French group present explosive extravaganza of New Zealand past and present

Just go see this. French pyrotechnical wizards Groupe F offer a superlative, splendiferous, explosive extravaganza. Artistic director Christophe Berthonneau and his team, and Red Leap Theatre, are to be congratulated.

It starts in soft black, with a rumble and a claw of fireworks raking the sky, as a seismograph is projected on the western flank of the Auckland Museum. A triangle of sparks traces a maunga motif to the south.

Geysers spurt sparkles across the museum in a chorus line cascade, and it's so bright, it's as if we're sitting on a giant birthday cake and candles are all lit above us.

Then constellations of projected stars hover on the museum, and people also made of stars - or glow- worms? - start to move, with a music box tinkle, before birds of coloured lights appear in the trees. Then the stars liquefy to waves, and we see a waka and a stingray.


A figure flies on wings of gold sparks; fire plumes explode in time with gunshot drums. It's hypnotic, we feel bursts of choreographed heat and the fireballs hang in the sky.

Other spectacular images are political: cartoon frogs three storeys tall blow up a rainbow in an unmistakable reference to Groupe F's compatriot frogmen and their destruction of life and the Rainbow Warrior. A moment of black then precedes rainbow fireworks - an explosion of colour more powerful than before. The rainbow is transfigured, its destruction is not forever.

A hush afterwards as the audience tries to digest an unexpected reference; the closest thing we'll ever get to a heartfelt apology?

Later on, containers wobble, and then slide down the museum like oil - the Rena?

American composer Scott Gibbons collaborated with Richard Nunns, a specialist in Maori traditional instruments, and Paddy Free from Pitch Black, for the soundtrack, which is amplified crisply and uses local sounds to excellent effect, as well as digital bleeps and bloops, with orchestral instruments in the mix.

In spite of nervous concerns that the performance would become uncontrollably volcano-like, the Domain didn't become an inferno even as hot ash rained down on the desert-dry grass.

The second half doesn't have the same novel punch but this was stunning, exhilarating and rapturous; a spectacle pushing creativity to interesting places.

Auckland Arts Festival
What: The Breath of the Volcano
Where: Auckland Domain
When: Until tomorrow