ON the pulse: Arts Binge Wellington.

What if belonging is a relationship? PHOTO: Jeff Busby.

What if belonging is a relationship? PHOTO: Jeff Busby.


A fresh take on culture in the capital. ANNABEL WILSON reviews the French Film Festival, International Festival of Arts, Performance Arcade and the Fringe. 

Well that escalated quickly. We’ve had one heck of a month of culture in Pōneke. Lucky devil Wellingtonians are truly spoilt for theatre, film, music and art. As a newbie to the capital, the last four weeks have been an indulgent introduction to the Wellington scene with back-to-back festivals, gigs and shows amid a stunning Indian summer and plenty of ocean swims. From French film to Fringe and the NZ Festival, here is a post-binge analysis of some recent shows in the windy city.


Waiting for the right moment. PHOTO: frenchfilmfestival.co.nz.

Waiting for the right moment. PHOTO: frenchfilmfestival.co.nz.

‘The Wait’ (L’Attente) is exquisite and excruciating all at once. Starring Academy-Award winner Juliette Binoche and Lou de Laage, the narrative wraps around two women who are drawn together unexpectedly – one looking for answers, the other not ready to face the truth. In a rambling Sicilian villa, the pair forge a friendship as Anna (Binoche) struggles to find the right moment to tell Jean (de Laage) about the whereabouts of Guiseppe – Anna’s son, and Jean’s boyfriend.

The stunning debut feature of Piero Messina, the film’s crafting is made lush chiefly through its characters, cinematography and soundtrack (listen out for The XX and Leonard Cohen). Binoche and de Laage’s complicated relationship is intricately conveyed with careful attention paid to their switching between French and Italian as language becomes a mode for demonstrating their fluctuating intimacy. The Sicilian island setting provides an alluring and meditative backdrop to the story arc.

The Wait is rich in symbolism and can be read as a series of interconnected signs linked to grief, time and waiting. The passenger ‘stopping time’ by walking backwards on the airport escalator, the plastic-wrapped crucifix in the exposition, the close up of a furniture thread shining in sunlight, the way one woman chooses to swim in the lake while the other doesn’t… each motif explores ideas of concealment, evasion or acknowledgement of mortality.  The film itself makes the audience wait, teasing out the expectations of the viewer right to the end. Don’t wait to see this though – catch this when the French Film Festival gets to a cinema near you.


Sayin' somethin' stupid like I love you... PHOTO: Blue Room.

Sayin’ somethin’ stupid like I love you… PHOTO: Blue Room.

Just down the road at Bats, Melbournite Bron Batten and her father James sparkled in the Fringe show, Sweet Child Of Mine. In this two person performance, Batten opens the family photo album as her cue for examining the role of the artist and the assumptions their loved ones make about their work. Batten’s honest, humble and self-deprecating performance inspired nods of recognition and plenty of laughs. In this piece, the audience is encouraged to share their stories as artists then laugh with and at the duo as they crack open the constructs of the parent/daughter relationship and what it means to be a creative in 2016. Suitably fringe, we see interviews with Batten’s mum and dad onscreen spliced with the re-interpretation of her previous theatrical roles: beaver, walrus, chicken abortion.

There are in jokes for Arts graduates as Batten encapsulates her university education by summarising po-mo critical theory from Derrida to Foucault. She reminds us “Basically, I have a degree in this…” then busts out some killer interpretive dance. There’s some writhing about on the floor in blue paint. There’s a live phone call to mum, Linda. The propinquity of Bron and James is conveyed in their Somethin’ Stupid duet, the quintessential confetti-bomb finale and James’ dedication to his daughter at the show’s conclusion. Earnest and endearing, Sweet Child Of Mine was a perky addition to the New Zealand Fringe Festival programme.

Jo Randerson's solo punk barbarian piece has guts and longevity. PHOTO: Wellingtonnz.com.

Jo Randerson’s solo punk barbarian piece has guts and longevity. PHOTO: Wellingtonnz.com.

Another Fringe Festival highlight was Banging Symbol, Clanging Gong – one of the prolific Jo Randerson’s solo shows. 15 years old, the piece defies any use-by date. Rollicking, resonant and relevant, Banging Symbol is the story of a barbarian punk who keeps running and fighting and along the way stumbles into something like love. The cameo appearance of her son at the end added a sweet touch to this performance. Banging Symbol retains its resilience through Randerson’s assured acting and its punchy messages: that everyone is capable of emotion; the importance of resistance and looking for ways to keep going.

ON the street

Let's dance. PHOTO: Monique Ford / Fairfax Media.

