HBAF Programme Launch

31 July, 2018
by Jess Soutar Barron

The Arts Festival programme was launched tonight in a concentrated version of the real thing, like an OXO cube of goodness. When October comes we’ll add a cup of water and the actual Arts Festival will develop before our eyes. Tonight, we have the people – performers, patrons, punters, Pitsch – packed together pressing flesh and kissing cheeks, the odd grin-and-grip for the press photographer. We have acts and ambassadors. We have speeches and music. We have booze and tres chic hipster sliders.

The divine Champa Maciel, with bright young dancer Sophie Follett, reimagines the polished floor of the Arts Inc building as a pavement to tease her show Meta. This itself is a wonderful example of how the Arts Festival brings together talent from across disciplines to extricate core samples from the strata of our collective culture. When it arrives in its more complete form Meta promises to illustrate so much of what makes Hawke’s Bay arts and culture buzz.  It is a coming together of words by performance poet, Bay newbie and recent Brexit escapee Sara Hirsch, Hawke’s Bay stalwart Rosie Langabeer who splits her time between here and exotic urbane places elsewhere, and Champa herself, mysterious, ridiculously talented and proudly based in Hastings. The other key performer will be our own streetscapes as Meta is one of a collection of street performances moving around the place.

I take mental snap shots from the balcony. Puti Lancaster, whose commissioned work Freedom is Behind My Breath is hotly anticipated following jaw-dropping shows at past Arts Festivals. Ben Fagan, who is bringing Hastings its first Slam Poetry Battle. An army of young performers, who with Daniel Beatty are collaborating on a collective work for the Festival: Manawa Whenua. The Arts Festival crew, all in top hats and black with splashes of theatre-red. Ali Beal and Jamie McPhail, a stunning double act, even when they’re just ushering us up the scarlet carpet and handing us bubbles. Festival chair Andy Heast, heroically proportioned , a Barnum-esque silhouette on the stairs above. Pitsch Leiser, festival director, mad hair and tails. Even our Mayor is made for the stage!

The programme is delivered to us. I’ve only just mastered clapping and cradling a G&T and now I have a booklet to thumb through. At a glance my mouth waters at Valerie, Wild Dogs and Ann-Droid, I swoon over Louis Baker, Still Life with Chicken looks hilarious, I’m intrigued by Margot Wuts’ new personal project, surprised to see MAMIL re-erected, excited by The CAN’s White Out show. I can’t wait to see Songs of Ivor Cutler. I hope people don’t shy away from Jane Doe.

I am bracing myself for the explosion of flavour as this stock cube of intensity hits our cultural palates. Here in Hawke’s Bay we devour the creative arts. But we book late, turn up tardy, we’re a tough crowd and artists need to work hard to get us going. Tickets go on sale tomorrow, the first step to being the best audience you can be is to get the programme and book your shows soon.

The Hook will cover the lot: the surprising, the heartbreaking, the hilarious, the touching, the tragic; those in the Tent, in the big auditoriums, those on the streets. We have two months now to stew over who goes where, who gets which bit of the pie, but judging by tonight it’ll be an umami mouthful with lots to savour for each and every one of us.

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