A performing arts extravaganza is giving the city a new level of pizzazz, writes Alexia Santamaria.
I've heard several comments over the years about how conservative Christchurch is. Not being a Cantabrian, I couldn't really confirm if these passing remarks were true at the time, or now. What I can definitely say, is that last weekend, when I attended the new Bread and Circus festival, conservative is the last word I would have used. Other words maybe: vibrant, a bit risque (okay, that's three), dynamic and most importantly fun, lots of fun.
The weekend started as all weekends should, with an Aperol Spritz and a sharing platter at OGB. Deservedly featuring on almost every list of Christchurch's best bars, OGB is a delightful speakeasy-style joint, with a fantastic 1930s fit-out, housed in a beautiful heritage building (the Old Government Building, hence the name). Centrally located, it was an easy walk to our first Bread and Circus show at Christ's College, a lovely stroll through the city, alive with street performers from all over the world.
Bread and Circus is the reinvented World Buskers Festival; Australian company Strut n Fret has taken over (having worked with the likes of Madonna, its people know a bit about how to have a good time) and elevated this already incredibly popular event into a performing arts extravaganza with top-rating shows in the Spiegeltent and other venues. The buzz from the acrobats, singers, contortionists, dancers and other acts performing all over the city — plus great street food — dominates the days and at night the big international shows take over, surrounded by pop-up bars and even more cool culinary offerings. It felt like one giant citywide party, in the best possible way. Broken city? Not any more.
But back to the show. Hot Brown Honey was everything it promised. Five outrageously talented ladies who are — in their own words — "packing a punch of hip-hop politics" in the most entertaining way. Full of sass, song, incredible dance, circus antics, fantastic costumes, the message was clear — #metoo was only the start, so much more needs to change — and pronto. It packed a political punch but also made you hold your breath, laugh hysterically, cry and clap more than you thought you could. If this revolution is going to be this much fun, sign me up! Our second show for the evening was Piff the Magic Dragon, a resident British magician in Las Vegas, who gained international fame on
America's Got Talent
. A grown man with a sharp wit dressed in a dragon onesie is definitely a special kind of magic and the audience lapped up his acerbic put-downs of those foolish souls who chose to buy front-row tickets.
The next day was all about wandering around the city and soaking up the vibe (okay, maybe there was a touch of shopping too — the sparkly new rebuild of Cashel St shopping precinct was too hard to resist, especially without kids in tow). Street performers were everywhere — I particularly enjoyed the mad antics of well-known performing couple Daredevil Chicken Club and the acrobatic prowess and cheeky humour of Pacho Libre — even if I did have to look away a couple of times when he did a handstand on a tiny wobbly platform several metres up. When he finished by putting his hat out for people's loose change donations, his comments on using the money to build a wall had the audience doubled over.
And as for Christchurch's culinary offerings — new eatery Earl, with its gorgeous decor, not only does first-rate modern food (those meatballs, salads and socca tacos) but fantastic gin goblets. I chose a mix 'n' match combo of Lighthouse Gin, Classic Tonic and Rosemary and Orange as a garnish and was delighted. Dinner was a five-course degustation at Gatherings, so deserving of all its awards, especially because of its focus on local ingredients and sustainability. The rebuild of the Terraces is also worth checking out — plenty of new bars with incredible furnishings and decor.
The grand finale was our Saturday night shows at the Spiegeltent. Le Gateau Chocolate challenged my whole perception of what sexy is — a large Nigerian man in a sequined leotard, spandex tights, full makeup and a beard would possibly not have been how I would have defined that word but his gentle English accent, honest personal stories and rich baritone singing had everyone mesmerised, and a little bit in love.
There was just eough time for a quick cocktail from the famous Pineapple Brothers pop-up bar, just before Limbo, the festival's biggest hitter. It's running till February 3 and is an absolute must-see. It's hard to describe it — we emerged utterly speechless, but it's essentially the best possible combination of live jazz, funk and electronic beats, dancing, contortion, stunts (think fire-breathing and swallowing, balancing on very small things, spinning acts that leave you almost unable to look). It was skillful, breathtaking, heart stopping and foot stomping, leaving you feeling far cooler than when you walked in, just by virtue of attending.
So do I think Christchurch is a conservative city? Not from what I saw. And has Bread and Circus made a huge splash in its first year? Hell, yeah. Between the festival and the rolling series of new openings and re-openings, Christchurch is no longer a destination to be visited out of pity on your way to Banks Peninsula or Hanmer Springs. It's a place to stop, stay and soak up the vibe of a city on the rise, in every sense.
Best places in the world to see buskers
French Quarter, New Orleans
New Orleans is known as the city that created jazz — a byproduct of its unique cultural mix of French and Spanish colonial roots and African influences. The home of musical greats such as Louis Armstrong, Fats Domino and Jellyroll Morton, it's no surprise that music continues to flow freely on its streets. The street performance scene is most highly concentrated at Jackson Square, a historic park that attracts artists of all mediums. Appropriately, you'll be drawn in by the sounds of traditional jazz — a "house band" known as the Jackson Square Band or the Jackson Square All-Stars play daily, with a line-up of nine to 14 musicians.
Djemaa el-Fna, Marrakesh, Morrocco
In this marketplace in Marrakesh's medina quarter, hoopla and halqa (street theatre) has taken place here since the square was used for public executions back in AD 1050 — hence the name, which translates to "assembly of the dead". Listen for the strains of snake-charmer flutes in the morning, but the show really starts in the evening when the restaurants open. While the area was once frequented mostly by storytellers, you'll now find acrobats, Berber musicians and slapstick comedy at this nightly carnival. Arrive early in the evening to get the best view, but be sure to keep an eye on your belongings, as pickpockets also frequent the area.
Mauerpark, on the old border of East and West Berlin, was once known as a "Death Strip", heavily monitered by East German guards. After the fall of the wall, it was designated as a green space and has since grown into a paradise for buskers, as the only place in the city where musicians can play amplified music without a permit. For the full experience, visit on a Sunday, when the park's sprawling flea market takes place. You'll find street performers and musicians but arrive early and grab a seat at the amphitheatre that hosts the famous Bearpit Karaoke. It's an epic public karaoke event, with locals and visitors alike volunteering to sing for an animated crowd — it's a truly unique experience.
Fly. Jetstar has several flights a day from Auckland to Christchurch
Stay. The Crowne Plaza has been open less than two years. Centrally located, it has a great modern interior and well appointed, very comfortable rooms.