Wānaka Festival of Colour announces top acts coming to town

Jan 30, 2023

It's been a "fractured few years" but Wānaka's homegrown Festival of Colour is back this year and it will be all about reconnecting communities.

The full programme, set to kick off at the end of March, was unveiled at an event in the town tonight (Monday).

Wānaka and surrounds will play host to performers and art lovers from around the country and, for the first time since 2019, the world.

“Our focus for this year’s festival,” says artistic director Sophie Kelly “is on reconnecting communities. After a very fractured few years, now is the time to celebrate. To celebrate being able to welcome back international artists after a long absence; to celebrate the ever evolving and constantly exciting New Zealand arts scene and, above all, to celebrate and showcase Wānaka and the wider Upper Clutha region and all that it has to offer.”

Returning to the festival is The Royal New Zealand Ballet, who will be performing the world premiere of a piece that was co-commissioned by the festival to mark the centenary of Katherine Mansfield’s death. Through a series of epistolary moments, gathered from letters to her friends and family, the Woman of Words will celebrate the life of one of Aotearoa’s most extraordinary women.  

Internationally renowned New Zealand heldentenor Simon O’Neill will be performing on home turf when he joins forces with long-time friends of the festival NZTrio - Amalia Hall, Ashley Brown and Somi Kim - for an evening featuring Mahler’s Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen and a selection of Strauss Lieder. A Grammy award winner, a Fulbright scholar and a frequent performer at the world’s leading opera houses, this will be a rare opportunity to hear Simon in a more intimate venue.

Off the back of the Adelaide Arts Festival and into the Lake Wānaka Centre is Maureen: Harbinger of Death, an extraordinary one-man show, making its New Zealand debut at the festival. 

The Pacific Crystal Palace will rise again and be the hub for the festival but venues across the region will play host to artists including the newly opened Luggate Memorial Hall, the Hāwea Flat Hall, the Bannockburn Hall and The Camp at Lake Hāwea, which is playing host to a very special performance.

Closing the festival on Sunday night in the Pacific Crystal Palace are Wellington legends, The Phoenix Foundation, blending pop, rock and psychedelic with top-notch lyrics and infectious melodies. 

This year’s festival comes with a fresh look and, indeed, a rename as the Festival of Colour officially becomes The Wānaka Festival of Colour.

The name change may be slight, but it is significant says the festival's executive director Charlie Unwin, rooting the festival firmly in the Upper Clutha region.

“The festival and the Wānaka community are inextricably linked, from the volunteers to the schools programmes to, of course, the attendees.

"The festival simply could not happen without the locals’ support and, in turn, the festival brings visitors to the town during a traditionally quieter time of the year. 

"Community connections are something we are constantly working to strengthen and cement; adding Wānaka to the official festival identity felt more like correcting an omission than anything else, while highlighting the region as an important arts hub”

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