Basque and Catalan culture will light up city streets when the Auckland Arts Festival celebrates its 10th anniversary next month.

Spanish company Deabru Beltzak will stage Les Tambours de Feu/The Drums of Fire — four free outdoor processions incorporating drumming and fireworks where costumed performers lead the public through streets and laneways. Performed around the world, it's been described as pulsating interactive street theatre.

AAF's new artistic director, Jonathan Bielski, wanted to bring to Auckland a spectacular free fireworks event that alluded to the region's volcanic heritage. Large-scale fireworks shows, like Groupe F's Auckland War Memorial Museum displays, have become a hallmark of the festival.

Bielski opted for The Drums of Fire which he describes as more anarchic and unlike anything seen in Auckland before.

Advertisement

"I was thinking about what to do to mark our 10th anniversary and I knew I wanted it to be a big crazy sort of street theatre performance that everyone could take part in," he says.

"I'd seen Drums of Fire several times, and met the company members around and about, so I asked if they wanted to come to New Zealand.

"It's never a case of persuading people to come to New Zealand; people are always immediately excited by the prospect because we might be a little country but we are famous. It then becomes a case of working out the logistics — that's the tricky part."

Each of the four processions — at Aotea Square, Takapuna Beach Reserve, Freyberg Place and Te Wero Island at the Viaduct — start at a set meeting place and participants can join or leave at any point of that night's route.

Deabru Beltzak work closely with health and safety staff to ensure crowd safety while the fireworks and pyrotechnic effects used are not the type to pose injury risks or set surroundings alight.

"You won't be standing there and find glowing embers floating down or anything like that," says Bielski.

The performances descend from two 17th century Spanish celebrations which Deabru Beltzak have rolled into one. In Basque country, there is a long-held tradition called the "day of the witch" where the martyrdom of village witches is remembered by lighting bonfires in local caves.

Deabru Beltzak started holding cave performances in 1996 but after 10 years, these had become so popular that the company took elements of their work, combined it with Catalan festivals of correfoc — the "fire runs" — and hit the road. It's now performed in some 35 countries.

"It's not a running event — we're not talking about anything like Pamplona and the Running of the Bulls — but you do go off into the night being led by performers in strange costumes so it definitely creates an air of excitement and a sense of unpredictability," says Bielski.

"We wanted to gift Auckland with an occasion that would bring the city alive, energise the streets and ignite a celebratory feeling — everything a festival is about."

The Drums of Fire starts each night at 8pm and runs for one hour on March 21, 22, 23 and 25.

Behind-the-scenes: On the eve of the Auckland Arts Festival and New Zealand Festival in Wellington, the NZ Herald speaks to some of our leading choreographers and dancers, theatre-makers, playwrights and poets, musicians and singers about what makes them tick. Why do they make the art they do and what can we expect to see from them at our biggest arts festivals? Today, we speak with the makers of a play that pays homage to our love affair with Tea. See nzherald.co.nz/culture