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Auckland Arts Festival 2020 Full Programme Announced


Te Ahurei Toi o Tāmaki Makaurau | 11-29 March 2020

The 2020 Auckland Arts Festival (AAF) programme has been announced.

The annual multi-arts celebration returns to locations across Tāmaki Makaurau in March. Auckland’s many theatres, galleries, and unique venues will house some of the most exciting performance, art and music events from New Zealand and around the world.

The vast programme of more than 40 individual events celebrates people and culture, investigates some of the most important issues facing the world today and offers audiences a chance to escape with a few laughs. Shows and events tackle the big questions around climate change, who gets to control narrative and be intellectually provocative, before filling us up with pure joy.

AAF Artistic Director Jonathan Bielski: “We enter the 2020 Auckland Arts Festival both reflecting and celebrating. We are reflecting on the complexities of the human condition, the challenges to our environment but also celebrating all that is great about summer in Auckland. Festivals give us permission to explore big ideas and then engage in sheer exuberance!

“Our 12th festival contrasts the tough stuff with escapism and elation, laughter and excitement. Reminding us of the joyfulness of human life in gleeful celebration of all that is fun and good in the world.”

The AAF 2020 programme features theatre, dance, circus, cabaret, opera, music and visual arts. And Auckland Arts Festival returns to Auckland Domain for the first time in three years, with a large scale event bringing magic to the city skies. Aerial spectacular Place des Anges by French company Gratte Ciel will be the outdoor event of the summer – an evening of pure unadulterated joy under a sky filled with angels, acrobatics and dreamlike images.

Bielski says it will be an event like no other. “We are thrilled to take people back to Auckland Domain for what I promise will be the most joyous experience of people’s lives – a riot of fun and feathers as the angels descend above our heads and soar through the night sky. Auckland will never forget it.”

Last year Auckland Arts Festival introduced the Toitū Te Reo programme strand as a commitment to the celebration and normalisation of te reo Māori. Toitū Te Reo continues in 2020 with te reo Māori being heard, seen and felt every day of the festival. Included in the Toitū Te Reo programme in 2020 is the free opening night concert Tira in Aotea Square. Hollie Smith, Hātea Kapa Haka and choirs from around Auckland will lead the crowd in a special concert featuring Smith’s massive hit ‘Bathe In The River’, and Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ sung in te reo Māori. The Toitū Te Reo programme also features the world premiere of creative collaboration, Ka Pō, Ka Waiata – Songs of Darkness created by artists Warren Maxwell, Teina Moetara, Tama Waipara, Whirimako Black, Horomona Horo and Waimihi Hotere and combining live performance and soundscapes.

The AAF 2020 theatre programme is truly world class, with a line-up featuring living legend Barry McGovern – the world’s foremost Samuel Beckett expert – bringing his globally acclaimed performance Barry McGovern in Watt by Samuel Beckett to New Zealand for the first time, and Traverse Theatre Company’s sensation Mouthpiece coming to Auckland following its award-winning season at Edinburgh Fringe Festival. And then there’s Trans-Tasman comedy Black Ties. Commissioned through Australian and New Zealand arts festivals and organisations, powerhouse theatre groups, ILBIJERRI Theatre Company and Te Rēhia Theatre Company join forces for a big brown wedding you will never forget!

When it comes to music, this festival line up packs a punch with 20-time Grammy Award-winner Pat Metheny and band, edgy punk icon Amanda Palmer, Kiwi alt-scene ‘it’ girl Aldous Harding and leading choral ensemble Los Angeles Master Chorale performing renaissance masterpiece Lagrime di San Pietro, directed by internationally acclaimed opera director Peter Sellars. For lovers of contemporary music, Aotearoa’s very own Empress of Electric Blue Witch-Hop Estère will bring her exciting new live performance concept to the festival. And six years after releasing their cult-classic album '@Peace and the Plutonian Noise Symphony’, @Peace reunites for a special one-off show of the album.

