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The Dunedin Fringe Festival has a reputation for presenting innovative and experimental work. This year is no exception, writes Kim Dungey.
From X-rated puppet shows and burlesque marching girls to a Canadian circus company, the Dunedin Fringe Festival is back next month with an eclectic line-up of artists.
The 2014 festival will run from March 13 to 23, with 50 events taking place at dozens of venues throughout the city. The programme, announced publicly at a function last night, includes dance, music, film, visual art and comedy.
Both of this year's overseas acts come from Canada. One is Melody Moore, a theatre show about Irish poet Thomas Moore, performed by New Zealand-born actor Richard Hanna, which won Best of the Festival at the Calgary Fringe. The other will combine acrobatics and physical prowess with humour as circus company Vague de Cirque presents the New Zealand premiere of Carousel and Clothesline. The show features artists from the Cirque du Soleil and will come to Dunedin directly from the Adelaide Fringe.
Sixteen groups have received $20,000 in total from Creative New Zealand to develop work especially for the festival or to bring their work to Dunedin for the first time.
Festival director Paul Smith says while many arts festivals have ''celebrity artists, big venues and big ticket prices'', the Fringe is more about supporting emerging talent and goes out of its way to engage the public.
''It's where new art forms emerge and new talent is discovered.''
''The fringes are a very exciting place to be.''
Designed to stop people in their tracks, the ''Fringe Fishbowl'' aims to take art to a wider audience and to bring the town to life. Smith says the front window of the Community Gallery in Princes St will host different performances daily, from body painting to ''quite bizarre performance art''.
The latter includes a local group creating an underwater scene complete with wetsuits and a rubber dinghy, and South Korean artist Samin Son, who was conscripted into the army and found the only time he had for art was when cleaning bathrooms: ''He'd use toothpaste on the mirror. He only had a couple of minutes to do it so every day he'd do a quick picture, then clean it away.''
Other high-profile street events will include a free mobile cinema and a shopping mall preview of festival events.
A former University of Otago research caravan, the ''Reels on Wheels'' cinema will show a variety of original short films, including one that was shot and edited entirely on smart phones.
''Essentially we're going to put a big flat-screen TV and some seating in it [the caravan],'' he explains.
''It will only fit maybe eight people at the most so people will have to take turns [to watch] ... and everything in terms of the sound, the lights and the TV will run off batteries. It will be in the Octagon quite a bit, at the Museum Reserve and the railway station, but we'll also just tour it randomly around town a bit like Mr Whippy.''
Also new this year are a pre-festival gala at the Dunedin Town Hall with acts handpicked from the festival programme, and a discount for online ticket sales: ''New Zealanders aren't great at booking and Dunedin has a reputation for leaving things to the last minute. We're trying to turn that around.''
Last year's festival attracted 15,000 people and Smith says the fact many of the artists are not well known should not stop people attending.
''That's part of the fun and the challenge of it. Being surprised, taking a bit of a risk and doing something different is actually a lot of fun.''
There are two things you can be sure about with any fringe festival: variety and originality.
With about 50 events spread across every art form imaginable, the options are compelling. The question is how to choose?
To make finding your ideal event a little easier I have grouped a selection of events into four categories: Wow, Laugh, Move Me and Mayhem.
You can't get more ''Wow'' than a French-speaking Canadian circus coming direct from the Garden of Unearthly Delights at the Adelaide Fringe. Carousel and Clothesline is a show for all ages and features stunning performances on the Russian bar, the Chinese pole and a tweeter board, which flips performers through the air.
The other wow factor show has to be In Flagrante. This is not your normal burlesque in that the performers are professional dancers and the choreographer is Mary-Jane O'Reilly, the doyen of New Zealand dance.
A hit at last year's Edinburgh Fringe, this show promises to turn stereotypes on its head and push the burlesque genre to the limit!
The Polson Higgs Comedy Club is a great place to laugh it up in style. The show's format delivers plenty of variety and with four talented comedians you can't go wrong.
There's also a bunch of great solo shows on offer at Ombrellos this year, but one show I am really looking forward to is Fricken Dangerous Bro. This features Wellington's James Roque, Namaine Ross and Pax Assadi, apparently the ''three most wanted up-and-coming comedians'' in the country!
With companies such as Footnote Dance, Gasp Collective, All You Can Eat Productions and Muted Crane Productions presenting shows, you can be sure lovers of contemporary dance will be spoilt for choice.
But you will also be moved by the many theatre and visual art shows on offer as they take you on a journey through time and space to another world. If that sounds fantastical it is because art is a form of magic that takes us out of the mundane and into the extraordinary.
Some shows are just pure mayhem. Take Puppet Fiction, where the movie Pulp Fiction is told by puppets, and at the Inch Bar of all places! Or Take Back the Hood where Little Red Riding Hood is promising to confront sexual-assault culture in New Zealand with humour and rock'n' roll. Is it possible?
Then there's the two guys in onesies with velcro appendages presenting a live-action cartoon called Velcro City. Or Gore's Plot Holes with their show, Welcome to Erection Capital. Only at the Fringe folks!
The festival runs from March 13 to 23, but the mobile cinema will roam Dunedin from March 8 and the gala launch is on March 12.
The Otago Daily Times Festival Hub in the Community Gallery will be open daily for information and tickets, with different performances each day in the ''Fishbowl'' window.
Fringe Picks is a chance to sample the talent in this year's festival for free. Performances will take place in the Meridian Mall on March 14 at 6pm, March 15 at 1pm and March 20 at noon.
For the full programme, go to www.dunedinfringe.org.nz or pick up a printed brochure at retail outlets from tomorrow.