22 May 2013
One of the best things about working at Creative New Zealand is the opportunity to see Kiwi artists at work – and a quick weekend trip to Invercargill to check out the Southland Festival 2013 was one of those occasions. The small coastal settlement of Bluff is only a 20-minute drive from the city with delicious oysters and a view of Stewart Island across the strait. The kai moana and ocean was a nice way to take a break from the art feast.
In town for the festival was choreographer Neil Ieremia and his company Black Grace, recently back from a successful US tour. Neil and company ran a four-day workshop with around 30 local teenagers brought together by the Maori & Pacific Murihiku Trust, who run the annual secondary schools’ Murihiku Polyfest.
The youth showcased a fabulous and complex 20-minute dance piece to a packed Civic Theatre before Black Grace’s Vaka. The theatre erupted in hoots, whistles and long applause after their performance. Watching the teens performing with all the lighting, costumes and choreography of a professional dance company to an audience of Invercargill’s festival-goers, local community, parents and families gave me a deep sense of the impact of Creative New Zealand’s work in reaching out to some of our more isolated South Island communities. The Southland Times described Vaka as ‘dramatic and strangely wonderful’. Maybe one of these young people will be a future NZ choreographer taking the best of NZ art, like Black Grace, to our local communities and international stages.
The programme by festival director Angela Newell included the popular Laughing Samoans and a group exhibition at the Southland Museum and Gallery. Intricate stone carvings and sculptures by Pacific senior artist Johnny Penisula stood out here. Penisula is a Samoan immigrant who travelled to Invercargill in the 1960s to deliver a letter from his mother to his aunty and then settled in Southland, working at the local freezing works. Creative New Zealand also funds Auckland-based Tautai Contemporary Arts Trust, who run Fresh Horizons arts workshops by Pacific artists for regional communities around the country. Manager Christina Jeffery was in town with visiting artists including Chris Charteris, Siliga Setoga and Lindah Lepou.
As I left the festival, with its beautiful landscape and strong sense of community, the last sign out of the city was ‘Invercargill - People come first’ an apt reminder that Creative New Zealand exists to benefit kiwis through our artists’ wonderful creativity.