Last weekend Toni MacKinnon, MTG Arts Curator, and myself had the privilege of attending the opening of Toitoi, Hawke’s Bay Arts & Events Centre, in Hastings. It was an exciting experience and I was particularly delighted to have been invited, as the Opera House has been closed the entire time I’ve lived in Hawke’s Bay. Although I’ve admired the exterior, I couldn’t wait to see inside the building.
It was a night where many people put on their glad rags and turned up ready for a special event – and they weren’t disappointed. There was a real sense of occasion and excitement among the crowd who enjoyed drinks and nibbles on the closed street outside the Opera House.
Once inside we were welcomed by Korou Productions who provided a sensory tohi (cleansing experience) representing the different elements and bringing to life the Makirikiri stream which flows underneath Toitoi. They were supported by a soundscape specifically created for this performance by Howard McGuire.
Going into the Opera House itself, I was immediately captivated by the beautiful surroundings and pleasantly surprised by the mix of opulence and cosiness. An unexpected feature for me was how intimate the space feels – almost like the building wraps itself around the performers and audience. No wonder the community feel so strongly about the Opera House.
Built in 1915, I can’t help but reflect on the thousands of people who’ve been through the facility in the past – both on stage and in the audience. For a building that old, she certainly is a beauty.
Those lucky enough to be at the event were entertained by a real mix of performances – from opera singing, to hip-hop and all things in between. The line-up was created with Hawke’s Bay connections in mind and beautifully emceed by Hastings Ambassador, Henare O’Keefe. While moving into our seats the Hastings Choral Society were performing, spread across the three tiers of the auditorium. Kahurangi Māori Dance Company led the line-up of on-stage performances, setting the scene for a wonderful night’s programme. While there were many highlights of the evening, a particular stand out for me was poet Ben Fagan who recited two poems - Days Bay and the second, Toitoi, specifically created for this moment.
The inclusion of community groups and professional acts clearly set the parameters of a facility that will bring national and international acts to entertain, as well as provide a venue for local talent to grow and flourish.
A truly community spirit was at play. The phrase I used on the night was ‘joyous’ – and it was. The community are clearly loving and cherishing having this facility back open and ready to welcome everyone in.
As the Hawke’s Bay Arts & Events Centre, this facility, like MTG Hawke’s Bay, has a regional role to play and I really look forward to seeing what they do over the coming years.
11 March 2020
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