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Postcard from the Festival

Dear Friends of the Festival,

Amsterdam in July - the weather is overcast, cold and rainy. I should feel at home as it is much like a wintry New Zealand day. But it is supposed to be summer. So I feel a bit low and wish that I was home in my own bed instead of this continuous travel from one hotel to another. Actually, it is nice here in Amsterdam because we are staying with friends. Some of you may remember a show from the 1994 Festival called Topolino performed by a company called Vis a Vis - which featured a number of Fiat Bambinas. We are staying with Stef Avezaath, one of the creators and actors of Topolino.

It has been a busy four weeks. I have lost count of the number of shows that we have seen. Joseph's comment about seeing at least 50 shows to find one, which is suitable for us, is now a completely understood and scary reality. This is our second visit to Amsterdam. We were here a few weeks ago in the middle of the European Cup soccer tournament for some shows in the Holland Festival (one of the very few other Festivals that has the name of its country in the title). For me it is always rewarding to visit the country where my roots are from.

Then it was on to Montpellier in the south of France for two festivals - Montpellier International Danse and Printemps des Comdiens. We attended performances by companies we have had in New Zealand including Frankfurt Ballet ('94), Sankai Juku ('88) and Compagnia Nacional de Danza ('00), which featured two new works by Nacho Duarto to the music of Hesperion. We also saw two intriguing solo dance theatre works - both quite avant-garde - which commented on the role of art and the viewer.

While Montpellier is an "arts" festival featuring only dance, Printemps is much more of a family festival. Set in the grounds of an old chateau just out of town, we sat alongside many school groups and families. It was beautiful weather and the outdoor music concerts and circuses were very enjoyable but more suitable for a community festival rather than an international festival like ours.

Alex Reedijk, the Festival's new Executive Director, joined me there and we spent some time looking at outdoor venues, and discussing ideas for family days, which included food and music in a relaxing atmosphere. All we need now is for Wellington's weather to be like the south of France. Alex did suggest that we try to import the weather as well. And if that wasn't possible, he would investigate wind barriers and find ways to put people under cover if it rains. We have moved the Festival dates slightly for 2002 so that we can take advantage of the better weather. The New Zealand Festival in 2002 will run from 22 February to 17 March, finishing on the day that we change back from daylight saving. So put those dates in your diary now.

Joseph also joined me for a few days - once in Montpellier and once in Avignon. He had other work in France so came to see Nacho's new work and to have further discussions on the opera. In addition, we went together to see a dance company at Palais de Papes in Avignon that I thought may be suitable for us in 2002. It was a wonderful performance made especially exciting by the very impressive and historical venue. I will be meeting the company at their home base in Germany in September. We saw the next performance of the company who presented Giulio Cesare at our Festival. This work is called Genesi and was absolutely fascinating, repelling, intriguing and thought provoking. It is too soon to bring the company back - some of you will be relieved and some sorry - but we will keep watching their work for a future Festival.

>From Avignon, we went on to Aix-en-Provence for the opera festival where tickets ranged from $50 - $450 and the Aix Festival said that their opera tickets were less than half the price of Salzburg. We had meetings with Chen Shi-Zheng who some of you may remember directed Jack Body's opera Alley which we commissioned and produced for the 1998 Festival. Shi-Zheng is "hot" in Europe. He directed a Cosi for Aix and is going on to do an opera for Brussels Kunst des Arts Festival and for Vienna Festival. His Peony Pavilion, a wonderful full length Chinese opera, is doing the rounds of European Festivals after its debut seasons at the Lincoln Center Festival, New York and Paris d'Automne Festival. I will see it in Aarhus in Denmark. Shi-Zheng expressed a real desire to come back to work with us again at a future New Zealand Festival. We discussed a number of options, but he is booked up for the next two years so the earliest it could be would be 2004.

During the period in France we met with lots of Festival directors - from Berliner Festspiele, London's Dance Umbrella, Julidans in Amsterdam, Ireland's new International Dance Festival, Kunst de Arts and of course from each of the Festivals that we attended. We all compared notes on budgets, funding and audiences and discussed ideas for future projects. I hope that some of these people will make it down under to visit our Festival. They were all extremely interested in our Festival and in New Zealand (it is an exotic place to most Europeans), were amazed at what we had achieved and jealous of our audience attendance. We met with great friendliness from each of the Festivals - I hope that one day we are able to return that hospitality.

As I mentioned in the last postcard, we spend quite a bit of time observing audiences, their reactions to shows in particular. I always sit and wonder how a New Zealand audience would react to each show that we see. In each country there are slight cultural differences. In France, audiences are extremely generous to performers, even if the show is not that good, and there have been a few of those. However, if they really hate the show and they do not feel that the performers deserve at least their sympathy, they will boo unashamedly. For one well known international company, half the audience were booing and the other half were cheering. In Norway they clap in time - they are very polite and do not stop clapping until the performers have left the stage and then they all seem to stop clapping together. For Genesi in Avignon, the audience sat stunned for a moment then cheered outrageously - to this was added a mechanical robot, which had been part of the show, clapping away just in front of the stage. In Holland people stand when the concert finishes if they like it. At a wonderful classical music concert that featured work by both Mozart and Michael Nyman, people of all ages and styles jumped to their feet as soon as each work finished to show their appreciation. It was wonderful to be in such a mixed audience who all appreciated the quality and diversity of the classical music that they had heard.

Tomorrow is our first day without a show in months. We are looking forward to a night in. Then, we are off on another long train journey, this time to Barcelona, to see a Spanish physical theatre company and then on Chalons sur Saone for their Dans la Rue Festival in the hope of finding some exciting outdoor and street theatre.

So, until next time.

Kind regards Carla van Zon, Artistic Director

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