The festival shines a spotlight on dance: Black Grace celebrates its 25th anniversary with a 10-venue tour of Verses; plus there’s the already announced, the decadent pick of the festival, Ballet Preljocaj’s Snow White masterminded by acclaimed French choreographer Angelin Preljocaj with costumes by iconic fashion designer Jean Paul Gaultier. From the grand to the intimate, Biladurang is a uniquely immersive and intimate encounter with proud Wiradjuri dancer and performer Joel Bray, set in a hotel room in Auckland.

Back by popular demand, the Spiegeltent returns to Aotea Square with sexy circus cabaret Limbo Unhinged performing for the duration of the festival. Catering to every kind of thrill-seeker, it will unleash pyrotechnics, sword swallowing and vampy aerial shenanigans with a pulsating live band.

Auckland Arts Festival is leading the way in making events accessible to all audiences with its award-winning Access and Inclusion Programme, and the ongoing commitment to the Creative Learning programme to offer opportunities for schools and students to engage with the arts from an early age.

Auckland Arts Festival chief executive David Inns says this year has seen further expansion of the Access and Inclusion, and Creative Learning programmes. “We want to ensure all Aucklanders can be captivated by the arts and reduce barriers to access. We work closely with the Deaf and hard of hearing and blind/low vision communities to best structure a programme to meet their needs. In recent years we have also included relaxed performances of selected shows to cater for those with sensory issues.

“We believe Auckland Arts Festival is a world leader in reaching all of those in our community.”

