What: Auckland Arts Festival
Where & when: Venues throughout Auckland, Tuesday March 5-Sunday March 24

It's a big world made smaller when artists from New Zealand and the world gather for the Auckland Arts Festival 2019 in March.

For AAF artistic director Jonathan Bielski, now in his second year at the helm, it's as much about bringing the world to Auckland as it is about highlighting the talent in our own backyard.

"One of my jobs is to see and find outstanding examples of what artists are doing all over the world and bring it back here – to look outwards," says Bielski. "We live in a world city, a city that wants to be one of the world's most desirable to live in, and that means the best cultural offerings from around the world should be accessible. I get to select from a menu of work and bring the best."


The "best" – be it local or international – has long been equated with exhibitions and performances which entertain, provoke and enlighten. But it's no longer enough for, say, a dance work, play or opera to be technically superb, compelling or feature stellar performances.

While those things remain pivotal, increasingly, audiences want to know who's telling the story and whether it's being told accurately and respectfully. If the arts are for everyone, they want to know that "everyone" got an invitation and the opportunity to tell their stories and participate.

For festival directors like Bielski, that means being "woke" but also avoiding putting together a "tick-the-box" programme. So, he aims to choose work – from across the visual and performing arts spectrum – that reflects modern Auckland at the same time as highlighting multiple world views throughout the programme.

Bielski says there's work that delivers messages about identity, gender politics, power, strength and censorship.

"I also wanted some compelling contemporary productions made by artists who are working at the top of their game and making work which is very different from what we're seeing in Auckland. It's a chance to look at these art forms in new ways."

So, what has he chosen?

Hofesh Shechter makes his Auckland debut with Grand Finale. Photo/Rahi Rezvani.
Hofesh Shechter makes his Auckland debut with Grand Finale. Photo/Rahi Rezvani.

Those compelling contemporary productions:

Celebrated Israeli choreographer Hofesh Shechter makes his Auckland debut with a bold and ambitious work described as simultaneously comic, bleak and beautiful, evoking a world at odds with itself.


Grand Finale, ASB Theatre, Aotea Centre, March 21 – 23

Two companies, one from the east and one the west, Shanghai Dramatic Arts Centre and British physical theatre company Gecko, bring together two monumental pieces of theatre - Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream and Tang Xianzu's The Peony Pavilion. The result is an extraordinarily beautiful and engaging masterpiece of physical and narrative theatre.
The Dreamer, The Civic, March 21-24

Ulster American took out the coveted Carol Tambor Best of Edinburgh Fringe Award after becoming the most-talked-about show seen in the Scottish capital this year. A male actor and director, and a female playwright clash with explosive results in this outrageous, confrontational and frequently gasp-inducing black comedy.
Ulster American, ASB Waterfront Theatre, March 20-24

A Man of Good Hope, based on the book by Jonny Steinberg. Photo/Keith Pattison.
A Man of Good Hope, based on the book by Jonny Steinberg. Photo/Keith Pattison.

Big theatre:

Seen in Africa, the UK, Europe and New York, A Man of Good Hope is an epic musical theatre production with 22 performers who tell, sing and dance the remarkable true story of Asad, an 8-year-old who flees the ravages of civil war in his home of Somalia to seek refuge in South Africa.

A Man of Good Hope, ASB Waterfront Theatre, March 14-18


A new production of the widely acclaimed stage adaptation of Tusiata Avia's Wild Dogs Under My Skirt headlines the Pacific work. Alive with the energy and rhythm of raw and lyrical performance poetry and oral traditions, Wild Dogs Under My Skirt is a provocative, enchanting and sassy examination and celebration of what it is to be a Samoan woman.
Wild Dogs Under My Skirt, Rangatira at Q Theatre, March 5-11
Kids into arts:
Adelaide's Gravity & Other Myths' newest circus, Backbone, leaves no viewer unmoved. Elegantly staged, raw yet utterly disciplined, and awesomely athletic, Backbone is proof that performers can't do the impossible without a little elbow grease and a lot of sweat.
Backbone, ASB Theatre, Aotea Centre, March 14-17

A spellbinding children's theatre piece by our own Trick of the Light Theatre, The Bookbinder was born as a performance piece in an upstairs Wellington bookshop and has toured the world – but never Auckland. Until now.
The Bookbinder, Loft at Q Theatre, March 21-24

Blanc de Blanc is the AAF's wild circus show for 2019. Photo/Pamela Raith Photography.
Blanc de Blanc is the AAF's wild circus show for 2019. Photo/Pamela Raith Photography.

Adults-only fun:

At the other end of the age spectrum, Strut and Fret Production House's "champagne cabaret" Blanc de Blanc will be the resident show in the Spiegeltent. It's another sizzling, cork-popping, circus-cabaret by the creators of Limbo and Cantina and promises breath-taking acrobatics, swinging tunes, bare skin and more than a few surprises. Recommended for audiences aged 18 and over.

Blanc de Blanc, Spiegeltent, Aotea Square, March 7-24

Chaos and harmony are highlighted through As It Stands.
Chaos and harmony are highlighted through As It Stands.

Dance like there's no one watching:


Influenced by the monumental creations of American sculptor Richard Serra, visionary NZ choreographer Ross McCormack places eight dancers in a landscape of steel-like monoliths which contrast the order of design and the chaos of human nature.

As It Stands, ASB Waterfront Theatre, March 8-10

Sumptuous sounds:

For the first time, the international musicians of the Grammy Award-winning Silkroad Ensemble perform their genre-defying music in New Zealand in a concert that will include popular jazz, traditional Vietnamese, Chinese and Kazakh music, Finnish folk song, and Jugalbandi (Indian classical).

Silkroad Ensemble, Auckland Town Hall, March 12

Olivier Messiaen was one of the most important and influential composers of the 20th century and everything about his astounding Turangalila Symphony is exuberant, colourful and monumental. The Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra and musicians from Australian National Academy of Music unite to form a massive line-up of more than 100 players and two soloists for a rare performance of the 20th-century orchestral masterpiece.


Turangalila Symphony, Auckland Town Hall, March 23

For the first time, the Stardome Planetarium joins the AAF party. A Synthesized Universe, by Anthonie Tonnon, is a 360-degree experience in which audiences are transported to galaxies far away through live music, storytelling and astonishing images of the universe.
A Synthesized Universe, Stardome, March 20 & 21