once in a lifetime

tonight we went to an amazing david byrne concert. the show was fantastic – the music and the visuals were stunning, david’s voice was even better then his early days with the talking heads, the venue was great and our seats were dead centre less than 10 metres from the stage.

the show was at the michael fowler centre – the small venue next to town hall and the home of the nz symphony. a great space for a concert.


as we were waiting for the show to start we noticed this was not your typical concert crowd. almost no one between the ages of 20 and 30. mostly folks who were in uni during the 80s. and some of them brought along their kids. but there was one real standout. mid show much of the crowd left their seats to go right up to the edge of the stage. these seats were quickly filled as folks from the back moved up into the now empty seats. all of the audience is now up on their feet really enjoying the show and i notice the guy now in front of me. he is standing motionless, with homeless guy hair and a baseball cap with an image of the madonna draped in the us and italian flags. i kept waiting for him to ask “hey man…when does the zz top show start?”


we almost didn’t go to the show – and a techno-house band would have been to blame. way back in the early 90’s my friend heavy d (aka david) bought tickets to see “the klf” perform. “the klf” is actually two pale british lads who create the music on computers in their basement. so how were they going to do a live performance of music that was made without any musicians? the answer was bringing out a boom box on the stage and hitting the play button. no live musicians. no actual members of “the klf”. as you might expect the crowd was more than a bit peeved. with that in mind the jboss dismissed the posters all around town that pitched “songs of david byrne and brian eno”. the night before the show i was able to convince her that the actual live breathing david byrne was coming and we started looking for tickets. nothing but impaired view seats available from the theatre, but at the last minute we were able to grab our most fantastic seats from a seller on trademe (the nz copy of ebay).


the band were all in white and many of the songs featured 3 dancers in workout clothes & ipods. it sounds hokey, but having seen it i now couldn’t imaging the show without them.

as we were leaving the show we both commented on how much it seemed like david and the rest of the band & dancers were having a blast. when my work colleagues and i gather round the water cooler each night before heading home our smiles are not quite as wide…

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yo romeo, where you hangin?

tonight we went to romeo & juliet at the royal nz ballet. second time to the rnz ballet for me, first for the jboss. it was going to be hard to top the performance of cinderella i saw a year ago, but it quickly became apparent that this was not going to be a competition.

whilst all of the advertisements and the catalogue had images of a classic production when the curtain rises we see a modern italian street scene and performers in modern attire.

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doh. just like the performance of la boheme we attended recently this is a modern interpretation of a classic.

This Romeo and Juliet, minted in 2003 by Christopher Hampson for the Royal New Zealand Ballet in its 50th jubilee year, was a triumph here and in England, where it received a Laurence Olivier nomination for Best New Dance Production

we’ve learned to ask more questions before we buy tickets next time.

all through the first act i’m fighting sleep and am afraid that it will be obvious if i do big head bob. i make it to the first interval and i’m trying to choose my words carefully so not rain on the parade – but then the jboss fesses up that she is also struggling to make it through. there is serious discussion of bagging, but we decide we’ll dash out to get some cold caffeine and give the second act a chance. whilst we’re now both wide awake, the performance has not magically morphed back to its classic form, so i’m still enduring rather than enjoying.

at the beginning of the second interval the gent in the seat next to me turns and says
“isn’t this wonderful?”
“uh – yes, it certainly is”
“my son is one of the performers and i’ve traveled here from australia to see him. i’m very proud”

okay… that certainly seals our fate for the night. no leaving early now.

we spent the rest of the interval talking with dad. it helped to make the show more interesting – but in going-to-see-your-niece-in-a-preschool-ballet-recital kind of way.

start the projector, dim the lights, cue the orchestra

going to the cinema here in wellington is quite a different experience than we’re used to at the boston megaplex.

firstly there are several great old classic theatres to choose from – the penthouse in brooklyn, the embassy in the cbd and the empire just 3 blocks from our house here in island bay.

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the embassy has changed little expect it’s name (originally deluxe) since it first opened in 1924. unfortunately i don’t have the best photos but after entering a great italian tiled lobby you head up one of the sweeping marble staircases to the main lounge. on the right you have the jazz lounge with the overstuffed leather chairs and live music. to the left the cafe where you can get a coffee, slice of cake or a nice glass of wine. in the middle the ticket counter where you can also get a beer, juice or ice cream.

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not your typical movie theatre restrooms.


your seat (assigned – early ticket buyers get the primo spots) is a large overstuffed leather chair or half of a 2 seater couch. there is a small built in table between seats for your wine glass (or whatever else you choose).

for the last 2 weeks the new zealand international film festival has been here in wellington. it travels around the country stopping in all the large and medium sized cities. it is a bit overwhelming with 200+ films to choose from – many that we wanted to see. we settled on just 3 with the highlight tonight – a screening of the 1925 harold lloyd silent classic “the freshman” with live accompaniment by the vector wellington orchestra.

the head of the film festival was on hand to introduce the film and give a bit of background. he noted his pleasure that the oldest movie in the festival by far was the fastest to sell out.

great movie, music and surroundings.


i ordered fettucini, not puccini

tonight we went to see puccini’s la boheme at the majestic saint james theater.

