Dive into the extraordinary at the 2024 Aotearoa New Zealand Festival of the Arts (23 February to 17 March) – full programme just announced featuring acclaimed international artists, world premieres and trailblazing contemporary arts experiences.
Creative Director Marnie Karmelita says, “We are back with a global programme which spans the spectacular, joyful and truly breathtaking. This Festival will unite artistic giants with exciting new voices and showcases some of our best-loved performers.” WellingtonNZ General Manager for Events and Experiences Warrick Dent says the Festival is one of the highlights in a summer packed full of events in the capital.
“We cannot wait to welcome artists and visitors to Wellington who are spoilt for choice with such an outstanding programme. The Festival is also much beloved by locals and adds so much richness and life to the city. It is one of those events that contributes greatly to the city as a cultural and creative hub.”
Established in 1986, the biennial Festival is renowned for delivering leading arts experiences to Te Whanganui-a-Tara for almost forty years. The programme features free and ticketed events including dance, music, theatre, visual arts, literature and more.
Setting the scene and opening a week ahead of the Festival on Friday 16 February is The Wētā FX season of Taniwha Time Machine. This free visual arts installation is created by the Dreamgirls Art Collective renowned for their “breathtaking and purposeful” (Ensemble) public murals across Aotearoa New Zealand. This talented trio consisting of Xoë Hall, Miriama Grace-Smith and Gina Kiel, supported by cameo Dreamgirl Coco Solid (Ngāpuhi/Samoa), are weaving their artistic magic and bringing the kōrero tuku iho (stories of the past) of Ngake and Whātaitai to life in a way that only they can – larger than life, bursting with colour, complete with a disco dance floor and sparkling phone booth. Director Ngā Toi Māori Mere Boynton states, “We are so proud to commission this incredible work for Te Whanganui-a-Tara which connects to our local pūrākau.”
David Conley, Wētā FX Executive Producer says, “We are thrilled to continue our partnership with the Festival and proudly support the Dreamgirls Art Collective and this amazing art installation. Suitable for the whole whānau, this is a spectacle you’ve just got to see.”
Exclusive to Wellington, international sensation Akram Khan Company’s Jungle Book reimagined (supported by British Council New Zealand and the Pacific) opens the Festival on 23 February at St James Theatre. Described by The Stage (UK) as a “blockbuster cinematic experience with a powerful message…”, this thrilling dance-theatre production features state-of-the-art animation, narrated voiceover and a dynamic soundtrack. With a raft of five-star reviews, this is a unique opportunity to witness the brilliance of one of the world’s greatest contemporary choreographers. The 2024 programme soars to new heights with two new gravity defying works. BELLE – a performance of air is another Wellington exclusive created by choreographer Malia Johnston (Creative Director, World of WearableArt) alongside an exceptional team of creative artists. Featuring an all-female cast, BELLE will transport audiences into a world where breathtaking aerial and dance performance collide with the magic of light and live music. Mere Boynton, Director Ngā Toi Māori says, “Our indigenous kaupapa for 2024 is about relationships and enabling our Māori and Pasifika artists to fly – literally.” The FNZ Season of Hatupatu | Kurungaituku: a forbidden love by Taki Rua Productions does just that. Through breathtaking aerial choreography, kapa haka and an immersive multi-media environment the Te Arawa iwi kōrero tara (legend) of Hatupatu and the birdwoman Kurungaituku is brought to life. This captivating work will open the Festival’s new pop-up venue in Newtown, Tāwhiri Warehouse, which will host a range of events throughout the Festival.
Also presented at Tāwhiri Warehouse for a limited season is Whenua by New Zealand Dance Company. This stunning double bill explores our relationship to the land and our natural environment pairing the visceral Uku – Behind the Canvas, choreographed by Eddie Elliott (Ngāti Maniapoto) and Imprint, a collaboration between celebrated indigenous artist Rodney Bell (Ngāti Maniapoto) and the prodigious Malia Johnston (her second work in the Festival). The music programme boasts a powerhouse line-up of globally acclaimed artists. International singing sensation and comedienne extraordinaire Meow Meow brings her riotous concert Pandemonium to the Michael Fowler Centre (supported by Chris and Kathy Parkin). Accompanied by the full force of the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, this is set to be a night of sublime entertainment and orchestrated chaos. Returning to Aotearoa after six years and performing for the very first time in Wellington, is GRAMMY Award-winning American alternative rock band The National. An “era-defining band at the peak of their powers” (The Guardian), this performance will be the first opportunity to hear the band play songs from three new albums. Audiences are in for an uplifting night when three-time GRAMMY-winning Soweto Gospel Choir perform Hope, featuring soulful tunes by the likes of Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder and Sam Cooke. “It’s impossible to spend an hour with them and not leave with a big smile on your face.” (In Daily).
Prepare to be enchanted as violinist Johnny Gandelsman (US) brings his masterful performance of J.S. Bach’s Cello Suites to St Mary of the Angels. A virtuoso across a range of styles, Gandelsman’s folksy interpretation of this classic work played from memory with no accompaniment celebrates improvisation and ingenuity. Following a sell-out tour to delighted audiences across the UK, the Olivier, Helpmann, AACTA, Logie Award-winning, GRAMMY and Tony-nominated “multi-talented maverick” (The Telegraph) Tim Minchin will take to the stage at the St James Theatre. In An Unfunny- Evening with Tim Minchin and his Piano, Minchin will chat about his craft and perform songs from his “serious” 2020 studio album, Apart Together, his acclaimed musicals, Matilda and Groundhog Day, and go all the way back in time to his earliest days as a songwriter. New Zealand Symphony Orchestra presents a unique musical collaboration Beyond Words to mark the 5th anniversary of the Christchurch Mosque Attacks. A symphonic expression of hope and unity, Beyond Words is performed as a prelude to Unity Week. Conducted by Fawzi Haimor, featuring powerful Moroccan vocalist Oum and oud virtuoso Kyriakos Tapakis, the orchestra performs works from Valerie Coleman, Reza Val, Arvo Pärt and the world premiere of a new work by New Zealand composer John Psathas, ONZM.
