Auckland's biggest performing arts festival officially starts next week but the Summer at Q Theatre means some shows are already on, providing a taster of what to expect
What: Emerald Flamenco Theatre
Where & when: TAPAC, Monday, February 24 – Wednesday, February 26
An extraordinary array of personal stories flicker and merge during 45 minutes of intense performance by flamenco dancers Marina Tamayo and Aitor Hernandez. Their years of professional discipline enrich dancing saturated in emotion and bravura, by turns fierce and wild, explosive and anguished, or reined in along a knife edge. An underlying rhythm comes from a recorded soundtrack of contemporary flamenco music.
While most stories are shared between the two performers, at times one story comes from contrasting viewpoints, sympathetic to both sides – such as mother and son, priest and penitent, landlord and tenant, or vampire and mesmerised victim. Even in the most embattled exchanges, though, there is an underlying sense that love is the animating force.
Dressed in beautifully designed black costumes, Tamayo and Hernandez move through a shadowy space with clothing hanging from the rafters above and hinting at the watching presence of others who have passed on. A highlight is an extended sculptural solo by Hernandez in which he examines his identity. – Raewyn Whyte
What: Dr Drama Makes a Show
Where & when: Q Theatre Vault, until Saturday
Dr Drama Makes a Show offers an intimate and revealing peak at what's going down in the Humanities Departments of our universities. It's not always a pretty sight but Dr James Wenley PhD. (Aka Dr Drama) somehow manages to extract a moving and entertaining story out of the convoluted tangle of identity politics and intersectional theory that constitutes academia in the 21st century.
The drama spins around the question of whether the show should have been written and sets up an amusing tension between the vitality of the performance and the deadening voice of theory which relentlessly points to white male privilege as the determining factor in everything the writer does.
Wenley's engaging stage presence is enlivened with clever use of video projection, some sharp dance moves and a willingness to make himself vulnerable to the extreme self-scrutiny demanded by academic theory. The show includes its own ironic commentary that is far more scathing than anything you're likely to read from a theatre critic and there is sense of liberation as the guilt-ridden hero weaves a narrow path through the thickets of theory to affirm that we all need to tell our own stories. – Paul Simei-Barton
What: I Did It My Way
Where & When: Q Theatre Loft, until Saturday
An enchantingly intimate evening with Deb Filler uses song to carry the audience through the ups and downs of her career as an internationally acclaimed comedian and film-maker. The performance, filled with gusto, charm and brilliant comic timing, traces the formative experiences which nurtured her remarkable combination of talent and chutzpah.
A tribute to Yiddish, which was once spoken by 13 million European Jews and now survives in ever-diminishing pockets around the globe, is enlivened with an amusing demonstration of how the language sounds with a thick Aussie accent. The show includes a screening of a brilliant short film about a life-changing encounter with Leonard Bernstein who loomed large in Filler's childhood due to her father's treasured memory of hearing the maestro perform at a Displaced Person Camp concert for Holocaust survivors.
We learn why Filler was never entirely convinced by her father's insistence that the Beatles would have been far more successful if they sang in Yiddish. But a best-ever Leonard Cohen story holds out the alluring promise of a Yiddish version of Hallelujah and suggests her father could have been onto something. – Paul Simei-Barton
What: Ghost Trees
Where & When: Q Theatre Loft, February 27 - 29
For most of us Kauri die-back hovers at the back of our minds as yet another disturbing news story, but for playwright and actor Gary Stalker the issue became up-close and personal. Living amongst a stand of mature Kauri on his property on the Manukau harbour, he could not avoid the slowly unfolding devastation wrought by this mysterious disease; his experience was given added poignancy as it coincided with his wife's battle against ovarian cancer.
In a series of intensely lyrical images, Ghost Trees draws stark parallels between the virulent pathogens working their way through the kauri trees and the equally relentless progress of cancer cells in the human body. The exquisite tenderness of providing palliative care to a loved one is set against desperate attempts to bolster the resistance of diseased trees by injecting phosphate into their trunks.
As the tragedy unfolds Stalker finds himself opening to unfamiliar ways of understanding the world. Intimations of the spiritual dimension awaken a sense of awe at the complexity of life and the show has a powerful redemptive quality as it emphasises the interconnectedness of all things. With the Australian bush fires driving home the need for radical changes in the way we interact with our global ecosystem, Ghost Trees delivers a compelling and urgently relevant message. – Paul Simei-Barton
Auckland Fringe Festival officially opens Tuesday, February 25 and runs until Saturday, March 7