Let’s dance. PHOTO: Monique Ford / Fairfax Media.

The NZ International Festival itself opened officially on Friday 26 February, with 150 local amateur dancers forming a spectacular flashmob entitled Le Grand Continental in Civic Square. Choreographed by Sylvain Émard, the thirty minute mass performance delivered on the Festival’s promise to ‘Kick up the Arts’. Jiving and gyrating to a wicked set that included tracks from Lorde and Scribe, Wellingtonians of varying abilities stomped out moves which celebrated fun, joy and diversity. Then we all joined in one giant dance party as Chocolate Box Deluxe took to the stage. With such hype enticed from Émard’s showcase, the multi-age rave vibe could have been extended with better use of lighting and a more central positioning of the musicians during the second phase of the opening. The audience was captured so there was potential to leverage the energy further.

Art in the arcade. PHOTO: Performance Arcade.

Art in the arcade. PHOTO: Performance Arcade.

Along the waterfront, the annual Performance Arcade was well worth a look-see as a microcosm of creativity emerged from a series of shipping containers over March 2 – 6. Drawn by the wafting aromas of a bbq, I stumbled upon this mini village on the opening night then returned to chill out on the grassy bank and explore the different zones as The Playground NZ‘s Art Party unfolded. Visiting musos took to the stage in one of the containers, my favourites being the ethereal Orchestra of Spheres and rockabilly Phantasticus – both of whom rocked the Newtown Festival too. Luminous jellyfish installations and a delightful water bar were housed in other steel boxes, and dancers from Footnote took members of the public on one-on-one dance forays around the immediate space. My dance host was an amiable bloke called Adam who took me on an urban voyage. In this 15 minute show entitled Closer by Olive Bieringa and Otto Ramstad of the Body Cartography Project, the relationship between audience and performer was traversed on a stage of concrete and brick; against a backdrop of ocean and sky.


Heartbreaking and heartwarming Dirtsong. PHOTO: Sarah Walker.

Heartbreaking and heartwarming Dirtsong. PHOTO: Sarah Walker.

Until March 20, the Festival brings a wealth of shows, music and talks to Wellington. If you’re skint like me, the Tix for Twenty are a godsend – a handful of tickets for shows on that day are released daily for $20. So far on a minimal budget I’ve been to three of the programme’s drawcards – Dirt Song, La Verità and The Complexity of Belonging. Memorable and moving, Dirtsong is the kind of performance that stays with you long after you’ve left the venue. Inspired by the words of author Alexis Wright, Australia’s Black Arm Band sing up pieces from 11 different Aboriginal languages against a cinematic backdrop of the landscapes the music comes from. With celebrated guest artists Archie Roach and Paul Kelly as well as local Horomona Horo, the layered voices were breathtaking. At points lines are scribed onscreen, adding to the powerful journey of people and place Dirtsong takes you on: My country, he’s alright… These guys are alright too. More than alright, their emotive authenticity; the humanity of the show is at once heartbreaking and heartwarming.

A veritable feast for the senses.

A veritable feast for the senses.

Inspired by Salvadore Dali‘s Isolation and Sadness oil painting, a troupe of cirque artists ravel a captivating tale in Daniele Finzi Pasca‘s La Verità . Art meets athleticism in this surreal romp into the imagination where anything can happen. Peppered with commentary hovering around the meaning and value of art – “When is the auction?” – the performance entices the audience into a dream. Each sequence is slightly askew. Expect the unexpected;  a  hail of spinning tops and a random wandering rhino, contortion, clowning and trapeze like you haven’t seen before. Just dreamy.

It's complicated. PHOTO: Jeff Busby.

It’s complicated. PHOTO: Jeff Busby.

Complexity of Belonging is the best thing I’ve seen in a while. Chunky Move‘s latest show – a colab between the lauded Anouk van Dijk and Falk Richter grasps you from the outset and doesn’t let go. It will have you laughing then gasping in the same breath. Dancers become storytellers in this beautiful mash up in which notions of identity, race, gender, sexuality, self and place are articulated through bodies, voices, screens. Sometimes the voices and movements become disconnected, distraught and at other points the ensemble work is poignantly unified. It’s about the messages constructed within society and written in the margins. It’s about messing with those constructs and finding out what it means to be whole in today’s fractured, globalised, digitized world.

The French Film Festival is ON until April 13 in a city near you. The NZ Festival ends March 20. Get amONgst it. ON this weekend all over NZ – The Kerouac Effect.

In WellingtON this week: Raw Comedy Quest and Cuba Dupa!


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