Masters of vocal harmony and double-GRAMMY Award-winning choral group The King’s Singers (UK) return to Wellington following their hit show at the 2018 Festival. They present Songbirds, a collection of songs inspired by our favourite feathered friends. Spanning 500 years, the programme juxtaposes the ancient and modern with songs from the likes of Schubert, Janequin and Passereau to modern-day ‘songbirds’ such as Fleetwood Mac.
Witness the velvety and hauntingly beautiful vocals of American Pakistani artist Arooj Aftab. Fusing an array of genres from jazz to Pakistani semi-classical, her “spellbinding music defies easy categorisation” (The Guardian). Aftab will perform tracks from her internationally celebrated album Vulture Prince plus music from her new album.
In a first for New Zealand audiences, leading Australian didgeridoo player William Barton (Kalkadungu) joins forces with the world-renowned Brodsky Quartet from the UK. Presented by Chamber Music New Zealand, this eclectic programme traverses time, including Barton’s own music, the New Zealand premiere of Andrew Ford’s String Quartet No 7 written during the 2019 Australian bushfires, to Janáček and Stravinsky.
In 2024, the Festival proudly showcases an array of must-see theatre shows including two world premieres at Circa Theatre. The first is Our Own Little Mess by award winning Wellington theatre company A Slightly Isolated Dog. In this genre-bending live performance and immersive audio adventure you’ll follow the sprawling and seemingly unconnected lives of five characters as they navigate life’s big mysteries, from Wellington and Auckland to New York and Beijing, from the mundane to the unknowable. Gravity & Grace is the second, a smart new production by Bruce Mason Playwriting Award-winning duo Eleanor Bishop and Karin McCracken. This daring, fiercely funny and captivating work is adapted from the book Aliens and Anorexia by feminist writer Chris Kraus. The show follows Kraus through the troubled production of an ill-fated film in Auckland in the 90s, her move to punk New York in the 70s, and to a disastrous appearance at a Berlin film market. Also at Circa Theatre is Tusiata Avia’s The Savage Coloniser Show following a successful national tour. Under the artful direction of the formidable Anapela Polata’ivao, Avia’s unapologetic and clear-eyed examination of race and racism, the colonised and the coloniser, is full of bold humour, courage and lacerating truths.
Festival Director Ngā Toi Māori Mere Boynton, one of the original cast of Nancy Brunning’s Witi’s Wāhine, is delighted to bring the “astonishing” (The Spinoff) and deeply personal show home to Wellington this Festival in a tribute to its creator. The extraordinary and much-loved wāhine from Witi Ihimaera’s groundbreaking books are brought to life by a powerful cast. Described by Denizen as the “event of the season” for its Auckland run, prepare to be moved when it graces the St James Theatre stage.
Critically acclaimed Lost Lear by Dan Colley (Ireland) is a poignant and darkly comic interpretation of Shakespeare’s play told from the point of view of Joy, a person with dementia, who is living in an old memory where she is rehearsing King Lear. With a swathe of five-star reviews, this is the only opportunity to catch this “brilliantly conceived and executed” (Irish Examiner) show in New Zealand at the Tāwhiri Warehouse.
It’s a Writers take-over at The Embassy Theatre on the opening weekend of the Festival. Co-curated by Claire Mabey and Anne-Marie Te Whiu (Te Rarawa), this jam-packed programme hosts more than forty events. From book launches to tarot readings, to talks and panels by world-class writers, this programme celebrates all things books. The international line-up includes master of American fiction Richard Ford, award-winning Canadian author Patrick DeWitt, Pulitzer prize-winning American writer Jane Smiley, celebrated Irish novelist Anne Enright and renowned Mexican American poet, novelist and essayist Sandra Cisneros. A stellar line up of Aotearoa New Zealand writers will also take to the stage including Rachael King with a very special book launch, Emily Perkins on her compelling new novel, award-winning doctor and writer Emma Wehipeihana (Ngāti Tukorehe, Ngāti Porou), respected science writer and academic Professor Rebecca Priestley and many more. The Writers Programme is supported by the University of Waikato.
There is also a free visual arts programme across the region featuring Nell x Colin McCahon: Through the Wall of Birth and Death at The Dowse Art Museum in Lower Hutt; What they didn’t teach us in school – The Waikato Wars by Richard Lewer at the New Zealand Portrait Gallery Te Pūkenga Whakaata; Stack by Angus Muir at Whirinaki Whare Taonga, Upper Hutt, The Performance Arcade at Te Ara Moana Wellington Waterfront and more.
Creative Director Marnie Karmelita says “the Festival celebrates the joy, energy and community of live performance and art experiences, exploring the most compelling ideas of our time in truly innovative and exciting ways. Bring your friends and whānau and join us.” Tickets are on pre-sale to the Culture Club now and go on sale to the general public from 20 November. More information about the Culture Club. The 2024 Aotearoa New Zealand Festival of the Arts runs from 23 February – 17 March 2024. More information at festival.nz