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Te Whaea: the National Dance and Drama Centre

Issue date: 
Friday, 26 June 1998
The Rt Hon Sir Michael Hardie Boys, GNZM, GCMG, QSO

Ladies and gentlemen.

"I have had a most rare vision". Thus spake Bottom, in the Midsummer Night's Dream, waking from Puck's spell. But I suppose that to compare the old Winter Show Building with Titania is a bit far-fetched - even a bit asinine. But what the silly fellow said in the play, may very fairly and sensibly be attributed to some people here today. For they saw the old yellow monstrosity with the red noses, the building no-one wanted, and had a vision of what might become of it: a vision that, unlike Bottom's, has become reality, truly exciting reality.

It's exciting not just because of the transformation, which as we can all see is a considerable architectural and design achievement, but also because of the promise it holds for theatre and dance in this country. There is enormous talent in this New Zealand of ours, even though we have only the population of a single medium-sized English or American city. But talent, as the parable reminds us, withers and dies unless it is nurtured and exercised. Sporting talent has always had every encouragement here. Yet those talents expressive of mind and spirit have not been fostered so well. Now though, there is a growing awareness that this is not as it should or need be; a dawning realisation that we as a nation have a culture and a cultural identity that go well beyond the sports field, and of which all New Zealanders can be just as proud as we are of our sporting prowess.

In that great play "Taking Sides," there's a line that has stuck with me: "Only a tyrant understands the power of art." That's a profound statement. But on a different level, its also true that more and more New Zealanders are understanding and appreciating the power of art: its power to explore the human condition, to uplift our spirits, to enrich our lives.

This realisation finds expression in the strong community support being given to so many ventures all around the country. In this city alone, this year, we have not only had the opening of Te Papa, we've had the wondrously-restored St James; next, there's to be the Opera House; there's the work done on the City Gallery, which makes it, according to one expert, the best in Australasia, there's the planned art gallery at the University; and of course there's been once again the outstanding success of the Festival. And now there's Te Whaea.

We visited the new Globe Theatre in London last month, and learnt that it was some time before anyone realised that what the figure of Atlas is supporting on his shoulders, is a world which has New Zealand at the centre. That was a nice touch, Raymond Boyce's I suspect, and not entirely vainglorious. For we have long had among us artists in all media - performing, visual, tactile, musical - as fine as any. The Royal New Zealand Ballet is a splendid corps. The Douglas Wright Dance Company challenges us with quite brilliant new forms and ideas. Rowena Jackson and Jon Trimmer and Philip Chatfield thrilled my generation. Tairoa Royal and Michael Parmenter are doing exciting things today. We could all name many others, from the past and the present, who have wooed us and dazzled us and transported us.

The same applies to our theatre artists; the companies large and small throughout the land, the great names like (and here one of you is going to say Oh Michael, because the first name that comes to mind is Harcourt) and Evison, and Campion and Henwood and Mason and Mune; and many, many more. It's invidious, I know, to pick out a few, but my mentioning some will, I am sure, bring back to your minds those many others who have made a particular mark on your memory; who have made you laugh or cry; or whom you loved or loathed in a particular role; who for you have held a mirror up to nature, your nature.

To maintain and to build upon this history of excellence, the need for sound tuition and training, the need for talent to be stretched and fully realised, should be obvious. I suppose that a good teacher can teach well anywhere. I certainly learnt my school lessons from some fine teachers in what today would be thought pretty marginal conditions. But theatre and dance are not learnt from desks and blackboards. They need space and light and air, floors and stages, studios, workshops, room to leap and to shout, to draw and to film and to construct.

For years, the New Zealand School of Dance and the New Zealand Drama School have made do - made do admirably, mind you - but now in this magnificent new complex they can have all the space and all the facilities they need; they can work together, sharing resources and ideas, and they can do it in premises that many other community groups can use too. Te Whaea is as much a community as a national asset.

This place harbours many memories. Many of us will have brought 'the kids' here to the Winter Show, or come here as children ourselves. Of course the adults wanted to look at the exhibits, but not the youngsters - and so my strongest memories are of trying to keep some control:

- you're too small for the Octopus, you'll be sick;
- here's a dollar for the dodgems, meet me at the milking machine stand;
- no, you can't have candyfloss;
- if you want to waste 20 cents trying to pick up that kewpie doll with
that crane, here it is, but it's not designed to let you;
- yes, it would be lovely to have a new Daimler, but what about this
patent potato peeler?

In a way, it's sad to think that that world has gone. But who could not instantly be happy again on seeing the new world that has taken its place?

All those who saw the vision and who helped bring it to reality deserve the nation's thanks and congratulations: the City Council, once again taking an outstanding cultural lead; the Lottery Grants Board.

Incidentally did you know that even in Shakespeare's time, the Board's equivalent was a force in the land? I was intrigued to find in Troilus & Cressida, this exchange, someone obviously wanting to know how the fundraising was going: "Ajax: Who shall answer him? Achilles: I know not, it is put to lottery." I can't recall how they got on, but I do know that when this National Dance and Drama Centre was put to lottery, the result was $1.6 million.

And then there's the fundraising team, really hard workers, and their victims, who between them really delivered the goods.

The goods will mean that, more than ever, our young talents will be fostered; more than ever will the community be able to participate in these two most ancient and vital arts, theatre and dance. What has been and will be achieved here, will give life to some words of an American playwright and critic, that the primary function of the theatre is not to please itself, or even to please its audience. It is to serve talent. This place, Te Whaea, the National Dance and Drama Centre, will surely do that.

Shakespeare has another line that's apt for the opening of a building such as this, upon which such high hopes are founded. It's from the chorus in Henry V: "And now sits expectation in the air." But that was just before a battle, and so I thought I should look somewhere else for today, and to dance rather than drama. Childhood memories took me to Alice in Wonderland: "Will you, won't you, will you, won't you, won't you join the dance." But no-one would, and anyway dance students here might not take too kindly to a comparison with snails. And so I looked further, and I thought a little Milton might do, and L'Allegro rather than Il Penseroso:

"Haste thee nymph, and bring with thee
Jest and youthful jollity,
Quips and Cranks and wanton Wiles,
Nods and Becks, and Wreathd Smiles,
Such as hang on Hebe's cheek,
And love to live in dimple sleek;
Sport that wrincled Care derides,
And laughter holding both his sides.
Come, and trip it as ye go,
On the light fantastic toe." 

Really, what more is there to say?

Last updated: 
Friday, 9 January 2009

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