- Mike Mather, Waikato Times
Covid-19 put a stop to overseas acts performing at the 2021 Hamilton Gardens Arts Festival but the all-Kiwi lineup has retained a distinctly international flavour.
Thanks to the ravages of the pandemic, next year's festival will be a slightly slimmed-down version of the annual celebration of music, theatre, comedy and dance, which will run from Saturday, February 20, to Sunday, February 28.
The festival acts were revealed in full at a special launch event at the gardens on Wednesday night, where those attending were treated to performances from the Cumbe Latin American dance group and Hamilton singer-songwriter Coral.
Most – but not all – of the performances can be seen at Hamilton Gardens, including the return of the massively popular Sunset Symphony concert and other festival staples like Grooves in the Gardens and Opera Botanica.
Three of New Zealand’s top singer-songwriters – Tami Neilson, Julia Deans and Ria Hall – are spearheading the lineup.
Neilson, announced as the festival’s headline act earlier this month, will get proceedings under way in style on the opening night with an evening of rock n’ roll and vintage Americana vibes.
Deans, the former frontwoman of Fur Patrol, will perform the music of Canadian songwriter Joni Mitchell in a show titled Both Sides, Now, on Wednesday, February 24.
Hall’s show, on Friday, February 26, is an all-Aotearoa affair that will include performances from her new album, accompanied by “an intimate korero about the unique times we live in”.
And she won’t be the only one providing some pandemic-era perspective.
“Every one of the shows ... has something to say about where we are in the world at the moment, whether it is a family-friendly picnic, unlikely collaborations between classical and jazz musicians, theatrical reflections on the nature of society, or a big joyous celebration of local community talent,” artistic director Bronwyn Bent said.
Other musical experiences on offer include the captivating dream pop of Chelsea Jade, with the Los Angeles-based pop star making a special summer journey back to New Zealand.
Auckland based saxophonist Thabani Gapara has graced stages around the world. His afro-funk and jazz group, the Thabani Gapara Project, will play original music that paints an image of Gapara’s Southern African musical heritage.
AWE is a new musical project from long-standing collaborators and sonic explorers Horomona Horo and Jeremy Mayall that combines electronic sounds with taonga puoro (traditional Maori instruments).
And in the possibly-not-quite-completely-serious category is a concert titled Music & Dance of Ukestan, which will take place in the Surrealist Garden and is touted as a collaboration between local Eastern European band Goulash Archipelago and Waikato-based international dance group Dance Folkus. There will be music, ancient and modern anecdotes, and dancing demonstrations. And for anyone wishing to join in, there will be the chance to learn one of the simpler folk dances from the tiny independent Balkan state of Ukestan.
There are numerous other shows on offer, including New Zealand’s foremost classical pianist Michael Houstoun performing with the Rodger Fox Big Band; Hamilton folk-pop band Looking For Alaska; country/waiata band The Harmonic Resonators; country singer Jackie Bristow and Hamilton storytelling rockers Tower of Song.
Elsewhere, comedienne Penny Ashton presents a cabaret show titled Hot Sauce; Slip of the Tongue Summer Shakespeare are staging The Two Gentlemen of Verona; and The Carving in Ice Theatre company present a production called Escaped Alone that takes the form of an increasingly bizarre afternoon gossip session.
Punters can also enjoy a theatre show celebrating the legacy of Kiwi comedy icon Billy T James; and a musical that tells the story of exotic dancer Freda Stark, who became a favourite of American GIs during World War II where she performed nightly at Auckland’s Civic Theatre, clad only in a G-string and gold paint.
For the second year running, there will also be free live entertainment from 5pm every night at the festival hub.
The Hamilton Gardens Arts Festival has been the Waikato’s premier arts event for well over 20 years. Other venues hosting events in the 2021 programme include Gallagher Academy of Performing Arts, Meteor Theatre, Waikato Museum, Never Project Space and Victoria on the River.