Busy year for performing arts

BalletCollective Aotearoa
BalletCollective Aotearoa
Despite a traumatic year for the arts, the sector is adapting to the "new normal" and will bring a 
variety of acts and performances to Dunedin stages this year. Rebecca Fox takes a look at what is planned for 2021.

From "projecting acts" into Dunedin to making the most of homegrown talent, arts organisations have been working hard to ensure audiences do not go without their arts fix this year.

After Covid-19 scuttled Dunedin’s festival seasons, they are both back this year, but without "in person" international acts.

Local theatre groups, orchestras and choirs are also planning to hit the stage again this year, albeit in some cases with a shorter season.

National organisations have had a mixed response to the impact of Covid-19.

The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra is cutting its usual Dunedin concerts back due to the impact of the virus on its finances.

However, the New Zealand Ballet is planning on returning with its usual three productions, as is Chamber Music New Zealand.

Artist Ewan McDougal is offering a virtual experience at the Fringe.
Artist Ewan McDougal is offering a virtual experience at the Fringe.


Dunedin’s festivals, some of the first casualties of Covid-19, have dusted themselves off and plan to come back better than ever this year.

The Dunedin Fringe Festival and Dunedin Arts Festival have announced their dates for 2021 and will run one after the other — the Fringe from March 18 to 28 and the arts festival from April 6 to 25.

It is a move from the arts festival’s traditional slot of October but director Charlie Unwin says it will allow the event to work closely with the Auckland Arts Festival (March 4-21) and Festival of Colour in Wanaka (April 12-18).

Otepoti Hip-Hop Hustle will be ‘‘bigger than ever’’ at the Fringe.
Otepoti Hip-Hop Hustle will be ‘‘bigger than ever’’ at the Fringe.

"But also more importantly, it aligns us with the other local festivals that are on at the same time: Dunedin Fringe Festival, Dunedin Writers and Readers Festival, Wild Dunedin and the Otago Rally."

Programmes for both Dunedin festivals will be announced in early February, as will the Wanaka festival.

Organisers have given a few hints of what is to come.

The arts festival has already announced that BalletCollective Aotearoa, New Zealand’s newest dance company, will bring its debut season of "Subtle Dances" to the Regent Theatre on April 16.

The NZTrio will play onstage alongside the dancers.

Some of the festival favourites, such as St Paul's at One and Olveston at Six, will return with performances from local and national musicians, including a Dunedin Symphony Orchestra concert for the under-6s.

Tom Sainsbury will be performing at the 
Fringe Festival.
Tom Sainsbury will be performing at the Fringe Festival.


The Fringe is planning a hybrid event combining live and online events to allow more flexibility, even "projecting" international acts into Dunedin.

The festival is bringing back the Otepoti Hip-Hop Hustle "bigger than ever", while artist Ewan McDougal will offer a virtual experience of his work and Tom Sainsbury will be performing as part of its comedy line-up.

The Emerson’s International Festival will be back, along with a new series, the Late Night Line Up of comedy and music.

Classical music

The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra has not been so successful at shaking off the effects of Covid-19 and the regions are bearing the brunt.

It usually brings about four of its podium series concerts to Dunedin each year, plus one of its special concerts.

In 2021 none of its podium series concerts will be performed in the city nor any of its new festival series, which is going to other cities and regional centres including Tauranga, Hamilton, Napier.

Instead the NZSO will bring "Setting Up Camp", four concerts including a collaboration with the Royal New Zealand Ballet, a performance of Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf for local schools and a "Relaxed" concert to the city.

NZSO chief executive Peter Biggs says due to the cancellation of concerts because of Covid it is forecasting less revenue in 2021, which means it has reduced the number of large-scale concerts.

"We know that not having as many NZSO concerts in Dunedin will sadden our many supporters in the city. However, the orchestra is working hard to find a solution so we can present more activity in the future."

It is possible that in 2021 it will announce additional concerts for Dunedin, Biggs says.

However, Chamber Music New Zealand is bringing six concerts to the city, including a collaboration between the New Zealand String Quartet and the BalletCollective Aotearoa with Loughlan Prior’s adaptation of Schoenberg's Verklarte Nacht (Transfigured Night).

The programme brings top New Zealand musicians to Dunedin in a variety of concerts, including concert pianist, chamber musician and teacher Dr Jian Liu and Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra musicians principal clarinettist Jonathan Cohen, flautist Melanie Lancon, principal oboe Bede Hanley, violist Robert Ashworth and pianist Stephen De Pledge.

