2024 Auckland Arts Festival celebrates the arts with over 60 events

Stephanie Lake's 'Manifesto'.
Stephanie Lake's 'Manifesto'.

Auckland’s annual celebration of the arts returns to the heart of Tāmaki Makaurau this summer as Te Ahurei Toi o Tāmaki Auckland Arts Festival springs back to life from 7 to 24 March 2024. More than 60 events comprising over 200 individual, unforgettable experiences take place across the Auckland region.

The programme travels the world with works that represent Aotearoa New Zealand, ngā Toi Māori, Toi Pasifika, two major African headliners, the Festival’s first Inuit work, a trio of Irish works, Australian guests (including a leading Aboriginal didgeridoo player and Tim Minchin), and a stunning work of solidarity created in collaboration with the NZSO and the Aotearoa New Zealand’s Muslim Community. Interactive line dancing, a mass sing-along, and a free, all-welcome drumming event – BYO bucket! – round off the programme which offers something for everyone, no matter their age.

“Resonance is the theme which guides the 2024 Te Ahurei Toi o Tāmaki, my final festival,” says Shona McCullagh, artistic director. “We deliver this through many stunning performances and participatory experiences, exploring how sounds, words and movement create ripples and repercussions and connect with us socially, emotionally, intellectually, and culturally. Arts, culture and creativity benefit everybody and we guarantee that something in our programme will resonate with every single person in Tāmaki Makaurau.

“Some of our guests are artists with important messages – Free Ukraine, disability awareness, women’s rights, racial discrimination and children’s rights are among them. Having a platform to deliver such impactful statements through the most exquisite, compelling and uplifting performances is an opportunity we cherish. Alongside that, we also spread joy throughout the city with a huge number of free performances, and several opportunities to participate in some mass events to celebrate the rhythm of life at this Festival!” McCullagh says. 

It wouldn’t be Te Ahurei Toi o Tāmaki without a free, all-welcome, Festival-opening sing-along and the 2024 event, Waiata Mai, elevates this crowd favourite. Kiwi classics and waiata reo Māori come together in an event that will connect and transform those gathered in Aotea Square into a rousing choir. With karakia and mihi from Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei opening the festival, AAF in collaboration with Choirs Aotearoa New Zealand will have voices ringing out across the CBD. Nor would it be an Auckland Arts Festival without a spectacular cabaret performance in the stunning Spiegeltent. Bernie Dieter, this year’s resident performer, takes up her place in the spotlight from 7 March and doesn’t leave until the last day. Inspired by Germany’s Weimar Republic’s dens of iniquity, gender-bending sexual freedom, and celebration of difference, Dieter is a world-class example of a modern kabarett diva in her brilliantly satirical, gin-drinking, promiscuous glory. Dieter has delighted, stunned, aroused, and terrified audiences from Berlin to Hong Kong with her lascivious charm. Her show, Bernie Dieter’s Club Kabarett, runs for the duration of the Festival, every Wednesday to Sunday.

Globally regarded Australian choreographer, and recently announced choreographer-in-residence at The Australian Ballet, Stephanie Lake, is the creator of the revolutionary dance phenomenon Manifesto in which nine dancers and nine drummers unleash rebellion, radiate wonder and demonstrate true tenderness on the stage. Busby Berkeley opulence meets pounding percussion in this rallying cry for solidarity and bucket-list work for dance fans and drummers alike.

Afrique en Cirque, a breathtaking circus by Yamoussa Bangoura (Cirque Éloize), is inspired by daily life in Guinea. Its vibrant energy speaks to the beauty, youth, and artistry of African culture. The acrobats’ gravity-defying feats, astounding stunts, and knee-slapping comedy are accompanied by the contemporary sounds of Afro-Jazz and percussion, including the breath-taking African kora.

From Africa to Korea, Dragons celebrates the Year of the Dragon in a lavish reboot of traditional Korean dance combined with street dance, by pioneering choreographer and dance icon, Eun-Me Ahn. While dragons might be feared in the West, in Asia they represent lightness, joy, and optimism. Eun-Me Ahn’s latest production sees her extraordinary company of Korean dancers interacting with projections of five young performers from different Asian countries accompanied by a soundtrack that unites contemporary pop and electronica with a traditional score.

A component of the Festival’s Toitū Te Reo programme, another new work by a different kind of legend is Tainui Tukiwaho’s The Sun and the Wind, directed by Edward Peni, which turns a case of hopeful but mistaken identity into a beautiful, heartfelt ode to whānau and connection.

In the great Festival tradition of RESPECT, Love Me As I Am and Tōkū Reo Waiata, the Festival’s International Women’s Day ensemble concert, Hear Me Roar!, celebrates the songs, splendour, and stage presence of powerhouse wāhine vocalists and musicians whose works have impacted the careers of Aotearoa superstars Betty-Anne Monga, Annie Crummer, Julia Deans and Boh Runga.

