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Trois Grandes Fugues | Regional News

Trois Grandes Fugues

Performed by Lyon Opera Ballet

Opera House, 11th Mar 2020

Reviewed by: Leah Maclean

Trois Grandes Fugues is made up of three distinct choreographic pieces, all with one thing in common: Beethoven’s Die Große Fuge. Trois Grandes Fugues showcases three choreographers’ interpretations of the beloved composition and is executed with finesse by the Lyon Opera Ballet (France).

The evening opens with Lucinda Child’s carefully refined and more restrained interpretation of the three. There is a mathematical accuracy in the work’s construction as a full cast of barefoot dancers cut excellent figures on stage, gliding into technically precise pas de deux and carrying out tight forms of arabesque. Their lithe bodies ripple with musicality and respond tirelessly to a choreography that so easily adapts to the demands of Die Große Fuge.

Anne Teresa de Keermaeker’s work takes a more contemporary tact as the dancers appear on stage dressed in suits and hurl themselves into rolls across the floor. Naked lightbulbs lower themselves from the ceiling and the stark lighting sets a crisp and wonderfully minimalistic scene. As the dancers clamour, weave, and bound in rhythmic patterns, there is no denying the manic energy in this piece and it sits magnificently against Beethoven’s spiky score.

The third and final piece, choreographed by Maguy Marin, is even more contemporary than the last. Four female dancers take to the stage in an embittered battle for survival which heightens the urgency and variance of the music. Through a series of full-weighted tumbles, violent shivers, and jagged body contortions, the women command attention with nihilistic abandon. The core of Marin’s piece is the individual struggle and the dancers rarely come together or perform in unison, but when they do there is a true sense of oneness and triumph.

It may seem like a gamble to base an entire programme on a single piece of music, but the Lyon Opera Ballet and its three choreographers have approached it with dexterity and a strong sense of vision. This in turn has created a dynamic and overall gratifying evening of dance.

Change Your Own Life | Regional News

Change Your Own Life

Created by: Jean Sergent

BATS Theatre, 10th March 2020

Reviewed by: Rebecca Lester

Speaking about traumatic grief with eloquence is a hard feat to master, but Jean Sergent’s storytelling is second to none. She hits the mark completely, combining heart-wrenching moments with humour in all the right places. Sergent has me crying more than a few times, but never in a way I feel overwhelmed or uncomfortable; she has perfected the art of not overstepping any boundaries while still capturing the audience’s hearts.

Walking in, I feel at home. The set feels like the bedroom of a well-known friend, with pictures of cats, tarot cards, and gorgeous witchy artwork creating this ambience. No element feels out of place, each pertaining to aspects of Sergent’s “worst year”.

The performance begins with a slight holdup (the usher not turning the house lights off), but after instructing them to do so, Sergent gets the ball rolling immediately, immersing the audience with the courage to open up and be raw. There are a few hiccups throughout, but to me, it only adds to the realness of what is being shared.

At times, some of the story’s elements seem to be brushed over slightly, such as the mentioning of joining a cult. This leaves me wanting to hear more, but of course it is understandably difficult to fit every juicy detail into a one-hour timeframe. It doesn’t affect the power of the show however, and Sergent’s words earn her a well-deserved standing ovation.

Sergent’s heartfelt and humorous list of ways to change your life, hence the title of the show, resonates with me heavily, and gives me a different outlook on my own troubles that I’m very thankful for. Sergent emphasises that despite hardships, you can still create a life you love and want to live.

Sergent leaves the audience with a lot to think about; who are you? Are you where you want to be? And who do you trust to clear out your bedside table when you are gone?

The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil | Regional News

The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil

Book by Tim Price

Directed by: Lyndsey Turner

Shed 6, 10th Mar 2020

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Based on the George Saunders novella, The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil is set in a country divided in two by fear and misunderstanding. Only five people live in tiny Inner Horner. Outer Horner is large and in charge, and worst of all, Phil (Daniel Rigby) lives there. When an earthquake shrinks Inner Horner, its residents must occupy the neighbouring territory. Phil decides to tax them, but they don’t have any money. How far will he go to see the debt paid?

