Gallery, Melbourne.

Other Cool Stuff 

Hurrah a new Giselle Clarkson cartoon on The Sapling, this time round on imposter syndrome.

Scott Hamilton has written a beautiful piece on the aute (tapa) making of Nikau Hindin and its connection to the Manukau harbour out the windows at Te Uru Gallery in Titirangi on Eyecontactsite. Last month I got to briefly interview her to go alongside a photo essay by Sait Akirrman. Nikau’s work is part of a group show at  Millers O’Brien Gallery in Wellington currently. Recently it was announced that Laila o’Brien would be leaving the gallery, with it continuing to be run by Jhana Millers.

Here’s a rather cool piece from the Sunday Magazine with Māori artist and designer Johnson Witehira - a great photo essay and his journey in his own words.

A really smashing eight minute doco on legendary band The Bats from students at New Zealand Broadcasting School, On this basis they deserve their own web channel. 

Pantograph Punch have published my favourite essay from the terrific book Life on Volcanoes: Contemporary Essays, Tulia Thompson’s meditation on being poor

Hadn't really thought about it before: what a fashionista Frances Hodgkins was. Here's Megan Dunn with Mary Kisler and Karen Walker on Spinoff Art.

Written by

Mark Amery

28 Aug 2019

Mark Amery has worked as an art critic, writer, editor and broadcaster for many years across the arts and media.

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