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on the plus side we it continues to be great to live in such a compact city where it’s a breeze to get around (sans car). after putting on our best opera outfits we took the bus into town for a pre-show dinner. walking along cuba street we pick scoopa – a small modern italian cafe that had been on our list for quite a while. the food was ok – but given other place that have been great i don’t expect we’ll be back soon.


also a plus i’ll always enjoying going to the saint james theater – it really is fantastic.

on the down side i wasn’t impressed with la boheme – “Arguably the most popular of all operas”. i just found the story line boring – a group of bohemian in post-wwii paris including one who abandons his new girlfriend who has tb, only to confess his love on her deathbed – yawn. puccini ain’t got nothing on aaron spelling.

since we went i’ve found out that most current productions (including the one we saw) are based on a 1993 australian modernization moving the setting from 1830 to 1957. so i guess it’s easy to just blame this one on the aussies.

perhaps i should remember that cats is one of the most popular of musicals…


artsy fartsy

for the last 3 weeks the new zealand international arts festival has been in full swing here in wellington. held every 2 years it features a wide range of theater, music, dance and visual arts. i think most every local theater, stage and auditorium is booked up for the festival.


so far we have made it to 2 events – black watch and glow. the ukulele orchestra of great britain was also on our short list but sold out too quick for us. some of my work colleagues who went said it was great.

black watch was a play about the a scottish regiment – the black watch – and their experiences serving in and returning from iraq. very well done, although i think they could have trimmed it by 30 minutes and nothing would have been lost. i’m starting to pick up a trend – but it doesn’t seem that the scots are real happy about getting pulled in to the iraq war. as they described it 250+ years of proud service and tradition was trashed in a few short years in iraq.

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glow is definitely a love it or hate it kinda thing. when i read the teaser i thought i might try and schedule a trip to visit to dentist to conflict with the show. “glow is a fluid and perfectly synchronized relationship between organic being and video world, an intense and concise experience.” oh boy.

turns out i really enjoyed it. reminded me a bit of “tron” for you 80’s geeks.


the show is a 30 minute performance with a single dancer on a small stage that is illuminated from above. the audience looks down onto the stage from seating above. so far nothing special. the magic is that the illumination is generated in real time based on the position and movement of the dancer. an infrared camera mounted about detects that dancers position and feeds it into a specially designed computer that controls the lighting.


still sounds wacky. easier to see for yourself.

one of the smallest and lowest tech items that both me and the jboss enjoyed was the placement of speakers at a few major crosswalks with short stories being read aloud. seldom else do you bummed when the light turns and you can cross.

an afternoon in saint petersburg

this afternoon we went to a concert – an afternoon in saint petersburg – hosted by his excellency the governor-general, the honorable anand satyanand.

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the governor-general is the queen’s personal representative with in the realm of new zealand (new zealand, the cook islands, tokelau and niue) and has all the powers of the head of state (quite limited) during the queen’s (Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God, Queen of New Zealand and Her Other Realms and Territories, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith) absence.

the concert by the wellington orchestra was held on the grounds of government house, the official residence of the governor-general. quite an impressive place. built in the early 1900s the main house is 4,200 sq m (over 45,000 sq ft) on 12 hectares (30 acres) of prime wellington land. the concert was held on what was originally the vegetable garden.


we knew the end was sold out (the governor-general used ticketek to process the responses to his very exclusive invitations) and with the concert scheduled to start at 2 and the gates opening at 1200 we thought we were plenty early when we arrived at ten of twelve. guess not. the lines already stretched more than a block in each direction. at noon the lines started moving and we were soon through the gates and making the long walk through the property. the place oozed old colonial charm. local actors in 19th century russian outfits greeted the guests along the path. after picking up our hamper of food and drink we were soon on our piece of lawn. not the best spot but we’ll know to arrive sooner next year.