With music and lyrics by Bret McKenzie, there’s a distinctly Flight of the Conchords feel to this production. Actor Andrew Paterson nails a lot of the nuance required to hit this unique style of Kiwi comedy home. The whole cast delivers, and many of them shine brightest in song.

Nigel Collins brings a tear to the eye with a sweet and sensitive lullaby to his character’s son. Naana Agyei-Ampadu’s sorrowful ballad brings the house down, Jeff Kingsford Brown’s presidential twirl is a sheer delight, and Tom Knowles causes shrieks of laughter with a toe-tapping country song that proves McKenzie’s extraordinary compositional range. Devon Neiman’s seduction song is the highlight of the show, if not the year, so far.

While Rigby brings a hilarious Matt Berry feel to the role of Phil, his final moments onstage are as powerful and frightening as his character’s brief reign of terror.

The introduction of the fraught mother-daughter relationship between Freeda (Vanessa Stacey) and Gertrude (Caitlin Drake) is the only place the script veers from excellence, with the flimsy storyline left unresolved.

The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil is wickedly funny and breathtakingly relevant. The level of professionalism and polish on display makes it easy to forget this is a work-in-progress showing. Currently in its first draft stages at the National Theatre in London, I would pay to see it on the big stage just as it is, scripts and all.

Jofus and the Plank | Regional News

Jofus and the Plank

Devised by: Kimberley Twiner and Lily Fish

Directed by: Kimberley Twiner

BATS Theatre, 9th March 2020

Reviewed by: Cole Sharland

I went into Jofus and the Plank knowing absolutely nothing about what it is, what it’s about, and what I was in for. This show is a showcase of the best of clowning. The audience is strapped in for a wild, story-time-like show as told by Jofus (played brilliantly by Lily Fish) and her best friend: a plank of wood.

Jofus’ story involves her preparing food for her uncle coming over, when all of a sudden she must run away from The Big Bad Wolf.

The stage is bare and the only prop is a plank of wood. Fish never lets go of the plank and is touching it always. The game for the majority of the show is simple: how many things can Fish turn the plank of wood into? And the result is a marvellous array of everyday household items, The Big Bad Wolf's tongue, and even parts of Jofus’ absurdly tall apartment building.

The plank of wood is not the only thing that constantly changes on stage. Fish convincingly shifts into different characters throughout the performance. Fish manages to not only change characters seamlessly, but also change characters while being Jofus as well.

Fish works in a Family Guy cutaway style skit within the show, delivering a hilarious commentary on the struggles of making a Fringe show. The structure of the show was a miss at times. Some gags and jokes were maybe repeated one too many times, and at the climax of the show it dragged on a bit too long.

This is a masterclass in clowning. Fish is a master in this and, along with director Kimberley Twiner, they have crafted an excellent and entertaining piece of theatre that is a joy to watch. Going on the journey with Jofus was a blast and had me smiling from ear to ear. Twiner and Fish are definitely ones to watch out for.

Concert for Dogs | Regional News

Concert for Dogs

Presented by: Laurie Anderson

Odlins Plaza, 7th Mar 2020

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

When I explained the concept of Concert for Dogs to my friends, I was met with general incredulity, then, excitement to match my own. Featuring music specifically designed for our furry friends, this is actually a concert for dogs.

Walking up to Odlins Plaza, my cousin and her two dogs were greeted by countless pups of all shapes and sizes. They came a-bounding and a-yapping, a-sniffing and a-snuffing. It was a glorious sight to behold, a sentiment echoed by one of Laurie Anderson’s first lines from the stage.

“You can’t believe what this looks like from here”, she quipped, causing a collective cackle (and at least one bemused bark). “These dogs don’t know what they’re doing here.”

How very true. Over 30 minutes, Anderson and her band played and plucked frequencies for canine ears, with discords and staccato rhythms pooling into one sound pot of chaos. Iggy Pop’s I Wanna Be Your Dog was a setlist highlight, but the rousing symphony of barks from the dogs in attendance, conducted by Anderson, took the cake.

To find out how the audience felt about the music, I interviewed them. Most of the time, the humans interrupted to answer for their dogs.

