Dunedin arts scene flourishes

One of the major international acts to hit Dunedin this year is the Soweto Gospel Choir’s Freedom tour in March at the Regent Theatre. Photo: Di Nozzo Lorenzo
One of the major international acts to hit Dunedin this year is the Soweto Gospel Choir’s Freedom tour in March at the Regent Theatre. Photo: Di Nozzo Lorenzo
Dunedin’s vibrant arts scene continues to flourish with a raft of fine arts, musical and theatre exhibitions, productions and events planned for this year. Rebecca Fox takes a look at some of what will be on offer this year.

From a Grammy-award winning choir to a New Zealand theatre modern classic, there will be a diverse range of events for Dunedin audiences to support this year.

Added to this, 2020 is a Dunedin Arts Festival year and it will be the first directed by Charlie Unwin, the former director of Nelson’s Arts Festival.

The festival’s programme will not be announced until August, but Unwin is promising the ‘‘best performing arts experiences from Dunedin, New Zealand and the rest of the world’’ during the October festival.

Likewise, Dunedin’s Fringe Festival is also promising a vibrant line-up of local and national acts. Director Gareth McMillan says it will be releasing its programme next month for the March festival.

Penny Ashton returns with another take on her love for Jane Austen. Photo: ODT files
Penny Ashton returns with another take on her love for Jane Austen. Photo: ODT files
Kicking off the arts calendar will be Dunedin’s first taste of a Summer Shakespeare programme in many years.

Dunedin theatre and performance stalwarts Jessica Latton and Lara Macgregor and Shakespeare specialist Dr Kim Morgan got together last year to bring back Summer Shakespeare to Dunedin. It is thought it is about 25 years since a regular event has been held in the city.

They have chosen Romeo and Juliet to perform and had a ‘‘wonderful’’ turnout to auditions last year for the 9-show season at Woodhaugh Gardens in north Dunedin later this month.

The cast is a mix of professional actors — Julie Edwards, Phil Grieve, Emily McKenzie, Nick Tipa, Siale Tunoka — and amateur actors.

The free performances will go ahead outside in the gardens rain or shine and the audience is encouraged to bring a picnic and make themselves comfortable on the grass.

‘‘The actors will be walking through the audience — there is no imaginary fourth wall,’’ Morgan says.

The Royal New Zealand Ballet’s soloist Sara Garbowski and dancers Kirby Selchow (left) and...
The Royal New Zealand Ballet’s soloist Sara Garbowski and dancers Kirby Selchow (left) and Laurynas Vejalis. Photo: Ross Brown
One of the major international acts to hit Dunedin this year is the Soweto Gospel Choir’s Freedom tour in March at the Regent Theatre.

The 18-member choir recently won a Grammy for Freedom (Best World Music) and will perform ‘‘Songs of the Free’,’ celebrating the centenary of the birth of Nelson Mandela, and some international gospel classics.

Mulalo Mulovhedzi, whose father David, a church choir master, helped form the choir, is now the general manager of the group.

He started out singing in the church choir, where his grandfather was a pastor, before joining the gospel choir singing bass and dancing.

Many of the songs the choir have performed over the years have been written by Mulovhedzi, who is married to fellow choir member Mary, a singer, dancer and drummer.

‘‘I’m still passionate about it. Its about the roots, the culture, the South African people, a history shared.’’

Jonathan Lemalu will join the DSO’s Beethoven celebrations in August. Photo: Sussie Ahlburg
Jonathan Lemalu will join the DSO’s Beethoven celebrations in August. Photo: Sussie Ahlburg
Classical music

Symphony orchestras around the world, including the Dunedin Symphony Orchestra and New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, are celebrating the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth this year.

The DSO will be celebrating this anniversary by performing three of his works: Piano Concerto No. 3, the Violin Concerto, and Symphony No. 9 covering his early, middle and late periods of composition.

DSO general manager Philippa Harris says the ‘Choral’ symphony is one of the world’s best-known and most popular works as its last movement is the Ode to Joy.

‘‘This concert will make a fitting climax for the DSO’s Beethoven celebrations.’’

Joining the August celebration will be Jonathan Lemalu, soprano Anna Leese, City Choir Dunedin, and the DSO’s Principal Guest Conductor, London-based Simon Over.

For the 2020 Concert Series, there are several artists appearing with the DSO for the first time including Australian conductor Patrick Burns, and Melbourne Symphony Orchestra oboe star Thomas Hutchinson who will perform Vaughan William’s Oboe Concerto.

The DSO will also mark the 60th birthday of Dunedin composer, Anthony Ritchie.

