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A Festival for the future: Festival of the Arts 2020 Lineup

New Zealand Festival of the Arts has launched a new-look programme designed to put Aotearoa on the map as the creator of innovative arts festival experiences.

Traditionally, arts festival programmes are selected by a single artistic director. But in 2020, New Zealand Festival of the Arts, which runs 21 February - 15 March, is breaking the mould with a new approach that sees three high profile artists become Guest Curators. Each Guest Curator will offer a signature series of events across a week of the festival: contemporary artist and radical theatre-maker Lemi Ponifasio, Grammy Award-winning musician and multimedia artist Laurie Anderson and Academy Award-winning composer, musician, actor, and comedian Bret McKenzie.

Executive Director Meg Williams says, “Our ambition is to make the New Zealand Festival of the Arts the most exciting arts festival in the world. After 32 years we feel the time is right for a change, and to do that we have invited artists to take the lead.

“The outcome for audiences is that we have arts experiences in this programme you won’t be able to see anywhere else, thanks to the Guest Curators’ artistic networks and original ideas. This is a special opportunity for audiences in Wellington and we hope it will get people travelling from across New Zealand and further afield to experience the Festival”.

Creative Director Marnie Karmelita says, “Our new Guest Curator model means the 2020 Festival has been shaped by three strikingly different artists - every week will have a different feel and flavour. The result is a programme of works that are more varied, surprising and inspiring than ever before. This Festival brings you arts that celebrate honesty, bravery and splendour and will bring an injection of creativity and debate into New Zealand.”

Wellington Mayor Andy Foster says, "Wellington is New Zealand's Creative Capital and this New Zealand Festival of the Arts line up tells you why. The programme is innovative, challenging and exciting - I can't wait!"

Lemi Ponifasio is the Guest Curator for the first week. The Festival opens with Chosen and Beloved, a spellbinding live orchestral experience by Lemi’s company MAU and featuring one of the best-selling pieces of music of all time, Gorecki’s Symphony of Sorrowful Songs performed by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra. Lemi will also premiere a major theatrical work, Jerusalem, inspired by the epic Concerto al-Quds from the great Arabic poet Adonis. Opera fans will be enthralled by Kopernikus by visionary US director Peter Sellars and performed by Grammy Award-winning Roomful of Teeth ensemble. Peter Sellars will also feature in two big new projects that Lemi has created for the Festival: Talanoa Mau, a two-day conference of urgent conversation featuring an astonishingly varied line-up of artists, political, cultural and thought leaders; and with New York-based collective FLEXN in Te Ata, a festival of new creations made by young people with international and New Zealand artists, based in Porirua, where 40% of the population is under 25.

Highlights of Laurie Anderson’s week two programme include Here Comes the Ocean and The Calling, two concerts that will see Laurie performing on stage alongside long-time international collaborators and Kiwi musicians. Laurie is also presenting a new virtual reality experience in which audiences can fly To the Moon; an interactive installation of her late husband Lou Reed’s guitars and amps; as well as a free concert that our canine friends can enjoy: Concert for Dogs.

In the final Festival week, Bret McKenzie is offering audiences a unique chance to see how a theatre work is made, before it premieres in London. The Weta Digital Season of The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil is a work-in-progress showing of a new National Theatre show based on George Saunders’ novella of the same name. Bret is also passionate about providing a platform for musicians including Aldous Harding, Weyes Blood and The Weta Digital Season of The Late Night Gigs, with a line-up of Nadia Reid, Shades of Shakti and Ester. He wants the whole family to get involved in Urban Hut Club, a treasure hunt exploring tiny hut installations dotted along Kāpiti Coast, and at The Parkin Season of Släpstick - an Edinburgh Fringe hit by an astonishingly multi-talented troupe from the Netherlands, that takes the comedy styling of Laurel and Hardy and Charlie Chaplin, and gives it an ingenious modern twist.

Alongside the Guest Curators’ selections, Creative Director Marnie Karmelita has programmed a line-up of top international and New Zealand artists across the three-weeks.

Reinforcing the Festival’s ambitions to create deeper arts experiences, one of the world’s leading choreographers Michael Keegan-Dolan and his company Teaċ Dasa spent six weeks in Wellington in early 2019 as part of the first Made in Wellington Residency. The resulting work is MÁM, which premiered with a sell-out run at Dublin Theatre Festival in September and will present a strictly limited season in the 2020 Festival.

“We have a number of exciting collaborations between international and New Zealand artists, which is another way of connecting us with the world,” Marnie says.

Black Ties, by Australia’s ILBIJERRI Theatre Company and Te Rēhia Theatre Company, reimagines the popular wedding rom-com from a distinctly First Nations perspective. This is the first time an indigenous Aboriginal First Nations theatre company and a Māori theatre company have come together to create a co-commissioned work. Hōkioi me te Vwōhali is a collaboration between Okareka Dance Company and Cincinatti-based Exhale Dance Tribe that explores the common whakapapa between the hōkioi (Haast) eagle and the vwōhali (American Golden) eagle in Duyuktv (Cherokee) culture.

“There are huge shifts happening globally, and our artists are responding to that with vital works that explore the issues and seek to find a way forward. This results in art that is both hugely affecting, at times confronting, but ultimately inspiring – giving audiences a sense of hope and even a hunger to take action. This is the stuff of great arts experiences”, says Marnie.

British spoken word artist Kate Tempest will perform a one-night-only gig with music where she delivers her urgent messages for change. Experience “incomparable political art” (LA Times) at In Search of Dinozord by Faustin Linyekula, who hails from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and has been described as “quite possibly the most important artist working on the African continent today”. From Belgium, Dimanche is an enchanting theatre-work that uses puppetry to explore humanity’s drive to continue life as usual while the planet suffers the effects of the climate crisis.

“It’s also important that the Festival brings audiences work by international companies that they wouldn’t be able to see any other time of the year,” says Marnie.

The 80-year-old world-leading Netherlands Chamber Choir will perform two programmes conducted by Peter Dijkstra, one of the world’s most sought-after choral conductors. From France, the Lyon Opera Ballet brings a huge company of dancers for Trois Grand Fugues and promises “one of the most exhilarating, uncompromising evenings of dance” (The Guardian).

In another fresh approach, the Writers programme has been expanded from one to three full weeks, giving writers the same artistic platform as other performers. The line-up includes Booker Prize-shortlisted writer Chigozie Obioma, Booker International Prize winner Jokha Alharthi and Joy Harjo, the first Native American to be appointed the US Poet Laureate. Most events will be held in a bespoke literary salon space in the Renouf Foyer of the Michael Fowler Centre. Announcing a new Headline Partnership today, the University of Waikato will invest in the New Zealand Festival of the Arts’ Writers programme for the next three festivals.

University of Waikato Pro-vice Chancellor, Arts, Law, Psychology and Social Sciences, Professor Allison Kirkman says “the Writers programme is an iconic feature of New Zealand’s literary and intellectual life. It makes an outstanding contribution to public engagement with creative writing, the humanities and social sciences and applied sciences.

“This contribution mirrors areas of strength and focus at the University of Waikato. Partnership of Writers programme is an opportunity for the University of Waikato to support and ensure the viability of this nationally important event.”

Free for all throughout the Festival, Into the Open will see Wellington’s waterfront lit up with an array of large-scale moving-image artworks. This daily experience will change each week of the Festival, responding to the works of the Guest Curators from dusk till midnight every night.


For full programme visit festival.co.nz.

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