One lab apparently calmed down when the music started, one terrier perked his ears up once, and one little Pomeranian snapped and snarled at every instance of applause. “Ah yes,” his owner sighed, “he hates it when people are happy.”

Most dogs though just busied themselves meeting the masses of new friends in their midst. It was also unbearably hot with no shade, which caused a fair bit of distress.

The concert finished with a screening of Heart of a Dog, Anderson’s documentary about her rat terrier Lolabelle. From what felt like thousands, only the dogless few remained for this; it just wasn’t feasible for the dogs to sit through an hour-and-a-half film on the concrete in such heat.

In Wellington at least, Concert for Dogs needs a serious logistical overhaul for the comfort of the audience – everyman and everydog alike.

Lita | Regional News


Written by: Lucy Dawber

Directed by: Lucy Dawber

BATS Theatre, 5th March 2020

Reviewed by: Waitahi McGee

The day after seeing Lita, I am still dancing with my mum, playing guitar with my dad, and going to the market with my nana, or as performer Lucy Dawber calls her, “Lita”.

Lita is a journey between an audience and a performer. Dawber, who plays all the characters beautifully, gives us an intimate window into Maria and Gloria’s relationship. Staging wise, The Studio at BATS Theatre was a great choice. There is no backstage but Dawber and her team create a cheeky solve with a washing line strewn across the stage, leaving a metre of space for Dawber to escape behind. Dawber plays with this fantastically, popping back and forth as different characters, sometimes playing behind the washing line, showing changes of character simply with her feet and legs!

Some of the people around me are a bit confused about the story and who is who at times, which I can see being a bit of a problem myself, but it’s not so noticeable that it pulls my attention away from the overall joyousness.

I do feel Dawber has more license to be a little more confident in her performance. There are moments in which her audience is still laughing and she pushes on. I would like to see her let her beautifully crafted moments land.

There are telenovela-style moments that are so fast-paced and dramatic it verges on absurdity and clown, and I am into it. So are the rest of the audience, judging by the roaring of laughter and some patrons, quite literally, unable to stay in their seats.

I’m pleased to see Dawber as herself at the end, which for me gives clarity to the other characters, to the story, and to the heart of the show.

Lita is a vulnerable, vigorous story that reconnects you with family. Who we have loved and who we dearly miss, while looking to the future with a curiosity of what will be. Whatever will be, will be.

MÁM | Regional News


Created by: Michael Keegan-Dolan & Teaċ Daṁsa

TSB Bank Arena, 5th Mar 2020

Reviewed by: Leah Maclean

MÁM comes from the wild mind of Michael Keegan-Dolan, the same mind that blew Wellington away at the last New Zealand Festival with Swan Lake/Loch na hEala in 2018. This new work, which was formulated here in Wellington, is a mind-melting blend of live dance, music, and theatre. MÁM pulls no punches with its energetic choreography, lilting musical composition, and somewhat esoteric symbology.

The very first image MÁM spills out is one that takes me back to Robert Eggers’ 2015 horror film, The Witch. A man sitting with a concertina wearing the head of a black goat, a young girl in communion dress laid out on a table, and billows of smoke drifting to the ceiling screams ritualistic sacrifice. However, much to my surprise, this is not at all the path the work takes. While it delves into themes of ritualisation and hive mind, the backbone of the work is the value of community, support, and the act of empathy.

The goat-headed musician is the award-winning Cormac Begley, whose haunting concerto carries the work beautifully through melancholy, commemoration, festivity, and rich Irish tradition. A robust troupe of dancers methodically dash across the stage and spin maddeningly into one another. They clamber and crawl and entangle themselves. It’s as though we are watching the progression of a superbly arranged party.

The Berlin-based musical collective, s t a r g a z e, join Begley and the lawless dancers on stage. Their classical-contemporary fusion raises the stakes and we see the dancers fall into an unspoken competition riddled with guttural growls and careful duets. All the while the young girl in the communion dress observes wordlessly as they shamelessly live their best lives. It is perhaps reminiscent of the bridging between adolescence and adulthood.