The NZSO will play with American organist Cameron Carpenter, who is said to revolutionise one of Bach’s greatest organ works. Photo: Supplied
The NZSO will play with American organist Cameron Carpenter, who is said to revolutionise one of Bach’s greatest organ works. Photo: Supplied
‘‘The ties between the DSO and Anthony have been very close for many years, and the DSO is delighted to celebrate his birthday through the performance of one of his compositions.’’

In Dunedin the NZSO will celebrate Beethoven’s birth with New Zealand pianist Diedre Irons playing the Emperor Concerto. She will also perform on fortepiano in concertmaster Vesa-Matti Leppanen’s Baroque series with Andrew Joyce on cello.

The orchestra’s first of four performances in Dunedin this year will be ‘‘Mavericks’’ featuring American organist Cameron Carpenter and English conductor Alexander Shelley. Carpenter ‘‘revolutionises’’ one of Bach’s greatest organ works, Toccata and Fugue in D minor.

US-based New Zealand conductor Gemma New hailed as “one of the brightest rising stars in the conducting firmament”, will lead the NZSO for the first time. New will conduct in Dunedin in September with virtuoso German cellist Johannes Moser.

Conductor Edo de Waart will return with Canadian soprano Erin Wall in October with Richard Strauss’ Metamorphosen and Four Last Songs, and Beethoven’s Third Symphony Eroica.

City Choir Dunedin will present two major concerts and appear with the Dunedin Symphony Orchestra, the Christchurch City Choir and Christchurch Symphony Orchestra in other concerts this year.

In April it will travel to Christchurch to perform in Christchurch City Choir’s presentation of Bach’s St Matthew Passion, accompanied by the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra.

Lloyd Scott is coming to Dunedin in Movers. Photo: Supplied
Lloyd Scott is coming to Dunedin in Movers. Photo: Supplied
In August it will perform at the Dunedin Town Hall, the programme will range from well-loved classic Faure’s Requiem, to contemporary works by internationally-renowned composers Peteris Vasks, Ola Gjeilo and New Zealand composer Christopher Marshall. The concert will feature two upcoming young soloists, soprano Caroline Burchell and baritone Scott Bezett.

It will finish off the year with its Christmas concert at Knox Church including Bach’s Magnificat and Benjamin Britten’s A Ceremony of Carols.

Chamber Music New Zealand is bringing six concerts to Dunedin, five to Invercargill and two to Queenstown.

It is opening its season with Julliard415, 22 young musicians from one of the world’s top music schools playing baroque under the leadership of early music legend violinist Robert Mealy. The concert will also feature a new commission from Dunedin’s Dame Gillian Whitehead.

CMNZ’s chief executive Catherine Gibson says she is ‘‘super-excited’’ about Calefax, a virtuosic reed quartet from the Netherlands who are known for their brilliant arrangements and innovative stage presentation. They are coming to both cities in June.

The season also includes Grammy-award winning Iraqi-American composer and oud player Rahim Alhaj with the New Zealand String Quartet (May), British vocal ensemble Voces8 acoustic tour at St Pauls Cathedral in July and a new production from composer Claire Cowan and her group Blackbird Ensemble (September)

Opera Otago will be producing Suor Angelica in June. First premiered in 1918 Suor Angelica is an opera in one act by Giacomo Puccini to an original Italian libretto by Giovacchino Forzano.

Chairwoman Ingrid Fomison-Nurse says more details will come soon about the production.


The Royal New Zealand Ballet will become the first national ballet company in the world to present a full year of works choreographed entirely by women, it says.

“We have taken a stand and drawn a line in the sand for others to follow – I for one can’t wait for the journey to begin,” RNZB Artistic Director Patricia Barker says.

The company is bringing Tutus on Tour featuring works such as Artemis Rising by Sarah Foster-Sproull and Remember, Mama by Danielle Rowe as well as Berceuse by rising star of American ballet Penny Saunders to Queenstown, Wanaka, Gore, and Oamaru. Wayward, a new commission from Kiara Flavin, a dancer with the RNZB, completes the programme.

To Dunedin RNZB is bringing Venus Rising a programme of four ballets headlined by award-winning American choreographer Twyla Tharp, who has made over 160 works for stage and screen, and her work Waterbaby Bagatelles(1994). It is the first time RNZB has brought her work to New Zealand.

The other works include Aurum by Australian Ballet choreographer in residence and former RNZB dancer Alice Topp which won a prestigious Helpmann Award in 2018, and new commissions from Andrea Schermoly and RNZB choreographer in residence Sarah Foster-Sproull complete the line-up.

RNZB’s next visit to the city will be with Dangerous Liaisons a new full-length ballet commissioned by Barker from the world’s most in-demand choreographer, Colombian-Belgian Annabelle Lopez-Ochoa.

