The Wellingtonista

Random stuff about Wellington since 2005

RNZB Venus Rising

I sat down with Katherine Minor, a soloist with the Royal New Zealand Ballet, to discuss rehearsing during COVID lockdown, what it’s like being back in the studio, and the RNZB’s upcoming Venus Rising tour. 

The Royal New Zealand Ballet will be one of the first dance companies in the world to return to the stage with their new tour Venus Rising. Featuring four extraordinary new pieces created by four world-renowned female choreographers, this show hits the Wellington stage from August 20, and will be touring around the country from then. 

Inspired by Venus, the brightest of stars, these beautiful works showcase love, intimacy, and the strength of victory over adversity. In such fraught times, they are a beautiful link to what makes us human.

I: So, Katherine, what did you get up to during lockdown?

Katherine Minor: I noticed lockdown was definitely time to slow down the pace of life. Lots of reading and long walks and speaking with people who I haven’t spoken to a while. It felt like this really long, very quiet summer vacation when no-one was around.

I: I understand you spent some time during lockdown rehearsing via Zoom with the RNZB.
What was that like as an experience?

The biggest thing that came out of lockdown was the realisation that dancers take having a studio and a lot of space for granted. That daily Zoom class felt very precious, and essential to connect with the company. We worked on bar work – I did mine holding onto a bookcase.

However, it was an amazing opportunity to do classes with people all around the world. That was quite special. There were people from other companies Zooming into our class, I got to see people I hadn’t spoken to in years. Ours is a very connected community.

I: I’m sure it felt very different to get back into a studio after such a long time apart.

It was strange at first seeing other people after going a few weeks without having any close interaction. The first time we were allowed to partner each other felt very foreign and strange. Being able to feel each other. It took a bit of time for certain coordination to come back, to do jumps and pointe work and turn and take up space in such a big room.

What I’ve thought about a little bit are how important the arts are in a time like this – this way of transmitting a feeling and a message that’s transported subjectively instead of via the news feed which often makes us feel like that’s our only reality. Maybe going to a performance or getting in touch with something artistic is a reminder that times were different before this, that they will be different when this is over.

Venus Rising | 17 Sep - 19 Sep 2020 | Auckland Live

I: Moving onto Venus Rising. What pieces are you involved with? 

I am in Within, Without (choreographed by Andrea Schermoly), Waterbaby Bagatelles (Twyla Tharp) and Aurum (Alice Topp).

I: What has rehearsing this season been like?

It has been very exciting working with four different, renowned women choreographers. The process of working with each of them has been very different, but wonderful in their own ways. They’ve all been very different personalities that have something new to offer.

All the pieces have music which I could just listen to all day. For me, that’s normally what can make a piece really nice to do, if there’s wonderful music though it.

I: What should the audience expect coming into Venus Rising?

There is such a general energy of appreciation being back in the studio working on something together – feeling and knowing that we’re in such a fortunate position being in one of the only companies working together and working on something at the moment. Each piece is quite different – all of them are an entirely different mindset going into them.

One of the pieces is an example of the work of one of the greatest living choreographers of our time. Each one of these choreographers is very connected to the company, and it’s always fun to see new work by choreographers you like.

We have a lot of enthusiasm to be on stage again in front of an audience. This is the first time we’re performing to an audience since February. We’re really excited to be on stage and we’ve been working really hard to get the pieces where they should be.

It feels very precious to get to perform this programme.

Venus Rising is being performed across New Zealand by the Royal New Zealand Ballet from the 20th of August to the 19th of September. The shows will take place in Wellington, Auckland, Palmerston North, Christchurch, Napier and Dunedin. Tickets are available here

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The show is exactly thus – four great actors playing Dungeons and Dragons on stage, led by an eminently likeable DM.

I must admit I had my qualms when coming to this show, as I’ve always found playing D&D to be more fun than watching it, but the cast is excellent, the mood appropriate, and the campaign very fun. Good vibes all round.

