Monday, March 21, 2011

Dunedin Fringe Fest

Took a long weekend trip to Dunedin in the NZ South Island, March 18th-20th. Mainly wanted an excuse to go to Dunedin because I've never been, and wanted to explore the Scottish heritage scene ('Dunedin' is the Gaelic name for 'Edinburgh'). The timing converged to go check out their Fringe Festival, so I planned my trip around that! Well, that would be the cornerstone of my weekend, but I wanted to check out as much as possible in the city & the Otago area, too. (I realize my previous post here was for my last weekend travel, to Auckland in January. Not too much to shout about around Wellington in the meantime, I suppose. Though Wellington had their own Fringe Fest a few weeks ago, which I enjoyed quite a lot!). Also, I thought this would be a last-gasp break before the crunchtime hit at work, which is not the case so much (but more on that some other time).

Friday. So, flew out of WLG airport Friday morning (low-tech : wasn't even a security check, just walked out across the tarmac to a twin-propeller plane); about a 90 minute flight south; booked a shuttle from the airport to Dunedin City Centre (25km away); couldn't checkin at the Law Courts Hotel. But I dropped off my stuff off, then strolled into the city to get oriented. I had outlined my schedule each day to hit some of local sites, museums, and art installations during the day, try a new restaurant, then fill my evening with performances. Started my Friday by heading a few blocks to the Octagon (the heart of downtown), and enjoy all the gothic type cathedral buildings around town). Then to the Fringe Kiosk (their roving info booth), where every day at noon, they held 'Pick of the Fringe', a sampling of some of the fest's featured performers. This day, the Kiosk was at Otago University, and the Pick was Barons of Tang, a 'heavy metal cabaret' from Australia, which had done a sold-out show the night before - very fun & Bunglesque. Then hit the fine Otago Museum right across the street, and headed back to checkin and set up in the room. Law Courts was pretty low-key and antique style, room was expectedly modest, but clean & excellent price ($65NZD). After that, had a tour booked at Cadbury World - no Willy Wonka, for sure; didn't offer much look into the actual factory workings (it's their offseason, having already shipped out all the Easter candy), but had its fun moments. Strolled around more - Scottish Shop, Black Star anarchist bookstore. Then dinner at Scotia, billed as a Scottish restaurant (had vegetarian rarebit), and onto the evening's shows.
'Half' - a collaborative art show; Master's Curious Delirium - another dark cabaret which was presented as a theatrical show, not just the band Bird Wizdom playing; Festival Club (another sampler of features, as a nightcap each day) - shoegazer AJ Sharma (Low meets Jeff Buckley meets Crispin Glover) & Delaney Davison (not so impressive, but seemed a crowd pleaser).

Saturday - thought I could Skype with Bonnie, but the internet connection was horrible, so we chatted on the phone. Got the day started with the Still Life - living statues at the Otago Farmers Market. The Pick was 'Chocolate Zuchinni Cookies', a physical dance troupe. The weekend also happened to be the Otago Heritage Festival/sesquicentennial of the Dunedin Gold Rush, so there was an old-timey fest going on in the Octagon. Checked out the Dunedin Public Art Gallery, which was astoundingly impressive, and was also hosting an interpretive dance show by Footnote. I had seen Footnote's show at the Wellington Fringe Fest (where they ran around in full lyrca body suits), but it was quite different to see them in the open like this. A dramatic moment when one of the dancers fell, and hit his head on a ceiling post. He was helped into the back room, bleeding profusely, and eventually left in an ambulance.
After that - off to check the Fringe Inventions at the Otago Settlers Museum. The Museum was mostly closed for renovations, so I slipped next door to the Chinese Garden. A bit of drinking before dinner - Scotch tasting flight, then beer tray at the Speight's Brewery. On a whim, stopped to watch the Dunedin-v-Christchurch Super Rugby match while I had soup & salad & chips. Then the evening's fare : highly-regarded folk band The Eastern did a fundraiser for ChCh. It started late, so I caught part of the opening act - Delaney Davison (repeating himself from the last night); then hightailed it to the comedy club for 'Immortal Combat' (which was mostly funny, but highly scattered and self-deprecating). There was time leftover from the original show, so I went back and caught a few songs from headliner The Eastern. Then on to Festival Club : Raybon Kan stand-up, and Nick Knox improv piano waltz.

Sunday - Well, I had done almost all the things on my agenda in Dunedin city & in the Fringe, so I went for a different tack. Rented a car & drove over to the Otago Peninsula, home of Larnach Castle and several wildlife preserves (Albatross, penguins). Castle was very neat, and had a great view from the top of the tower. When I got to the Royal Albatross , I was more interested in the penguin colony, but the timing didn't fit to take the tour, so I drove back into town. Stopped in South Dunedin neighborhood for some shopping, and visited Northern Cemetery, which was outstanding (considering the amount of decay & scope), one of my favorite cemeteries I've ever seen. Tried Rainforest Malaysian for dinner then onto the final night of shows. "The Secret of Capping Show's Success", explored some of the history of Otago University's student year-end show, which has been going on since 1894. Then went to "Pecha Kucha", which was probably my most anticipated event, where a variety of speakers, artist, scholars, discussed a slideshow of their own making (20 slides @ 20 seconds each) - very funny, poignant and thoughtful. I left after the first half, a bit reluctantly, but the show I went to was also well-regarded : "Punch Lines Not Included", where a guy wrapped his exploration of bad standup in a show about a bad standup comedian trying out different styles to raise his game, in an hilariously inappropriate fashion.

Well, that was my weekend in Dunedin/Otago. As usual, I pack a lot in and keep moving (I rarely go on vacations to relax, and I feel blessed that my partner Bonnie can take the same approach on vacations, makes travel very satisfying). A bit of surreal 'otherworldliness' struck me - being on vacation is like being in another world, but I was returning to my reality of work & life, which is another layer deeper than my regular life in Cali. Also, on returning, I came to some realizations that this was likely the last time I would be 'vacationing' in New Zealand, as my original plan was that about now I would be hitting the crunchtime for 'Apes', have about 2 months to go, afterwards take a trip in Australasia with Bonnie, then return home to Cali. Well, the schedule's not quite shaping up that way... Can't say much, other than - kinda tumultuous ahead. Was nice to have this little respite, though.