Olivier Award-winning dance-theatre innovators Peeping Tom, from Belgium, are among the most visionary in international theatre today. Two seductive and suspenseful stories make up Diptych: The missing door & The lost room –with each delivered in their signature mind-blowing hybrid of theatre, dance, noir, horror and illusion.

Following an acclaimed off-Broadway run, a sold-out world tour, and a New York Times Critic’s Pick award, illusionist and performance artist Scott Silven will make his New Zealand debut at the Festival with Wonders, a journey through the magic, myths, and mystery of Silven’s Scottish home with breath-taking story-telling illusion.

Five-time Grammy Award winner Angélique Kidjo is one of the greatest artists in international music today, a creative force with sixteen albums to her name. Time Magazine named her one of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2021. The BBC included her in its list of Africa’s 50 most iconic figures, and in 2011 The Guardian listed her as one of their Top 100 Most Inspiring Women in the World. Forbes Magazine ranked Angelique as the first woman in their list of the Most Powerful Celebrities in Africa. She’s coming to Tāmaki Makaurau to perform one show only at the Festival with invited guests AngituKapa Haka, with its star performerPere Wihongi.

To mark the fifth anniversary of the Christchurch Mosque Attacks, the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra presents a unique collaboration, Beyond Words. Conducted by Fawzi Haimor and featuring powerful Moroccan vocalist Oum and Greek oud virtuoso Kyriakos Tapakis, John Pasthas’ Ahlan wa Sahlan, istitled with an Arabic greeting that lets people know they are in a place where they belong. Composed in collaboration with Oum, Tapiakis, and in consultation with members of Aotearoa New Zealand’s Muslim Community, Beyond Words is a profound vocal and symphonic expression of solidarity and peace.

Shakespeare’s classic tale of family strife devised and performed by members of the Hobson Street Theatre Company. Blending contemporary testimony with the original text, Not King Lear is the latest play in development from this award-winning arts project created in partnership with the Auckland City Mission. Told through the lived experience of those who know something about homelessness, Not King Lear is guest-directed by Adrian Jackson, renowned for his work with the Royal Shakespeare Company and Cardboard Citizens, the company of homeless and ex-homeless actors he founded in London in 1992.

In the Name of the Son – The Gerry Conlon Story is an extraordinary narrative of triumph against all odds. This gripping true story unravels the aftermath of Gerry Conlon’s liberation from a 14-year incarceration, an unjust verdict that imprisoned him as one of the Guildford Four. The backdrop: a turbulent period during the Irish Troubles marked by an IRA bombing. Enter Shaun Blaney, the masterful performer who embodies Conlon’s tale with unparalleled authenticity in a one-man show that moves audiences with its fight for justice.

Gracing Aotearoa shores for the first time, tribal funk group Pamyua (pronounced bum-yo-ah) brings the pride of the Arctic Circle to the Spiegeltent. Storytelling is at the heart of Pamyua’s music, which offers a glimpse into the indigenous rituals of Inuit culture and will have audiences on their feet begging for an encore.

Everyone can dance. Jang Huddle certainly believes so; they’re presenting a community-led contemporary dance show designed to empower one’s inner child and find joy in movement. I Don’t Wanna Dance Alone features an all-Asian cast of 12 dancers from different backgrounds. Audience participation is optional but encouraged!

Shaking things up in the Spiegeltent is everyone’s favourite dynamic duo, Lara Fischel-Chisholm and Tom Sainsbury, who will be donning their cowboy hats and fringed jackets for a good ol’ fashioned hoedown in Boot Scootin’ Boogie. Audiences are encouraged to leave their inhibitions at the barn door, and slap their chaps in a hilarious interactive show with stars of the square dance.

Set in Canada, in 1966, Boy unravels the heartbreaking true story of twin brothers, Bruce and Brian Reimer. A fateful circumcision procedure gone wrong leaves Bruce permanently scarred, leading their parents to accept New Zealander Dr. John Money’s recommendation for gender reassignment. The play, crafted by writer/director Carly Wijs (Us/Them), powerfully explores the topic of gender identity and the enduring nature vs. nurture debate. Boy is a delicately handled, emotionally engaging drama that offers a Socratic exploration of these themes.

Gravity & Grace is a brilliant new theatre work by the award-winning duo of Eleanor Bishop and Karin McCracken (Body Double; Yes, Yes, Yes; Jane Doe). Brimming with daring intellect, humour, and slick visual and sound design, Gravity & Grace is based on a work of autobiographical fiction by American writer Chris Kraus. Before penning the cult feminist classic I Love Dick, Kraus shot a film in Tāmaki Makaurau in the mid-90s. A critical and commercial failure Kraus detailed the experience in her book Aliens & AnorexiaGravity & Grace retells this same story, weaving the writings of French philosopher Simone Weil alongside a free-wheeling retrospective of other “failed” artists, as Kraus traverses Berlin, Andy Warhol’s New York, Marseilles, and New Zealand in a bid to understand what it means to not succeed.