Harriet Prebble is the show’s gnome cleric, Thistle, who’s badass and perhaps has a bit of a Tragic Backstory. Allan Henry plays Armand – a wild-haired tiefling barbarian with a penchant for pulling off people’s arms and a generic Eastern-European/vampiric accent. Gavin Rutherford brings a certain football spectator cheekiness to human sorcerer Gart, and Gabriela Rocha plays high elf rogue Kyrrha with a great wiliness. The four friends are joined by a colourful cast of characters played by Dungeon Master, Ryan McIntyre.

Our group of travellers has escaped a port and are sailing the wild open seas. To where? Who really knows – but there’ll definitely be some ‘boat things’ to do along the way. Through fights with geothermic fairies, tenuous relationships and lots of rope coiling, they find their way to Thistle’s homeland to discover the fate of her village. But first, they must fight an orc and a much put-upon human accountant named Steve (STEVE!!!!!) and generally make nice with the locals.

It’s so nice to join the group from within the story somewhat – there’s none of that getting-to-know-you awkwardness, no uncomfortable posturing – these characters know each other, have relationships and definitely have rivalries. For a fairly improvised piece, with a degree of complexity to it, the show runs smoothly, and there’s some excellent one-liners, as well as some excellent dice rolls (five nat 20s from Rocha alone). The storytelling is supreme – McIntyre is an excellent DM, with plenty of voices for additional characters, and a quick wit – and the world feels well-formed and well-spoken around the main story.

Perhaps there’s a little too much of the problematic elements that D&D often falls into (can we say colonialist ideals and iffy stereotyping of certain characters?) but for the most part, the show feels fresh and exciting.

My only regret is that I didn’t get tickets for the rest of the season.

(Seriously though, someone keep me posted on the plot?)

 

This show is sold out, but you can (and should) find D&D games being played literally everywhere in Wellington these days. (It’s a good time, get amongst.)

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Cursed places. You might be familiar with them. Places you walk into and it feels like there’s ghosts, places that are a bit spooky or a bit weird or send a chill up your spine. To put it more colloquially – bad vibes.

A place doesn’t have to be dilapidated to be cursed – I often find too-lit shop fronts and meaningless frightening products to be quite cursed for me – but a lot of cursed places are a bit fally-aparty.

Via my Twitter account, I crowd-sourced a list of the most cursed places around Wellington. You can find that Twitter thread, and its colour commentary here. I’ve also assembled the list into a Google map, so you too can go for a wander about Wellington’s weird-feeling and hidden locales one day if you’re up for it.

Here are some of my highlights, ranked. I’ve not included any cafes or shops and the like as I don’t want to be sued, but there are definitely plenty of them that have weird vibes. You’ll just have to hunt them out yourself.

Rintoul/Riddiford St crossing – Newtown

(Pictured supplied by Kris.)

Why is this cursed? Who knows. But it is. Why does it take so long for the traffic light to go? Why are there so many roads to watch out for when crossing? Will you be hit by a bus while crossing? Probably. It’s frightening, at least vaguely.

2/10 – mildly cursed

Reading Cinemas, Courtenay Place


Robin Hood (the massive movie poster still ignominiously stapled to the building) came out on November 22 2018. Reading Cinemas closed because of earthquake damage on January 5 2019. ‘Nuff said, really.

3/10 – mildly cursed with a hint of rose-tinted nostalgia. I miss the Gold Lounge more than I miss some of my friends.

Lobster Loos – Customhouse Quay

Designed by architect Bret Thurston and installed in 2011, these toilets are great to look at on the outside but not so nice within. If you’re looking for a clean public toilet, perhaps try those further down the waterfront. Inexplicably cursed, though I’m not sure why.

3/10 – mildly cursed, with much enclosed regret.