They will collaborate with the NZTrio, members of the Amici Ensemble, including the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra’s Donald Armstrong, and the winners from last year’s contest, Ravelation — Enshean Lin, Peter Gjelsten and Jack Moyer.

As part of the Dunedin Arts Festival it will premiere "Silver. Stone. Wood. Bone" where taonga puoro meet Western flutes and visual art in an audiovisual experience celebrating the shapes and sounds of New Zealand’s landscape.

Anna Leese
Anna Leese
Simon O'Neill
Simon O'Neill

The Dunedin Symphony Orchestra will start its 2021 season with a special Dunedin Town Hall concert next month, featuring two Dunedin-trained singers with overseas experience, Simon O’Neill and Anna Leese.

Both are now based in New Zealand — O’Neill in Auckland and Leese in Dunedin.

The cancellation of O’Neill’s February lead role in Wagner’s opera Siegfried in Berlin, due to Covid-19, means he is available for his debut performance with the DSO.

They will be joined in the concert by soprano Rhiannon Cooper, City Choir Dunedin and conductor Kenneth Young to present highlights from Bizet’s Carmen, Beethoven’s Fidelio, Mozart’s Idomeneo and Verdi’s Otello.

The DSO is also taking part in the Dunedin Arts Festival with "Baby to Beethoven", a concert for children under 6, and "Beethoven’s Big Bash", a Town Hall concert which will feature orchestral players and choristers from around the region performing a programme of Beethoven’s music. Tessa Petersen, the orchestra’s concertmaster, will also perform in a multi-artform performance for the festival.

Just who will perform what for the orchestra’s five-concert International and Matinee Series, which runs from June until November, featuring New Zealand conductors and soloists, has not yet been released.

In early May, the DSO will provide the orchestral accompaniment for the finalists in the inaugural Dunedin Concerto Competition final concert, at the Dunedin Town Hall, augmented by members of the Dunedin Youth Orchestra.

The new competition is for instrumentalists under 23 years old and more than 30 musicians have entered.

Finishing off the year, the DSO will accompany City Choir Dunedin’s performance of the The Messiah.

While City Choir will finish off its year with Messiah, it has a "busy" season planned including a concert celebrating the contribution women have made to music with "Applaud! Women in Music", featuring works by women composers, at Knox Church in May.

Cellists from all around New Zealand will descend on Dunedin in August for an "intensive retreat" and Cellists Otago will perform an event and concert as part of it.

It is an event designed to attract players from all levels, ages and backgrounds to talk part in an effort to address diversity and accessibility in music and music education.

Royal New Zealand Ballet is bringing Giselle to Dunedin. PHOTO: ROSS BROWN
Royal New Zealand Ballet is bringing Giselle to Dunedin. PHOTO: ROSS BROWN


Ballet enthusiasts will be rejoicing in the breadth of offerings this year with two performances from the BalletCollective Aotearoa, as well as the Royal New Zealand Ballet’s three productions and its Tutu on Tour performances, which will go to Gore and Oamaru.

RNZB’s 2021 programme includes bringing back its production of Giselle, choreographed by Johan Kobborg, from 2012. It toured China, the United States and the United Kingdom and was turned into a feature film.

Firebird, by the Royal New Zealand Ballet, is coming to Dunedin. PHOTO: ROSS BROWN
Firebird, by the Royal New Zealand Ballet, is coming to Dunedin. PHOTO: ROSS BROWN

A new commission by choreographer-in-residence Loughlan Prior of The Firebird, together with Russian classic Paquita, featuring sparkling tutus inspired by Faberge, is the ballet’s second performance of the year.

RNZB’s Christmas production will be A Midsummer Night’s Dream created for the ballet in 2015 by one of the most sought-after choreographers on the international stage, Liam Scarlett.

Having the ability to perform in New Zealand has meant the the producers of Celtic Illusion have brought together a group of 15 New Zealand and Australian dancers for Celtica, a modern Irish dance show.

It is touring the country, including Dunedin, and will feature the "fastest taps in the world" as well as contemporary Irish music and the vocal talent of Sarah Morris.

Celtica, a dance show coming to Dunedin and Invercargill in March. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
Celtica, a dance show coming to Dunedin and Invercargill in March. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

Producer Anthony Street says the year of the pandemic has been incredibly tough, and 70 shows across Australia were cancelled.

