Rotorua Weekender

Celebrate opening gala at centre

Event for Sir Howard Morrison Centre’s reopening

- Shauni James

The doors of Rotorua’s newlyrefur­bished, renovated and earthquake-strengthen­ed Sir Howard Morrison Centre will be thrown open for a starstudde­d Grand Opening Gala event and a weekend of celebratio­ns in February.

On February 16 and 17, the venue will host performers and musicians — both local tangata whenua and others from across the motu. Then on February 18, the venue will host a free-to-public Rā a Whānau [whānau open day]. All are welcome to enjoy performanc­es, workshops, live music, and behind-the-scenes tours.

Celebrated choreograp­her and artistic director Taiaroa Royal ( Te Arawa, Kāi Tahu, Ngāti Raukawa), who was born in Rotorua, will direct the gala event and also choreograp­h a special dance work for the show which will be performed by young local artists.

Taiaroa, who moved back to Rotorua in 2016, said he jumped at the opportunit­y, and was excited to give back by creating a gala event fitting for the venue and the Morrison whānau.

“To be able to bring a group of amazing New Zealand artists [to] the Centre and [aid their] performing is an honour and privilege.”

He hoped the event would take people on a journey while paying homage to the venue and Sir Howard Morrison himself.

“I’m really excited to be working with all these amazing artists and to celebrate this venue that has been a long time waiting to reopen.”

Taiaroa hoped the reopening of the centre would open up the market for large production­s like the New Zealand Orchestra and New Zealand Ballet to perform.

“I think it has been a long time in the waiting and will really put Rotorua back on the touring schedule for a lot of organisati­ons.”

The centre was closed in November 2017 after it was found to be earthquake-prone.

In July 2021, the council revealed the budget for the project had ballooned from $22.5 million to $33.7m, and the council contributi­on had almost doubled from $11.5m to $22.6m.

The original budget set in 2017 was $17.9m.

The line-up for the grand opening gala includes Aotearoa soul legend Whirimako Black, musicians Ria Hall and Anika Moa, Sir Howard’s son Howie Morrison Junior, Te Mauri Kapa Haka, opera singer Christian

Thurston, reggae band Origin Roots, Okareka Dance Company, circus sensations The Dust Palace, Thoroughly Modern Māori’s Rutene Spooner, Rotorua Musical Theatre, John Paul College choir, local performers Nikau Grace, Jasmine Hulton, Ellis Carrington and Krissy Knapp, Taiko Drumming, and Rotorua Girls’ High School and Western Heights High School hip-hop crews.

“With the gala opening, we wanted to celebrate our immense local talent and present a spectacula­r showcase of arts and performanc­e with guest artists visiting from across the North Island, all of whom have connection­s to the Morrison whānau and the Te Arawa region,” said Sir Howard Morrison Centre’s performing arts director, Janelle Bish.

“This opening will demonstrat­e the multi-genre, collaborat­ive community environmen­t we hope to foster moving forward.”

Eve Gordon, The Dust Palace artistic director who grew up in Rotorua, says it feels amazing to be coming back and being part of the Grand Opening Gala event.

“I’m really excited to have this beautiful homecoming . . . and to be coming back with a work that is a collaborat­ion with Tainui Tukiwaho.”

She thinks having the centre now open is awesome, and says she remembers herself and Rotorua-born actor Tainui performing at the centre when it was the Civic Theatre — “It was where I started and found my calling”.

Eve says Rotorua has a strong arts community with incredible skills, such as amazing voices and kapa haka. She says Rotorua is vibrant and she thinks fostering what it can produce from its strong cultural roots is genius.

The Sir Howard Morrison Centre conducted a dawn karakia, led by Mataia Keepa of Te Arawa, on November 18 in preparatio­n for the Lockwood New Zealand Aria Finals performed in the Sir Owen Glenn Theatre — Matangi Rau the next day.

The AMJAZZ Christmas Showcase will return to the venue on December 10.

Tickets for the Grand Opening Gala event are on sale at sirhowardm­orrisoncen­ nz.

 ?? Photo / Rotorua Lakes Council ?? The renovated Sir Howard Morrison Centre.
Photo / Rotorua Lakes Council The renovated Sir Howard Morrison Centre.

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