Clifton Cable Car Stop – Clifton Terrace

The cable car is a Wellington institution. The Clifton cable car stop less so. Travelling upwards, it’s the first stop. Travelling downwards it’s the last. After six years in Wellington I’ve seen approximately one person use this stop, and I still don’t know why. As I write this, the cable car is having its annual maintenance, and as such, I would describe the stop as ‘desolate’, ‘weird’, and ‘mildly frightening’. It backs onto the Clifton car park, which I would also describe as all of those things.

4.5/10 – mildly cursed. It is not at all signposted. How are people supposed to find this place? (Maybe they’re not????)


Farmers Lane, Terrace/Lambton Quay

I was pleasantly surprised when I arrived at this location today, for it was much less cursed than I was expecting. Farmers Lane stairs provide a haunted link between the Terrace and Lambton Quay – right next to the Lambton food court – and are usually pretty horrifying. However, they’ve been painted with a mural, so they’re vaguely less so now, though, still fairly grim. The lovely people over at Wellington Steps (a blog categorising all of Wellington’s many, many steps) have discussed them in full, grim, pre-painting detail.

Still a fairly frightening look out towards some bins if you stop to peruse whilst traversing downward.

4.5/10 – mildly cursed, but only because I have a fondness for the ramen at the Lambton Eatery.


Kumutoto Stream, Woodward St

Kumutoto Stream is a tunnel that runs under the Terrace from the Clifton carpark to Woodward St. Part art installation, part weird vibes, this tunnel is unique to many tunnels in the sense that when you walk through it, you can hear birdsong and running water. A 2014 art installation, the use of birdsong and nature is supposed to invoke the feelings of walking alongside the former Kumutoto Stream (which ran roughly around this spot), and allow passers-by to consider their place in Wellington’s history and what occurred in the spot before them.

Which it does, to a point.

It also inspires feelings of fear. In me. Because walking through a dark tunnel towards an even darker carpark late at night is frightening even if you hear birds along the way.

5/10 – somewhat cursed. I like the birdsong and the idea, it’s just very… creepy.


The Exchange Building/The Atrium – Blair/Allen St

Took me a little bit of wandering around to find this one. Word is that it used to be the site of Wellington’s produce markets, for over fifty years. Currently it acts as an event space for hire, open to the public during the day but closed off at night, as well as an overflow space for Monsoon Poon (nearby).

It is a heritage building, and it is also inexplicably cursed. I didn’t know it existed, which adds to the horror, but it’s also just a very weird – almost liminal – space. There’s a feeling of people in the space, but there’s no one around. It’s silent, almost, wrapped in weird curtains and dust motes. A space on the verge of potential, but not quite there yet.

It’s also just really weird being able to see into shops from the back, like some kind of ghost.

6/10 – genuinely unnerving.

Capital on the Quay, Upstairs – Lambton Quay


If you go out of the upstairs part of Whitcoulls on Lambton Quay and head towards Capital on the Quay, you’ll walk right into this very weird and freaky space. It’s right next to some lifts, but that still doesn’t explain the weird aura and uncomfortable blankness that the space holds. Y’all, chuck a mural in there. Paint a wall. Do something to make it look a little less like a set from a bad Netflix sci-fi film. Please. It’s freaky.

6.5/10 – I don’t like this at all.

 

Taste on Willis – Cnr Willis St/Lambton Quay

If there is one food court forsaken by all things holy in Wellington, it’s definitely this one. Yeah, most food courts are mildly cursed. They’re transient spaces, odd and freaky and full of a faint layer of grease, but Taste on Willis is… something special.

Sometimes the escalators work. Sometimes they don’t. I had a sprained ankle recently and couldn’t go down stairs and not a single one of their escalators was working, which really put a spanner in my plans to go to JB Hi-Fi. It’s a good day if all of their escalators are working, I’ll tell you that much.

It’s less creepy when there’s people in it, so if you’ve got a hankering for the fine delights that food courts have, go around lunchtime. If you want to conduct a ritual to summon a vaguely salty demon, try almost any other time. I would hate to be trapped in there at night.