The company finishes its 2020 season with a classical production of Sleeping Beauty newly commissioned from Australian choreographer Danielle Rowe.

Dunedin theatre

Wow! productions is bringing The End of the Golden Weather by Bruce Mason to Dunedin for the first time since 1985.

The professional production will be directed by Lisa Warrington and performed by Matt Wilson at Community Gallery in June and is described as the corner-stone of modern New Zealand theatre.

It questions what it means to be a Kiwi from the point of view of a young boy experiencing and questioning both important moments of history and the joys of summer and celebration of Christmas.

It will feature a ‘‘unique’’ set design and installation by former Fortune Theatre designer Peter King and lighting design by Allen Hall’s Martyn Roberts.

Wow! is also planning a nine-day outdoor festival called the The Dunedin Project which is still in development for November.

Prospect Park Productions is launching a second season of its award-winning Dark Dunedin thriller podcast with Purgatory and Breathing Hell to come.

Producer Helena-Jane Kilkelly says they will be collaborating again with local musician Marama Grant, the composer from season one, Heaven Looks On, and working for the first time with local graphic artist, Jess Newton, whose artwork will be adding a further dimension to the project.

This year they are also working on performances to be aired at the Fringe Festival but they are under wraps until the festival announces its programmes.

‘‘[Later on] we’ll be premiering new work from local playwright, Julie Edwards, as well as a new show from Emily Duncan, and we’re remounting Le Sujet Parle for a Wellington season.’’

Last year Prospect Park took a a step back from producing its own works to focus more on contributing to the wider infrastructure and sustainability work that is ‘‘much needed in Dunedin post-Fortune’’ including Kilkelly going to Edinburgh as part of the Creative New Zealand Festivals Intensive.

Part of that was launching the Otepoti Theatre Lab, a development initiative for new and emerging playwrights. Its 2020 programmes will start mid-year with applications opening in April.

Arcade Theatre is in its third year and continues to go from strength to strength.

It starts the year with the production of a new locally written play Day Boy by University of Otago theatre student Harrison Kennedy.

‘‘We have teamed Harrison up with award-winning playwright Abby Howells to mentor and assist him to develop the piece,’’ publicist Angus McBryde says.

It will also be staging No Exit by Jean Paul Sartre, directed by recent directors’ programme graduate Shaun Swain.

‘‘We are thrilled to offer Shaun the chance to direct his first professional work after completing his course and to bring a classic play to the stage that he will update for modern audiences, thematically tying it to the successful NBC comedy The Good Place.’’

Arcade is moving to a July to June season so will announce the rest of its year’s projects closer to mid-year.

The Globe theatre is still working on its programming for the year but plans to stage The Raft by Carl Nixon, A Respectable Wedding by Bertholt Brecht and The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams. It will also continue its annual children’s theatre programme Toybox.

Arts on Tour is bringing national productions to Otago including Austen Found: The Undiscovered Musicals of Jane Austen, Movers and Daylight Atheist

Penny Ashton is returning with another take on her love for Jane Austen — Olive Copperbottom, Promise and Promiscuity — this time with hobbit Lori Dungey (Lord of the Rings, Xena, Hercules, Master of the Improv Universe) and Chicago based musical maestro Robbie Ellis (Second City, RNZ Concert, University of Otago Mozart Fellow).

In June the Red Scare Theatre Company brings Movers by James Cain. It features Lloyd Scott from the Toyota Hilux advertisements and RNZ, and follows an aspiring comedian who starts work at a moving company and finds the perfect material in his co-workers.

Then in August Daylight Atheist, by satirical cartoonist Tom Scott with award-winning actor Michael Hurst, tells the story of ageing Irish raconteur Danny Moffat as he retreats from the harsh light of the world to his bedroom.


Two national musicals will visit Dunedin Friends! — The Musical Parody in September and The World of Musicals in June.

Friends! lampoons the ’90s television show of the same name and like the show follows the lives of six wacky 20-somethings, poking fun at some of their most ‘‘iconic’’ moments as they navigate the pitfalls of work, love and life in Manhattan.

The World of Musicals is a revue of all the classic musical theatre productions such as The Lion King, Fiddler on the roof, Mama Mia, We Will Rock you, The Mikado, The Pirates of Penzance, West Side Story, Cats and Evita.

On the local front Musical Theatre Dunedin is putting on Les Miserables in May starring Ben Thomas and Lara Davidson as young lovers Marius and Cosette, James Adams and Greg MacLeod as Jean Valjean and Inspector Javert respectively and well-known opera singer Scott Bezett playing Enjolras, the leader of the student revolutionaries.

They will be supported by 24 ensemble members and 10 backing vocalists led by vocal director Beth Waite and a 16-strong live orchestra will provide musical support lead by Stuart Walker.

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