(note how many folks are wearing big floppy hats. you have to get over looking like a dork or you will fry)

the opening performance was troika – a new zealand based russian folk music group (who woulda thunk!)

before the orchestra took the stage they asked for volunteers to join a local dance troupe in a demonstration of russian dancing. the russian ambassador who was in attendance joined in and no surprise was quite good. the ambassador seemed very nice, but in keeping with the everything-here-is-like-the-50s-timecapsule he seemed like someone you would see greeting kruschev as he toured a soviet tractor factory.

the main performance was some of st petersburg’s finest including tchaikovsky, prokofiev, stravinsky and rachmaninov. the acoustics were ok (tchaikovsky likely did not expect his works to be blasted out of concert speakers that were probably last used at ozziefest) but the day was great. the mc was kate mead of new zealand public radio. she did a great job providing background on the music in a very witty way. impossible to describe her personality but if i were hosting an event she would be someone i would want to be there.

the members of orchestra were dressed practically given the heat and sun – in simple black and most wearing sun glasses. both the jboss and me noticed one seemed a bit different that the rest. “xylophone girl” is in her 20s, hip sunglasses and she’s bopping her head to the music. we’re guessing that she went straight from the concert to her job as a barista at one of cuba street’s funkier cafes. “like my new tat?”

the day ended with tchaikovsky’s 1812 overture featuring real canon fire. the canons provided by a local canon enthusiasts club. i guess there is a club for everything almost everywhere.


3 things i like about this photo.

– the red cross using the great old land rover complete with extension ladder. a small nod to the old colonial days but with the nz terrain you need something that can get you anywhere.

– the land rover pulling the camper. this is a classical british moment. they have just traveled over mountains, through forests, forded rivers to rescue a family in need. pitch black out with pouring rain and gale force winds. everyone is now huddled under wool blankets. “right then. time for a spot of tea don’t you think. biscuit?”

the soprano who has just performed sitting in the lawn chair enjoying the rest of the performance. no dressing room. no attitude.


tonight i went to annual wow – world of wearable art – awards show

[update – currently a 45 minute video of the highlights of this years show are available on-line]

the show was started by sculptor suzie moncrieff in 1987 to showcase the work of local nelson new zealand artisans. it has grown beyond what nelson can host and how sells out 2 weeks in wellington. it started with a vision of models wearing the art and has evolved into what they wear *is* the art.

no way i can give it justice but mentally combine a nyc fashion show, cirque du soleii, a moby concert & the ballet and you’re close. the show programme describes it as mardi gras meets haute coulture at a peter gabriel concert directed by salvador dali.

a year in advance the sections (categories) for the next year are announced. this year they were dreams (children’s section), south pacific, shades of white, man unleashed, illumination illusion, avant garde and open.

the show cast kicks off each section with a 5 to 10 minute performance by the show cast tied the section’s theme. these performance were worth the ticket but were just creating the mood for the main attractions. this would segue to the appearance best entries for that section. sort of like a fashion show in that they would come out one after another but they well integrated into the performance by cast. each section had the 20 best and some were amazing and some seemed to me to be trying to hard – but that’s art, right?

a bit more on the cast performances. they were all great but the one for the south pacific section was visually stunning and i admit a bit thought provoking. the lights come up a bit on the dark stage to see 10 maori men and women from the 1800s. in from the side slowly comes 10 settlers in the full victorian garb. you can immediately see the stark extremes of their worlds. the maori clearly frightened but being proud and brave. the settlers hesitantly entering a very foreign world, particularly in contrast to their ultra refined victorian manners and dress. it made me appreciate how extreme that was vs. what we’re doing. a much greater journey (3 months in a ship at sea – no in seat meal service), arriving in a strange work (they did not arrive on NZ1 at auckland international) without a sense of where their next meal would come from (no turkish takeways yet although probably a kfc…) and a unknown indigenous population. the scene had the settlers presenting the maori with gifts including a dress for the queen and suit for the king. one of the settlers then takes a photo of the maori king and queen using a camera and flash pan. the fantastic visual here was as the flash went off the stage went dark and the backdrop was replaced with the expected photographic image – but the image was of the real maori king and queen from the original settlement. during the rest of the south pacific section they displayed stunning images of maori from the early settlement days.

now on to the some of the entries.

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“rattle you dags” (left) from auckland won best in show, best new contributor and the south pacific section.
“prehistoric princess” from alaska won the weta (peter jackson’s creative studio is located here in wellington) award the avant garde section.

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“flowers of the sea” from australia won the illumination award

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“shop til you drop” from nelson, was my choice for the shades of white section. made entirely from used plastic shopping bags
“grim furry tales” from auckland won the children’s section

i know you are but what am i

just a preemptive strike in case anyone wants to give me any grief.

last saturday night i put on my suit, squeezed by bad foot into my dress shoes and went to the ballet – the royal new zealand ballet at the st james theater – and it was great.

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i’ve never been to the ballet before so i have nothing to compare it to, but everything about it was fabulous. the dancing and choreography were impressive and the story was told very well. by far the standout was the set and costume design by tracy grant lord.

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it really is too bad that no one else will get to see this – it was stunning.

yet another benefit of living in the city and having it so easy to get out to events like this.


the only issue was that there seemed to be a problem with the audio – i couldn’t hear a word of the dialog…