Interview with Delaney Davidson

HBAF sat down with Delaney Davidson just before the world premiere of Ship of Dreams, 23 October in the Spiegeltent, as part of the Hawke's Bay Arts Festival.

HBAF: So, first parochial question, what do you think of us, Hawke’s Bay?

DD: I always like Hawke’s Bay.  It’s got this old farm feeling to it, which I really like, it’s connected to my early childhood, coming here to visit -  weird memories of big old villas on farms. Someone told me it’s where the hawks rip the kidneys out of sheep.There used to be an old plane on a playground, you’d climb up, play in this plane that smelled like piss and you could imagine these dead pilots in it. Years ago I came to Napier and played in a play of Faust at the Municipal Theatre – that theme of Faust somehow stuck with me, I got really fascinated by it. I have a really good childhood friend who came from Hawke’s Bay, so whenever I hear names like Te Mata Peak, I remember him talking about them as well.

So a lot of good connections to Hawke’s Bay, not to mention all the amazing fruit that comes from this area, and it always seems to be good weather here, whether you like that or not that’s part of the feeling of the place.

HBAF: And the arts festival – you’ve been here before.

DD: I came a couple of years ago and that was the first time I did a film show at all, and that was a really exciting door to go through. Originally it came about through a conversation with Drew James. We talked about the possibility of film, building on his ideas and then Pitsch saw the show and I had a lot of conversations with him, pushing the idea along further. It’s been great, the feeling that it’s the beginning of something.

Manos Del Chango was the musical outfit that performed the first Magic Lightbox, which had its premiere here at the Hawke's Bay Arts Festival in 2016, and then I toured it solo 31 days around New Zealand as part of the Arts on Tour tour that I did.

The film work pushes into this exciting realm of being able to somehow show people a lot of my life, which is not only me but also the places my work takes me as a musician. In this particular show there’s a lot of stuff from Serbia, Romania, Hamburg, England. There’s a whole kind of gleaning from these two worlds of European culture and bringing it back to New Zealand – a lot of it’s filmed here as well.

For me it’s about my forgotten heritage/culture of these European traditions I come from, and that I’ve also spent a lot of time living in, trying to somehow connect it to the New Zealand flavour that I have, which is something to do with the throwing away of tradition. It seems like it’s a real attraction for European people who come here, that they can escape from the rules and the regulations, the hard-worn road that Europe’s gone through and have a fresh new approach. 

Oh man, it was amazing to come here yesterday to the festival and go and see Wild Dogs Under My Skirt and the Rob and Ria show afterwards, and to see them talking about their cultures. These are all like doorways that are leading me in a direction, which feels really positive. It’s exciting when the work you’re doing feels like it’s opening up more stuff instead of narrowing down. I’ve had experiences before where I felt like I’ve been in the same groove for a long time and it was getting thinner and thinner.

HBAF: In terms of finding place and belonging here, is that journey required back to those European roots?

DD: I was born here, but my mum wasn’t…I have English, Scottish, Italian and German roots—some World War 2 kind of combination – and even if I go back to those countries, I can relate to it and see stuff that really makes sense but I don’t feel—I can’t stand there and sing a German song and go, yeah that’s me, I can’t do that with an English song. But then if I try and do that with kapa haka, somehow I feel it makes sense but at the same time to look at me, it’s not me either. So I’m like, where’s my place in all this?

Where my place seems to have become is wandering, not really connected to anything. It’s hard but there’s a freedom it creates all at the same time.

HBAF: How important are the strands of cultural influence around us? The impressions we receive as children from collective stories, shared song, etc.?

DD: I was wondering, and that was one thing that led to the creation of this show, are those same stories around now?  They help you reflect on your life and if you don’t have those, how do you reflect, what’s available to people today? What’s available for them to create a space within themselves, to have that possibility for thinking in a parallel way about their own life?

I was hoping in a way to offer people some help in finding sense in their own lives – that’s a really weird area to get into. That led me to clowns – bending the rules, changing laws within worlds, blending different worlds together as well.

HBAF: What's it like playing in the Spiegeltent? It seems like the ideal venue for some of the explorations you’re doing.

DD: The feeling of the audience in the Spiegeltent, it’s really connected. In music, people want unity and connection – that’s why they go, I think. People, like energy, want to attract and join up into one mass and feel connection and then splinter off into the night and take their own little parts of it with them.  That’s what you want to do with a show, you want to feed into this group and then watch it disseminate and spread. If you can do that in a way that feels like you’re making a good difference to people, that’s the ultimate.

HBAF: That’s one of the main drivers of this show then, the feeling that you’d like to make a difference through what you’re offering to people?

DD: I don’t know, I don’t want it to be like a self-help show, and it’s really dark and creepy as well. It’s what I want but part of me shies away from it too. I’m not sure how to reconcile that at the moment.

HBAF: You’re picking up or exploring archetypal elements, like the clown…

DD: The clown, the villain, being scared or love, goodbyes.

HBAF: and trying to make sense of what we all carry to some degree.

DD: Yeah, kind of ‘let’s all gather round the fire and tell some creepy stories’. I’ve come from afar and I’ve got some strange news. That’s a really old idea, and there’s some really interesting things that go along with that. When travellers would come to these towns, they would be storytellers, and people would really want to hear the news of what’s going on around them. People would know, we have to feed these travellers first because if we don’t they will just tell us whatever we want to hear. So the first part was, let’s sit down and eat together, and after that we talk.

HBAF: So have you been fed well here in Hawke’s Bay?

DD: Really well. I’ve had a very nice salad today, a poached egg, good coffee.

HBAF: So, we shall hope to hear some stories and not just what we want to hear.

DD: We all come to the show of our own free will, so it is what we want it to be, ultimately. That’s the tacit agreement – when you walked in the door, no one forced you to come – there’s a kind of trust that the audience gives you, which is nice, to not bore them or insult them.

I used to explain a lot in my earlier Lightbox show that when you come here you’ve got your own stuff going on and you’ll see this show the way only you can see it, and whoever else is sitting next to you might have something completely different going on. So if they’re looking a bit strange, have some empathy. I was told, ‘That’s obvious, you don’t need to tell us, that’s the same for every show.’ But someone else came up and said, they were so glad I said that because it set it in a context for them. We get told stuff we already know, all the time, if we only got told stuff we didn’t know there wouldn’t be much to say. Even if you know it, it’s nice to be reminded.

HBAF: We’re looking forward to tonight’s show.

DD: Yes, I am too. I’m a bit nervous, I’m hoping I don’t mess it up too much.


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