Festival Dance
Already announced, and undoubtedly one of the highlights of this year’s festival, is Ballet Preljocaj’s Snow White. High fashion meets iconic fairy tale in this darkly delectable retelling of Snow White imagined by acclaimed French choreographer Angelin Preljocaj with costumes designed by the legendary Jean Paul Gaultier.
Biladurang is an immersive and intimate encounter with proud Wiradjuri dancer and performer Joel Bray, in this hilarious and revelatory solo show exploring indigenous identity, queer sexuality and performing in a hotel room in Auckland. This award-winning confessional solo show is physical, tender, funny and dark. It’s the perfect dance-theatre one-night stand.
Marking its 25th anniversary year, Black Grace takes its new instalment of Verses to 10 venues around Tāmaki Makaurau. Founding Artistic Director Neil Ieremia creates a collection of dance works, inspired by words, lyrics, lines and verse set to an electric mix of his favourite pieces of music.
Taking dance from the ground to the skies, outdoor aerial spectacular, Place des Anges comes to Auckland direct from France – as the sun sets over the city, high above the tree tops, angels descend from the heavens. Place des Anges is a playful, awe-inspiring aerial acrobatics spectacle, performed above the heads of thousands of people.
Acclaimed choreographer Akram Khan’s stunning Giselle and iTMOi have both featured in past Auckland Arts Festival programmes. The poignant documentary, The Curry House Kid traces Khan’s life from the curry houses of his youth to the violence and racism he encountered, all of which inspire an hypnotic dance work. The film will be followed by a panel discussion as part of the AAF Talks programme.
Circus not for the faint-hearted and the family as well!
Circus superstars Circolombia return with their new show Acéléré. Get ready to be amazed with their renegade brand of dance, live music and astounding acrobatics. Smashing all preconceptions of circus, this high risk, adrenalin-fuelled production bursts with Latin fire and heart-stopping energy. No ordinary circus – it’s simply extraordinary.
Already announced, the mad geniuses behind 2015 Festival blockbuster Limbo are back with a brand new, wildly unhinged circus-cabaret extravaganza featuring sword-swallowing, pyrotechnics, aerial shenanigans and a live band. Limbo Unhinged is as sexy as it is mind-blowing, a high octane night not for the faint-hearted.
There’s circus for the kids too! Straight from the score to the stage, Wolfgang’s Magical Musical Circus is a spectacle that will mesmerise children aged three and over. Mozart appears amid a storm of powder, tumbling and twirling, as musical mayhem and movement fuse in this family show with a circus twist. Reinventing the composer’s magical music, it features Circa’s dexterous daredevil artists and a live accordionist. Presented in partnership with Auckland Live.
Theatre lovers rejoice
One of the most exciting theatre experiences in the AAF 2020 programme is Trans-Tasman production Black Ties, a collaboration between Australian and New Zealand arts festivals and organisations.  It is an hilarious and heart-warming immersive theatre experience by ILBIJERRI Theatre Company (Australia) and Te Rēhia Theatre Company (Aotearoa/New Zealand) that reminds us the power of love can unite us. Created by a brown, bold and brilliant team of Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander and Māori artists, Black Ties reimagines the popular rom-com wedding flick from a distinctively First Nation’s perspective. Set to a live score of brown anthems and wedding classics, this will be a party to remember happily ever after.
A top pick for AAF 2020 is Barry McGovern in Watt by Samuel Beckett. Acclaimed globally, McGovern’s exceptional stage adaption of Beckett’s novel will be performed for the first time in New Zealand. Watt captures the writer’s dark world view, scintillating humour and delicious wordplay and will have you in raptures contemplating the absurdity of life.
Following sold-out Edinburgh Fringe Festival performances, Traverse Theatre Company’s gripping, critically- acclaimed sensation about class, culture and appropriation, Mouthpiece, comes to Auckland. Winner of the prestigious Carol Tambour Best of Edinburgh Award in 2019, this powerhouse play is frank, unflinching and unexpectedly humorous and is the latest hit from the company which brought Ulster American to AAF 2019.
Cold Blood is an astonishing theatre event, direct from Belgium, that unfolds in miniature, and on the tips of performers’ fingers, right before your eyes while being filmed and projected live in perfect synchronicity – it’s like nothing you’ve ever seen before. Funny, philosophical and strangely moving, Cold Blood transports us to amazing miniature worlds, where the fingers do the walking!
It's a hot topic all around the world, so it couldn’t be more fitting climate change has come to the stage. From Belgium’s physical theatre trailblazers Chaliwaté and Focus, Dimanche is a pure gem of visual storytelling. Centred on the planet’s climate change crisis, this meticulously detailed show stirs emotion and wonder in equal measure, as performers guide intricate miniatures and lifelike puppets through richly cinematic sets. Developed from the award-winning Backup (Total Theatre Award for Physical & Visual Theatre, Edinburgh Fringe 2018), the newly commissioned Dimanche is a gorgeous piece of theatre wizardry, and a witty reminder to heed the warning signs of global warming.
Auckland Theatre Company’s Black Lover has its world premiere at Auckland Arts Festival. It tells the story of Sir Garfield Todd who was ousted as Prime Minister of Rhodesia in 1958 for being a “black lover”. From award-winning Zimbabwean playwright Stanley Makuwe, Black Lover brings to life a great New Zealander and explores a stand of courage in a nation experiencing deep racial divides.
UPU is Silo Theatre’s first production for 2020 and it brings the wealth and power of Pacific literature to roaring theatrical life. Curated by award-winning poet Grace Taylor and led by powerhouse director Fasitua Amosa, UPU gives the stage to Oceania’s most electrifying poets; Ben Brown, Karol Mila, Albert Wendt and more. Co-produced by Auckland Arts Festival.
Babble, it’s the beeping and buzzing of technology, noisy traffic, the incessant shouting of social media. Caught in it, how do we ever find stillness? Massive Company’s Scotty Cotter and Carla Martell are working with 25 South Auckland secondary school students to create their newly devised work Babble –an uplifting journey through the many interruptions of modern life.
Submerge in sumptuous sounds
Orlando di Lasso’s heavenly masterpiece Lagrime di San Pietro soars to breathtaking new heights in Los Angeles Master Chorale’s spine-tingling a cappella performance, directed by leading opera director Peter Sellars. Lagrime di San Pietro was the great Renaissance composer Orlando di Lasso’s final and most famous composition. Completed just days before his death, it conveys a powerful sense of mortality while vividly illuminating the Biblical story of St. Peter.
She’s opened for the likes of Grace Jones and Erykah Badu, and now Aotearoa’s very own Estère brings an exciting live performance concept to Auckland Arts Festival. Estère – Into The Belly of Capricorn sees her and her powerhouse band teaming up with award-winning director Sara Brodie, lighting designer Jo Kilgour and audio-visual creative Kaysha Bowler for her boldest outing yet.
Six years on from the creation of New Zealand cult classic album '@Peace and the Plutonian Noise Symphony', @Peace reunites for a special one-off live performance. Back in 2014 Tom Scott (Home Brew) with Lui Tuiasau on vocals, released their first and only full length album, it also broke up the group, but now they are back for the Auckland Arts Festival.
Already announced, Amanda Palmer is back with her first solo album in six years – and a live performance of powerfully personal songs and storytelling to match! The unapologetic front-woman of The Dresden Dolls brings her critically acclaimed show There Will Be No Intermission to Auckland – a night of piano, pain and laughter you must experience live.
Foremost New Zealand composer Eve de Castro-Robinson considers the future of our next generation in her newest concerto, Clarion featuring Bede Williams on trumpet and pūtātara (conch shell). Research shows that an understanding of our warming climate can be seen in the carbon being layered in the growth of the conch shell. Like the shell Castro-Robinson builds up instrumental layers in Clarion reaching a climax that sounds a warning to us and a call to action in the current climate emergency. This very special one night only performance is exclusive to Auckland Arts Festival.
New Zealand Opera presents Eight Songs for a Mad King partnering with contemporary music ensemble Stroma. An innovative indoor/outdoor production created by award winning director Thomas de Mallet Burgess and designer Robin Rawstorn and featuring baritone Robert Tucker, this modern take on opera promises to be a bold and immersive experience.
Also previously announced is Beethoven 250 – a festival within the festival presented by Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra as part of the worldwide celebrations marking the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth. It includes a community play-in for musicians of all abilities, Beethoven’s Big Birthday Bash, four concerts performing all nine symphonies and Ludwig Reflected, a free programme of concerts and talks with music by New Zealand composers responding to Beethoven’s works.
2019 APRA Silver Scroll Award-winning songwriter, performer and force of nature Aldous Harding joins Weyes Blood and Purple Pilgrims in a rare triple bill – a powerful celebration of songwriting and performance
American jazz guitar maestro and 20-time Grammy winner Pat Metheny is finally back in New Zealand for a glorious night of new music, all-time classics and more, alongside the incredible trio of drummer Antonio Sanchez, bassist Linda May Han Oh and British pianist Gwilym Simcock.