Audiences will experience chamber music at its finest with Barton and Brodsky. Renowned and charismatic didgeridoo player William Barton joins forces with Britain’s Brodsky Quartet to deliver a stellar affair of musical excellence. The programme will feature music by Barton, the Aotearoa premiere of Andrew Ford’s String Quartet No 7: Eden Ablaze, works by Australian composer Peter Sculthorpe and Aotearoa composer Salina Fisher, and pieces by Janáček and Stravinsky.

A very special wānanga of First Nations instrumentalists, Kōtuitui, will feature some of our special guests, William Barton and Pamyua, creating magic with accomplished taonga puoro composer and performer Horomona Horo and members of Haumanu Collective.

Also on the music programme, the double Grammy-winning The King’s Singers are back. The masters of vocal harmony, who are beloved the world over, will return to Tāmaki Makaurau for a stunning evening of a cappella and inspiration at Parnell’s Holy Trinity Cathedral. From the Protestant Reformation in the 1500s to the US Civil Rights movement, there are countless moments in history when songs have united nations, cultures, and causes. This concert, on Thursday 14 March, uplifts some of these with a sound that only The King’s Singers can achieve.

Adelaide-based PatchTheatre’s delightful show for young people ZOOOM will finally make it to Aotearoa New Zealand after being COVID-cancelled in the 2022 festival. It will be worth the wait. Inspired by the classic illustrated book Harold and the Purple Crayon, audiences are transported to the illuminating, immersive and interactive world of a child who is unable to sleep yet curious to learn.

The Valentina is the story of eight-year-old Ellen, an aspiring astronaut who draws a spaceship on her bedroom ceiling which soon takes its maiden voyage. Playwright Anders Falstie-Jensen, winner of the 2022 Playmarket Plays for the Young competition (8–12-year-old category), wrote the play for his daughter, and dedicates it to all children with dreams of galactic exploration.

The tūī soaks up the world around it and responds in song. Te Tangi a te Tūī, which had its world premiere in Vancouver this October, is an enchanting new collaboration between Te Rēhia Theatre Company, Te Pou Theatre and The Dust Palace. It unites kaupapa Māori and cirque theatre to tell an evocative story of love and loss between Māori, Patupaiarehe, and the natural world in the face of colonial impact.

For lovers of beautifully crafted theatre comes a magical realist gem inspired by legendary novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ darkly comic fairy tale, A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings. Winner of Best Design at the Dublin Fringe, talented theatremaker Dan Colley has created a perfect show for young and old using music, puppetry, and live video.

Aiga (family), by Touch Compass and led by Lusi Faiva, is a powerful story that tells the real stories of four Pasifika/Māori women and non-binary identities. The quest to find belonging and family is explored in this honest and heartfelt work.

SPARK LIVE is a special and highly accessible work – especially for those with profound and multiple learning disabilities – programmed to celebrate World Down Syndrome Day. It combines film, original live music, and unique interactive staging, and features, among others, Kiwi legend Jackie Clarke and well-known Down Syndrome actor Lily-Mae Ivatt-Oakley.

Detroit is bringing its techno scene to Tamaki Makaurau. The Auckland Town Hall comes alive on 13 March for one visionary night of electronica in Jeff Mills’ show Tomorrow Comes The Harvest. A true legend of Afrofunk-electro-jazz, Mills and album collaborators veteran keyboardist Jean-Phi Dary and Tabla virtuoso Prabhu Edouard promise to transcend the realms of music and transport us to another dimension.

Alongside the sing-along, Waiata Mai, the festival is also hosting a free community drum-along. Following a mixed drum and percussion performance by locals and guests including Ju Percussion and Afrique en Cirque in the heart of Aotea Arts Precinct, Culture Beats, everyone is invited to bang on a can or clap their hands in a mass percussive event, City Beats, led by bucket drumming specialist Demetrius Savai’inaea.

Street Beats incorporatesa series of pop-up performances in the CBD and regions, including The Biggest Little Circus, musicians and DJs on street corners, and French acrobats on seven-metre poles, RoZéO.  The traveling baby grand piano, Undergrand, which will pop up in many unexpected places, adds to the free festival excitement.

To close off the huge number of Festival free events, global all-star break-dancers ILL-Abilities (Korea, Canada and USA) will wow the Aotea Square crowd with their inspirational stories, dancing and DJ beats of triumph over adversity, followed by AAF’s first international Street dance and DJ competition, Skillz Central.

Tickets for Te Ahurei Toi o Tāmaki Auckland Arts Festival 2024 are now on sale. Explore the full Festival programme at www.aklfest.co.nz.

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