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Fresh-Look Auckland Arts Festival in 2018

Fresh-Look Auckland Arts Festival in 2018

There’s a new music and events precinct, new locations, a new director and a new look for New Zealand’s biggest annual arts party, Auckland Arts Festival (AAF), in 2018. One thing, however, remains the same - a huge programme of ticketed and free performances and events from Aotearoa and across the world, curated to bring culture, creativity, cool – and kids – to Auckland in March.

The Festival’s new Artistic Director Jonathan Bielski has drawn on his vast international experience, his fervour for music and the arts, and his excitement about Auckland’s vivid diversity to curate a programme that brings people together and tells stories of communities, histories and cultures.

Of his inaugural AAF, Bielski says, “Auckland Arts Festival is the home for ambitious and compelling ideas that celebrate humanity and uplift the spirit. We champion the storyteller, the adventurer, the provocateur and the creator.

“We have a commitment to Tangata Whenua, the first people, the first language and the first stories of Aotearoa. The 2018 Festival also celebrates contemporary, cosmopolitan Auckland and its many communities, and we invite everyone to come along to the Festival to be entertained, inspired, provoked and - most importantly - included,” he says.

International theatre

In the major international line-up is the arresting, smash-hit theatre adaptation of the George Orwell classic, 1984, written by Duncan MacMillan and Robert Icke and presented in association with Auckland Theatre Company.

Robert Lepage’s legendary lunar drama Far Side of the Moon will make its Auckland debut. The brilliant, one-man tour-de-force and bucket-list show, which has been described as the magnum opus of the theatre mastermind and boasts a stunning soundtrack by Laurie Anderson, is finallycoming to Auckland. It is a show that had a huge impact on a younger Artist Director Jonathan Bielski early in his career and he wanted Auckland to experience that, too.

Also starring just one man, but in an entirely different vein, Jack Charles v The Crown is a theatrical delight about and starring Australia’s most delightful rascal, Uncle Jack Charles - member of the Stolen Generation, veteran actor, Aboriginal elder and activist, former inmate and heroin addict, film star and all-round legend.

Us/Them is a brilliant, utterly compelling and powerful hit play which tackles the Beslan school siege and tells the story from the wise, indomitable point of view of two children tangled up in the terror.

New Zealand theatre

Lock up your Aunties, because, with AAF 2018, comes the reunion of The Naked Samoans, in their first stage performance since…ages. The Naked Samoans Do Magic is the hilarious brainchild of the brilliant boys behind Bro’Town and internationally-acclaimed theatre company, The Conch (The White Guitar).

Tea is an epic and sprawling new drama by beloved New Zealand theatre-maker Ahi Karunaharan, which will take audiences on a magical journey into a Sri Lankan tea plantation and through the many stories lurking in its landscape. The lavish set will be designed by artist Tiffany Singh.

Hone Kouka’s newest work is a gritty and compelling whānau drama, Bless The Child. Eight lives and three worlds collide in this powerful, thought-provoking and poetic piece of theatre.

Two of New Zealand’s most provocative theatre makers, Eleanor Bishop and Julia Croft, have taken a sledgehammer to old ideas lurking in between our sheets and rewritten the script on female sexuality, presented in a fierce new show, Body Double.

Auckland Theatre Company’s Still Life with Chickens is David Mamea’s new play, about a Samoan woman’s beguiling friendship with a chicken.


The major international dance work in 2018 is the English National Ballet production of Akram Khan’s stunning Giselle, which brings a team of nearly over 100 people to New Zealand exclusively for the AAF. It is the first time the show that floored reviewers in its premiere season and every season since has left the UK.

Celebrated New Zealand dancer and choreographer Michael Parmenter will direct his first full length contemporary dance work in a decade.OrphEus – a dance opera is a bold new work performed by the wonderful The New Zealand Dance Company and accompanied by a suite of musical artists, including American star tenor Aaron Sheehan, who will perform live.

The Royal New Zealand Ballet begins its 2018 season with a new full length ballet by Czech choreographer Jiří Bubeníček, presented in association with the New Zealand Festival and the AAF. The Piano - the ballet is inspired by the Academy Award-winning New Zealand film.

Festival Playground

There is a new Festival music precinct in 2018, on Auckland’s vibrant waterfront. The Festival Playground will envelop Silo Park from 8-25 March, with food and beverage offerings, kids’ activities as well as the mighty Music Arena in which a plethora of large and small music events, gigs and co-labs will explode on the huge stage. The Music Arena line-up will be announced Thursday 2 November.

Designed by artist Angus Muir, the Festival Playground will be a bespoke new precinct for Aucklanders to play, enjoy live music, and the best pop-up eating and drinking on Auckland’s waterfront this Summer.

At the heart of the Festival Playground will be the mirror-gazing, selfie utopia, House of Mirrors. The massive outdoor, walk-through labyrinth, made from 40 tonnes of steel and 15 tonnes of glass and composed of seemingly endless mirrors, brings a new sense of scale, amazement and fun to the carnival mirror maze.

Of the new Festival Playground, Artistic Director, Jonathan Bielski says, “Our new Festival Playground will be like nothing Aucklanders have seen. It places the Festival right on the waterfront which is so vibrant right now and where our city loves to come out and celebrate together.”

Family work

There is an expanded focus on whānau and tamariki in the 2018 AAF.

The family programme includes the dynamic Australian youth circus school Flying Fruit Fly Circus’ fantastic production JUNK. This spellbinding playground adventure is set in a junkyard inhabited by kids from the 1940s, who, when they played, really played, without modern fears and anxieties.

Ideal for all the family is the Colenso BBDO season of À Làng Ph, a joyous circus performed by the astounding acrobats of Nouveau Cirque du Vietnam with unbelievable props such as huge bamboo poles and traditional baskets, which are transformed into everything from buildings to trampolines and insect shells.