Triple Grammy Award-winning Soweto Gospel Choir have been spreading joy and lifting spirits since 2002 and will dazzle Auckland with their concert Freedom, celebrating the life of Nelson Mandela.
Toitū Te Reo
Tira is the free opening event for the festival where everyone can take part! This year Hollie Smith and Hātea Kapa Haka will lead the masses in a sing-in in Aotea Square. Featuring Smith’s hit ‘Bathe In The River’ sung in te reo Māori. Tutorials and lyrics will be available in advance via apps and the events will be live-streamed again. This year’s highlight? Singing ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ in te reo! Not to be missed.
Imagine a world where darkness is your every day, where true sight relies on sensation, sound and feeling. Ka Po, Ka Waiata – Songs in Darkness is a creative collaboration in which musicians work to shape responses and environments of sounds for darkness.
From award-winning storyteller Apirana Taylor, Taki Rua Theatre Company’s Ngā Manu Rōreka is a wonderful blend of te reo Māori and physical theatre, allowing language lovers and learners to share in a journey of connection and guidance from ancestors.
The Festival’s Whānui programme continues for 2020 with two projects taking place in communities in Auckland.
Also returning this year is a series of talks curated by Rosabel Tan. Drawing on writers, performers, theatremakers and journalists, Tan has brought together panels to explore big questions and offer fresh perspectives.
Dark Magic follows the screening of The Curry House Kid and looks at themes a year on from the Christchurch terror attacks – against a backdrop of increasing division and violence, panellists discuss where to from here? Culture Vulture looks at navigating the blurred line between appreciating and appropriating a culture that isn't ours? Baby Mutants brings Biladurang's Joel Bray to a discussion that centres around growing up a gay, aboriginal boy and feeling like a "mutant".
Rounding out the programme for AAF 2020 is the visual arts programme with nine exhibitions by New Zealand and international artists. 
The full AAF 2020 programme is here.
Images can be downloaded here

Auckland Arts Festival 2020 Full Programme Announced

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