"We are thrilled to re-enter the entertainment space (taking small Celtic steps as we do), and to provide our troupe of dancers, stage crew, and production staff with jobs again and the teams across NZ venues," Street says.

National acts

Dunedin appears to be firmly in the sights of many national touring artists this year.

Sol3 Mio — brothers Pene and Amitai Pati, who are both tenors, plus their baritone cousin Moses Mackay — have announced they are coming to the city, Oamaru and to Invercargill to perform their repertoire of classics and debut new original material.

"It's been a tough year for everyone and it's time to get together and sing," Mackay says.

Fellow classical performers the Australian group 10 Tenors will also visit, performing their selection of romantic pop songs, ballads and arias.

New Zealand tenor Geoff Sewell is also bringing Bravo Amici to Dunedin after its concert was cancelled last year.

"We are thrilled that the 12 May show has been rescheduled."

To mark the 10-year anniversary of Sir Howard Morrison’s death, The Howard Morrison Quartet Take Two is touring.

Featuring Howard Morrison jun (Sir Howard’s son), Russell Harrison, Chris Powley and Andre King, the group aims to celebrate and recreate the magic of the original successful showband which toured in the 1950s and ’60s.

The Royal New Zealand Air Force Band is also coming to Dunedin Town Hall, with its Air Force Band on Tour with Matt Mulholland concert next month.


Dunedin theatre companies are gearing up for performances as part of the festival season, so many of their acts are still under wraps until their programmes are announced.

Having had many of their 2020 productions cancelled due to lockdown hitting the start of the Fringe festival, they are hopeful of getting on stage this year.

Prospect Park spokeswoman H-J Kilkelly says last year was a roller-coaster but they have continued to develop new work.

"It’ll be lovely to (hopefully) get some works back on-stage next year."

One of the shows it did not get to do last year for the Fringe , Thief by Kelly Hocking, will be premiered at this year’s Fringe.

In development is a new full-length black comedy Snowblind by Bruce Mason award-winner Emily Duncan, thanks to support from the Dunedin City Council Professional Theatre Fund.

It is also recording seasons two and three of its award-winning thriller podcast series, "Dark Dunedin", once again featuring a local cast and composed music.

Otepoti Theatre Lab will continue to develop new theatre works from local voices, including collaborating with Wellington-based Te Hau Tutu, workshopping a new play from award-winning writer Mitch Tawhi Thomas.

Arcade Theatre Company’s Alex Wilson says due to Covid, the company decided to reduce its usual four-play season to three with the aim of doing less to a higher quality and giving it more flexibility around alert levels.

While the specifics of the three-show season is still embargoed he could say this:

"The line-up will include an energetic romantic comedy about the dangers of online dating in the time of lockdown, a modern existential dark comedy, a staff room jam-packed with grim reapers and a hit off-Broadway musical."

Dunedin’s Globe Theatre will celebrate 60 years of the theatre this year beginning with a production of Tennessee Williams' famous play The Glass Menagerie to be directed by Joe Cecchi.

Spokesman Keith Scott says the play was one of the first presented by the Globe in its inaugural year, 1961.

In June, it will support two young local directors, Thomas Makinson and Aaron Richardson, in a one-act double-bill — A Respectable Wedding by Bertolt Brecht and A Kind of Justice by Margaret Wood, followed in September by a season of Agatha Christie's murder mystery And Then There Were None, to be directed by Dale Neil.

"Our end-of-year production is yet to be confirmed."

Musical theatre

Dunedin’s musical theatre company made the best of a bad lot last year by joining together to put on a show.

This year Musical Theatre Dunedin is putting on a "reimagined production" of Les Miserables in May.

It was last seen in Dunedin in 2001. The new show will feature James Adams, Greg Macleod, Janine Weatherly, Anna Langford, Ben Thomas, Lara Davidson, Harriet Moir and others.

On tour nationally, "The Musical Gala", a revue production of favourite musical theatre hits such as The Lion King, Fiddler on the Roof, Mamma Mia, We Will Rock You and many others is due to come to Dunedin in March.

Another touring revue show "Yesterday Once More" is also scheduled to come to Dunedin. It features four performers celebrating the top singing groups of the 1970s known for their soaring vocal harmonies, the Carpenters, Abba and The Mamas and the Papas.


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