The fervent energy from the immense cast of characters makes it impossible to look away from MÁM; just blinking puts one at risk of missing something wonderful. The work throws itself at you without inhibition and delivers an exuberant theatrical experience.

BLACK TIES | Regional News


Written by: John Harvey and Tainui Tukiwaho

Directed by: Rachael Maza and Tainui Tukiwaho

Shed 6, 4th Mar 2020

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

Whip-smart humour, distinctive characters, and resonant messaging make BLACK TIES a must-see production. Although it begins to meander at the rear end of its two-hour-40-minutes runtime, rapid-fire dialogue expertly penned by co-writers John Harvey and Tainui Tukiwaho (who also co-directs and performs in the show) keeps it compelling. Its structure allows engaging questions to be posed and consistently satisfying answers to be given.

Māori corporate hotshot Hera Tapuwera (Tuakoi Ohia) and Aboriginal consultancy entrepreneur Kane Baker (Mark Coles Smith) seem like a match made in heaven, until they attempt to jump the final hurdle – meeting the families. The Tapuweras and the Bakers have strong cultural ties that cause aggressive rifts between them, throwing the couple’s future into question.

BLACK TIES takes the colossal task of defining two family ensembles, two cultures, and two opposing locations in its stride. In establishing Māori and Aboriginal cultures, Harvey and Tukiwaho find room for satire, poignant teaching moments, examples of divisive racism, and eventually, understanding. The writers strike a balance that never tips too far in a single direction.

It's then up to the cast to deliver, and for the most part, they do. Ohia steals the show; warm but fierce, commanding but generous, her performance makes us empathise with Hera’s struggle. Other standouts include Tukiwaho as Robert Tapuwera and Jack Charles as Uncle Mick. Unfortunately, Smith’s turn as Kane was overly performative, removing me from the romance that was made entirely believable by the rest of the ensemble.

While the first half is tightly structured, effortlessly jumping location and time, the second half has a different vibe. We return as guests to the couple’s wedding reception, decorations, food, and invitations adorning our tables. This half of the show is possibly the most immersive experience I’ve had at the theatre – I really felt like a guest at a wedding! In this, the show lets go of its momentum somewhat and starts to feel its runtime. However, by the end its intentions are abundantly clear.

Rhiannon Giddens with Francesco Turrisi | Regional News

Rhiannon Giddens with Francesco Turrisi

Michael Fowler Centre, 4th Mar 2020

Reviewed by: Colin Morris

What is evident from Giddens’ New Zealand Festival of the Arts concert is a remarkable thirst for not only authenticity, but as a musicologist, a need to find a way of preserving the past with a nod to the future. This nod is presented by Francesco Turrisi and his bewildering array of instruments from the Middle East, many of which have roots in Africa and the slave trade to which Giddens is drawn to time and time again in song.

Tonight’s concert proves to be a spectacular event over two hours. Giddens is an excellent host with plenty of in-between bon mots about the songs. Some will say there’s too much banter, and I’m inclined to agree that the ad-libbing patter seems overlong. But, as serious as Giddens is, Turrisi proves to be the perfect foil. With his absurd sense of humour, which puts me in mind of British comedic sensibilities, Turrisi extols a lot of fun into the proceedings.

Some of the subject matter is alarming. Racism, lynching, murder, and persecution all get their due. Giddens will not shy away from uncomfortable truths and nor should she. But perhaps she could do a clinic on the subject instead.

Live concerts are always worth the punt if only to see if the magic created in the studio can be replicated on stage. With frame drum, accordion, piano, double bass, violin (fiddle), and banjo, the answer is a joyous yes.

Many songs stand out. Following the North Star is exquisite. The Jewish instrumental evokes the diaspora of the pogroms. The Irish instrumental, the frame drum echoing that of the bodhrán, is perfectly placed in the set. Sampling of Queen’s Another One Bites the Dust is magic. At the Purchaser’s Option is as chilling as it gets. Under the Harlem Moon proves Giddens can sing Broadway but not jazz. And an attempt at opera, in which Giddens sings Dido’s Lament from Henry Purcell, is a low point in an evening of highs.

The highly unlikely marriage of Americana mixed with the warmth of the Mediterranean leaves few unmoved.