360 ALLSTARS. Photo: Matt Loncar

Hawke’s Bay Arts Festival launched its ninth annual programme this week, with both celebration and reflection. Kōrero, kai and a selection of the festival’s beverages were punctuated by performances. 

Heartfelt waiata from Kahurangi Dance and Te Wānanga Whare Tapere o Takitimu, gave a taste of their festival show, Kahurangi! Ahakoa He Iti, He Pounamu!, a celebration of their forty year anniversary. 

Discounting the Readers and Writers Festival, visual arts experiences and White Night happenings, it’s one of only two local shows on the program, the other being the excellent Machine Wreckers presents Birds of NZ, which debuted at last years’ Fringe in the ‘Stings.

A crew from Projekt Team, the international dance collective, gave a glimpse into their show, Ko Au: Malosi. If this mindful fusion of traditional and urban dance styles exploring identity comes close to what they produced in last years’ Ko Au, then audiences are in for a treat. 

This year’s festival looks a little different, partially because of a drop in funding and partially in response to the devastation of Cyclone Gabrielle. Several speakers alluded to the healing role of the arts, and of the festival’s commitment to removing barriers to access. 

A smaller festival, running over three weekends in October, including a few Thursday night shows and a school holiday friendly kids show, makes a change from the previous marathon two week-three weekend packed full of festivity. But this paring back does not diminish the quality of the offering. There is still plenty for every taste.

There is music, from classical – Reimagining Mozart, to jazz – Back to Black, an Amy Winehouse tribute by a frankensteined supergroup; from traditional – Shades of Shakti, Gráda – to experimental – Girl in a Savage World. The latter is the musical fusion of Theia and TE KAAHU, two very different projects from one superlative artist. She last played in Hawke’s Bay at a Small Hall Session around the turn of the year, and captivated audiences across the region.

There is a smattering of theatre from comedy – Tea with Terrorists – to heart wrenching – UPU. There’s circus too, including two free performances from 360 ALLSTARS, one in Napier and one in Hastings.

Dance is as always underrepresented but each offering could well be the best pick of the festival. The aforementioned performers are two but potentially the most interesting of the three is Arawhata, a Wellington twist on the ballroom phenomenon that exploded in the queer community of 1970’s Harlem. If you like to vogue, you can attend a free two hour workshop where performers will discuss the work and allow you to join in.

Perhaps most importantly, this years’ festival is a party to which everyone is invited. Tickets are a flat rate of $25 for general admission, with premium seats priced at $35. Readers and Writers events are a mere $5 early bird and $10 general admission. There are a vast number of free shows, including the Festival to Schools programme, and kids go free with a paying adult to children’s shows.

In addition, those who suffered the effects of the cyclone can register for free tickets to any show of their choosing. Up to a third of tickets for each performance will be donated. 

It’s a bold and courageous move for the Festival which has been doing its best to remove both financial and social barriers to access since it moved from the Havelock North Spiegeltent to Hastings’ Toitoi and its surrounds. Now all that is needed is for the community to respond to their thoughtful generosity and allow themselves to be entertained, challenged and uplifted by what is on offer.


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1 Comment

  1. It is awesome to read that the festival will be so much more accessible with this new pricing structure. The decision seems very considered and responsive to the needs of the community right now.

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