Also, their bathrooms are through a side door and down a set of murder stairs. For starters, not great accessibility, and secondly – freaky.

7/10 – I know there’s many other food courts in Wellington but please. This place is haunted.

Oaks Upstairs – Cuba St

Now, I’ve not been to the Oaks Satay House, but I’ve heard good things. What I’ve not heard good things about is the utterly strange space that’s upstairs next to the restaurant. It’s completely blank, signless, seemingly unused. In the Tweet thread I pulled a lot of these from, it was the one place that cropped up most often. What’s going on up there?

During CubaDupa 2019, Binge Culture used a portion of the space for part of their excellent show This Text Will Self-Destruct and it worked nicely. Honestly, I’m sure the place would be fine if it was just used for something, but as it stands, it’s not and it isn’t, and it remains insanely cursed.


Old Wellington Region (Facebook Page)

Historically speaking, the Oaks replaced the Royal Oak Hotel in the early 80s. The Royal Oak had quite the exciting history (warning for aged language around queerness) but was demolished in 1979 and replaced by an elaborate shopping complex, including a covered walkway across to the James Smith building. The Bamboo and Sol bars were apparently places to be in the 90s.

Vicky Robertson, Late Lost Nightlife of Wellington (Facebook group)

Now, however, the Oaks is almost featureless upstairs, and a selection of bars, excellent bookshops and retails stores downstairs. One hopes that someone could find something to do with the very weird location upstairs at some point in the future.

8/10 – freaky and cursed, but mostly because of the history.

 

James Smith Carpark/Opera House Lane

Look, I’m fairly fond of Opera House Lane. I’ve filmed things there, much like literally everyone else shooting in Wellington, and I’m a big fan of the opera house. However… the James Smith carpark, and to an extent Opera House Lane itself are unmistakeably, insanely cursed.

The James Smith carpark was closed sometime in 2018 for earthquake repairs and now stands as a weird, slightly apocalyptic monument to car parking in the city. Opera House Lane itself reportedly has a checkered history, and the whole place feels vaguely… weird. Spooky, haunted, abandoned by time.

Maybe it’s the padlocked doors, maybe it’s the walkways that go nowhere, or maybe it’s the barbed wire, but there’s something so alien and inhospitable about this area. I like it, but it frightens me. It’s a transient space, full of empty carparks and empty moments, and almost definitely some dangers.

????????/10 – wildly cursed.

These are obviously not the be all and end all of weird and spooky places in Wellington. Check out the map. Comment your own. We live in a city with a lot of strange, cursed history – it’s no wonder it shows up in our streets.

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“Turning poop culture into pop culture is the fastest way to solve the sanitation crisis.”

Having grown up in self-described slums of Singapore before sanitation arrived, Jack Sim has personal experience of its value. After being unsatisfied with his early success in business, he had a rethink, and made it his mission to bring toilets to the world, which he does using a combination of endless poop jokes, glowing good humour, and bureaucratic-speak only if strictly required. ‘It’s not right that two and a half billion people do not have access to proper sanitation when we can send spacecraft to land on Mars,’ he says.

Among other achievements he founded the World Toilet Organisation, and persuaded the UN to unanimously vote for the establishment of World Toilet Day. By his own account, his project is to persuade people they want toilets as a first step. The affection of his co-workers and family is obvious as they banter about him. ‘Happy are those who enjoy their shit jobs,’ he emails to his workers, who amongst other projects, organise ‘urgent runs’ as fund-raisers. ‘Getting people to give a shit,’ heads up a PowerPoint.

It’s an inspiration to watch someone who has created a role doing something so useful, without overshadowing those around him, and while clearly enjoying himself. The film-making is unobtrusive and lively, with some fun animated sections.

Highly recommended.

1hr 29m, Lily Zepeda, United States 2019

2020 DocEdge online screening times:
Sat 20 Jun 3pm (followed by Q&A on DocEdge Facebook)
Mon 29 Jun 11 am

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