In the awe-inspiring and immersive show, Prehistoric Aquarium, Erth’s deep-sea explorers dare their young audience to take a journey with them, deep into the ocean, where they will meet amazing prehistoric marine life in the shape of huge, lifelike puppets and inflatable creatures.

A regular in the Festival programme, Nanogirl, aka Dr Michelle Dickinson, will present her brand new show Nanogirl vs The Elements, filled with noise, science and spectacle for kids aged 5+.


From audacious German composer Max Richter, Sleep is an eight-hour concert designed to be heard overnight, with the audience… asleep. Richter has created an exquisite hybrid of classical and electronic music – 31 uninterrupted pieces – to be experienced while in and out of consciousness and inducing lucid dream states.

Sleep is part of a trilogy of Max Richter works in the 2018 Festival. The Richter Residency also includes a performance of Recomposed, his beautiful and moving adaptation of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, which will be performed by the APO, and a workshop with local students of music for the screen.

The 2018 AAF celebrates the life and music of one of our great musicians, the late Mahinārangi Tocker. The beloved champion for Māori music, gay rights and mental illness wrote over 1,000 songs. In Love Me As I Am, these will be lovingly performed by wahine toa of today, including Anika Moa, Annie Crummer, Shona Laing, Nadia Reid, Emma Paki among others.

Other-worldly jazz sensation Cécile McLorin Salvant will bring her towering portfolio of jazz standards and songs from her latest album, Dreams and Daggers, to New Zealand for the very first time.

AAF and New Zealand Opera present Leonard Bernstein’s Candide, marking the centenary of Bernstein’s birth. Part-opera part musical and entirely irreverent, this sumptuous new New Zealand Opera production directed by Stuart Maunder will star Australian theatre legend, Reg Livermore.

Sylvain Chomet’s beloved 2003 animation, The Triplets of Belleville, will screen with its famous jazz score performed live by the film’s Oscar-nominated composer, Benoît Charest and his Le Terrible Orchestre de Belleville. Two marvellous classical concerts round off the wider music programme. The first is the masters of vocal harmony, The Kings Singers, who, with their “voices of spun gold” (BBC Music Magazine), will be joined on stage by our country’s internationally renowned choir Voices New Zealand, celebrating the 20th anniversary of their founding.

The second is classical music stars Greg Anderson and Elizabeth Joy Roe – aka. Anderson and Roe – who’ll bring their signature, genre-defying brand of postmodern piano to New Zealand for the very first time as part of a Chamber Music New Zealand national tour.

Visual arts

Visual arts highlights include Julian Rosefeldt’s outstanding Manifesto, which will inhabit Auckland Art Gallery for the duration of the Festival. It’s a spectacular and brilliantly shot, performed and produced immersive video installation that pays homage to the literary beauty of artist manifestos and reinforces actor Cate Blanchett’s place as one of the greatest actresses of our generation.

The programme also includes a survey exhibition on the sonic innovations and invented instruments of renowned avant-garde ensemble From Scratch which includes six performances of the latest incarnation of the popular group. From Scratch is presented in association with Te Uru Waitakere Contemporary Gallery.

For the full visual arts programme, please visit

In the community and the regions

On four nights, Auckland street-dwellers will be transported to a Catalan festival when they stumble upon the free street performance Les Tambours de Feu, or, The Drums of Fire. Deabru Beltzak’s pulsating interactive street theatre troupe hypnotizes crowds when they pop up in surprising spaces and set off their dazzling pyrotechnics.

The Festival’s community, participatory arts programme, Whānui is back for a second year. Whānui is when AAF hands over the reigns – with resources and support – to a selection of community artists to create an arts project of their choice in their local communities. The free Whānuiprogramme will be announced in January.

AAF and Auckland Council join forces to present a series of Pop projects across the city. Pop is Auckland Council’s programme of temporary, pop-up arts projects designed to bring creativity and surprise to Auckland’s public spaces.

It wouldn’t be an AAF without Anika Moa. This time, though, the hilarious singer-songwriter, children’s song mastermind and self-appointed ninja will tour her brilliant new show Chop Chop Hiyaa! to the far flung corners of the Auckland region, including Helensville, Orewa, Titirangi, Muriwai, Warkworth, Wellsford, Clevedon, Waiuku and the Festival Playground.

Finally, a free Whānau Day will end the festival and close the inaugural Festival Playground on Sunday 25 March.

Taking place annually in March, the AAF celebrates people and culture, brings some of the world’s very best arts experiences to Auckland, and showcases the unrivalled location, cultural diversity and vibrant energy of New Zealand’s largest city. Over 1.7 million people have attended the event to date.

The 2018 Festival takes place 8-25 March, with Giselle performing 1-4 March as a pre-festival special event.

More info and the full programme at


FOLLOW @aklfestival | #aaf2018


Taking place annually in March, the AAF celebrates people and culture, and showcases the unrivalled location, cultural diversity and vibrant energy of New Zealand’s largest city.

Over 1.7 million people have attended the event to date.

AAF is administered by the Auckland Festival Trust. Trustees are John Judge (Chair), Rick Carlyon, Angela Clatworthy, Evan Davies, Sarah Judkins, Tarun Kanji, Margaret Kāwharu MNZM, Jim Moser, Ben Taufua and Fred Ward. The executive team includes Chief Executive David Inns and Artistic Director Jonathan Bielski.

The Trust receives core funding from Auckland Council through the Auckland Regional Amenities Funding Act, and Creative New Zealand through the Toi Tōtara Haemata programme.

Significant support for AAF 2018 is received from Foundation North, Pub Charity, NZ Community Trust and The Lion Foundation.

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