New Zealand International Arts Festival 2012

by Guy Somerset / 05 November, 2011
Prepare yourself with these interviews and reviews.
Anne Chamberlain is pleased and rightly so. It's her first year as co-ordinator of the New Zealand International Arts Festival's Writers & Readers Week and she has landed Germaine Greer as a headliner.

"Germaine Greer is kind of a personal favourite, really," she says. "It was a dream. There are many invitations when you're programming something that you send out - lots of nos, lots of things come back. So when Germaine said yes, that was for me quite a thrilling moment. Often the sort of speakers that are in the town hall are men. And so it was quite nice to have a woman who is incredibly significant in many, many ways."

Greer is one of three writers who will give Town Hall Talks, the others being Tim Flannery and Thomas Friedman.

Flannery will open the week, which begins on a Friday this year rather than a Tuesday, and with a keynote address rather than one of those always-awkward gala panels we seem to be seeing the back of (if Auckland Writers & Readers Festival's dumping of its is anything to go by).

Earlier on the Friday, Flannery will be taking part in Writers & Readers Schools Day.

"His other event, rather than being on a panel in the Embassy Theatre, is to do a school session in the town hall," says Chamberlain, "and I'm really pleased about that because I think it's a great opportunity to have someone like Tim Flannery in the country and having access to secondary school students to hear him speak on very current topics."

Germaine Greer, Tim Flannery. Thomas Friedman - these are strong headliners.

The rest of the Writers & Readers Week line-up, announced on Wednesday, isn't too shabby, either, including as it does Alan Hollinghurst, Kate Grenville, Jo Nesbo and Richard Price.

"Someone like Richard Price and I think Jo Nesbo will attract people that may not normally come to Writers & Readers," says Chamberlain.

And, inspired by the presence of these crime writers - plus Denise Mina - she will soon announce an event featuring New Zealand crime writers.

The remaining international visitors to Writers & Readers Week are (in alphabetical order, for fear of offending any egos or literary preferences): Dionne Brand, Javier Cercas, Jenny Erpenbeck, Selina Hastings, Michael Hulse, Kelly Link, Ron Rash and Kim Scott.

There will also be far more New Zealanders than we've been used to, including: Bernard Beckett, Gavin Bishop, Chris Bourke, Eleanor Catton, Hamish Clayton, Craig Cliff, Lynley Dodd, Patrick Evans, Fiona Farrell, Jane Higgins, Elizabeth Knox, Margaret Mahy, Bill Manhire and Harry Ricketts,

Kicking off the Listener's pre-festival coverage, we have an interview with Denise Mina in this weekend's edition of the magazine, with other author interviews to follow between now and March.

Some we have already interviewed in recent times and so I direct you to these profiles of Tim Flannery, Thomas Friedman, Alan Hollinghurst, Kate Grenville, Chris Bourke (here, too), Eleanor Catton, Patrick Evans and Fiona Farrell.

And here are reviews of the latest books from Alan Hollinghurst, Kate Grenville, Eleanor Catton, Craig Cliff, Elizabeth Knox, Bill Manhire and Harry Ricketts, plus this of Bernard Beckett's adult novel August.

The 2012 International Arts Festival programme as a whole, also announced on Wednesday, is the final under Australian artistic director Lissa Twomey, who was contracted for two festivals, signed on for a third, but is now returning to Sydney.

Asked what mark she has left on the festival, she says: "I think I've broken down quite a few expectations with the festival - of a certain type of programming. I hope I don't ever become a formulaic programmer with one of this and one of this and one of that. I've had a lot of conversations about how there seems to be a lot of classical music this year but not last year. I tend to react to what's around at the time."

The classical music this time around certainly is an improvement on what was widely considered an inadequate line-up in 2010. In fact, it's one of the strongest elements in the festival.

Highlights - or potential highlights (let's not forget the anti-climax of 2008's The Trial of the Cannibal Dog) - include Jenny McLeod's new opera, Hohepa, The Sixteen choir and orchestra, Jonathan Lemalu singing with the New Zealand String Quartet and the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra's double bill of Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex and Symphony of Psalms.

The non-classical music bill includes Bon Iver, Tinariwen and Poncho Sanchez and his Latin Jazz Band.

Elsewhere, there will be names familiar from previous festivals: the National Theatre of Scotland, a hit in 2008 with Black Watch, returns with Beautiful Burnout; choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui follows 2010's Sutra with TeZukA; and James Thierree, whose Junebug Symphony was here in 2004 and Bright Abyss in 2006, performs Raoul.

"This year, I wanted to bring back a few companies that had been festival favourites in the past, that audiences have responded to and engaged with," says Twomey. "It's just like when you've read a book from a new author for the first time and you love it, you want to read the next. I think audiences start a connection with an artist and it's only festivals that will bring certain international artists in. We're always saying, 'We've got to do something new, we've got to do something new', but in fact there's something to be said for audiences seeing an artist's work within the context of a whole body of their work and it leads to deeper engagement and understanding."

On the dance front, as well as TeZukA, there will be Lemi Ponifasio's Birds with Skymirrors (sponsored by the Listener).

"This year, the New Zealand programme is particularly strong in a very specific essence of New Zealand, or Aotearoa, with a very strong Maori/Samoan/Fijiian/Pacific-based programme, which has been due to a few factors, one being longevity here," says Twomey. "Masi, I started developing in 2006. Lemi's work has been a co-production with various major European festivals and a desire with that to present one of New Zealand's most internationally renowned performing artists. We were working to present it in the 2010 festival as a world premiere but are bringing it back as a New Zealand premiere after it's had the benefit of quite extensive touring in Europe."

Theatre-wise, there is a strong Shakespearian theme running through the festival, including a Te Reo version of Troilus and Cressida, all-male British Shakespere company Propeller's versions of Henry V and The Winter's Tale, and the deconstructionist high jinx of The Rehearsal, Playing the Dane.

Look out, too, for an adaptation of Patricia Grace's novel Tu.

All this is, of course, just scratching the surface of, as the tagline has it, "300 Arts Events. 24 Days. Wellington" - not even touching on what artist Michel Tuffery will be doing to the surface of Te Papa (in an otherwise disappointing visual arts programme).

I will, however, make space to lament the passing of the Shed 6 Festival Club bar, a casualty of the more welcome abandonmernt of the shed as a venue for Festival Club events. That seating! Good riddance.

The club - and bar - return to their traditional tent venue.

See you there - no, not at the bar, or not just at the bar, but at an event or two.

Meanwhile, some reading about Lemi Ponifasio.

Again, more interviews will follow in the magazine ...
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