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Lōemis solstice festival concludes with fiery climax

Claire Mabey and Andrew Laking of events company Pirate & Queen are producers of unique niche happenings that have been involved and rewarded Wellington participants and audiences for five years. Their current solstice event, Lōemis, comes midway through their busiest year ever – including a new addition to the family.

MARK CUBEY

Claire Mabey and Andrew Laking. Photo: Pirate & Queen

On the day the nation learned that Jacinda Ardern and Clarke Gayford were going to have a baby, I also got the news that Claire Mabey and Andrew Laking were expecting. However, unlike the Prime Minister’s baby, expected today just four days past due date, Claire and Andrew’s son arrived early in June, at 34 weeks. This was not the plan.

They could really have done with a few more weeks to get another big production sorted:

Lōemis, the eight-day midwinter festival of feasting, performance, dance and music now in its third year, It will culminate tonight with a procession from the Central Library to the Frank Kitt’s Lagoon for a fiery solstice ritual.

“It’s made things a lot more difficult,” says Andrew of the early birth. When I spoke to him earlier this week, Claire and son had been back home on the south coast for just two days from the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Wellington Hospital.

With Claire otherwise occupied since the start of the month, Andrew has been doing most of the running around for Lōemis (“lou-mis”), though this year the company now includes Emma Anderson on production and marketing.

The pressure is lifting, with most of the events successfully rolled out in the biggest programme since the event began in 2016 as a celebratory solstice feast, embracing the darkest days of the year and the traditions that have kept humankind warm since Neolithic times, 26,000 years ago.

It’s always a challenge doing events outside in Wellington, let alone in midwinter. But despite the themes of misfortune, risk, blame and loss in Ikaros, a new created work for Lōemis re-telling the story of the boy who flew too close to the sun, the weather gods were kind to the audiences gathered to follow players and musicians through the forests of the town belt.

“It was pouring with rain ten minutes ahead of the first show, and then it just stopped,” says Andrew. “The rain didn’t recommence into an hour after the second show.”

Nick Blake as Daedelus in the outdoor performance of Ikaros. Photo: Tim Park
Nick Blake as Daedelus in the outdoor performance of Ikaros. Photo: Tim Park
Luke Hanna as the title character in the outdoor performance of Ikaros. Photo: Tim Park
Luke Hanna as the title character in the outdoor performance of Ikaros. Photo: Tim Park

The inside events also went well. The work of twelfth century Benedictine abbess Hildegard von Bingen was celebrated with Harmony Of The Spheres, a selection of her compositions performed in the Hall of Memories beneath the Carillon tower, and Herborium, taking a cue from von Bingen’s writing on all things medicinal with herbal remedies and healing winter teas on offer at Ekor Bookstore.

Search Engine, a Footnote dance performance of works by choreographers Lauren Langlois, Rose Philpott and Tupua Tigafua, was presented in the large industrial space of the helicopter hangar on the Wellington waterfront.

Francesco Denaro, dressed for the occasion, gets ready to eat cult classic The Wicker Man at the Roxy cinema screening. Photo: Pirate & Queen
Francesco Denaro, dressed for the occasion, gets ready to eat cult classic The Wicker Man at the Roxy cinema screening. Photo: Pirate & Queen

Cult 1973 film The Wicker Man, purportedly the inspiration for the Burning Man festival in the USA, was presented in partnership with the Roxy Cinema. A multi-course degustation by CoCo head chef Nic Spicer was matched to scenes from the film, with audiences eating their way through the movie and combining the core Lōemis elements of feasting and fire.

It all finishes tonight, with the final sitting of the Feast of Yalda at Field & Green, where chef Laura Greenfield has created a special menu inspired by centuries-old traditions, presented to a live music soundtrack of oud, darbuka and clarinet.

And there’s the final winter solstice ceremony on the waterfront and the Terminus after-party at Meow.

Seraphina sculpture created by Wellington artist Leda Farrow, at the Wellington Central Library. Photo: Pirate & Queen
Seraphina sculpture created by Wellington artist Leda Farrow, at the Wellington Central Library. Photo: Pirate & Queen

If you’ve been in the Central Library recently, you cannot fail to have noticed Seraphina, the giant sculpture designed by artist Leda Farrow. Many written notes from the public of deep thoughts they want to dispel have been placed in Seraphina’s eggs and belly, and tonight they will go up in smoke.

Wellington artist Leda Farrow, with egg lanterns made at the Wellington Central Library for the Solstice Parade and Ritual. Photo: Pirate & Queen
Wellington artist Leda Farrow, with egg lanterns made at the Wellington Central Library for the Solstice Parade and Ritual. Photo: Pirate & Queen
Wellingtonians gathered at the Wellington Central Library to make masks for the Solstice Parade and Ritual. Photo: Pirate & Queen
Wellingtonians gathered at the Wellington Central Library to make masks for the Solstice Parade and Ritual. Photo: Pirate & Queen

At 5.30pm, the sturdy sculpture will be taken from the library by a procession of masked participants with lanterns (both created at Library workshops in the lead up to the event), across Civic Square and along the waterfront to Whairepo Lagoon, where it will be set afire and afloat.

Andrew and Claire came straight into Lōemis from work at the Auckland Writers Festival, which experienced its biggest ever audiences in May. Claire has been involved in a programming capacity for the last two years, taking elements of Wellington LitCrawl to the streets of Auckland, as well as programming international and local writers in venue sessions.

Andrew joined here for the first time, in a production capacity that was a bit of an eye-opener. “I’d never worked in an office before.”

Their busy pace continues into July and beyond.

Award-winning podcaster Helen Zaltzman brings her show The Allusionist to Te Ahumairangi on the Ground Floor of the National Library, corner Molesworth and Aitken Streets on Monday 16 July. The hour-long performance grapples with language to figure out how and why we humans use it the way we do.

The following week, Australian children’s book sensations Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton come to town with their book, The 104-Storey Treehouse, the eighth addition to the phenomenally successful series that began in 2011 with The 13-Storey Treehouse and has climbed in 13-storey increments ever since. The hour-long show from 6pm on Tuesday 24 July will feature talk from Andy talking and live drawing from Terry, with the opportunity afterwards to take selfies with the duo and buy pre-signed books. But be quick: tickets for the event at Wellington High School’s Riley Centre are nearly sold out.

Pirate & Queen are producing the NZ Book Awards for Children and Young Adults on 8 August at Te Papa, celebrating the contribution New Zealand’s children’s authors and illustrators make to building national identity and cultural heritage. They are also about to announce international author events for August.

Then it’s heads down preparing for Litcrawl, which will bring 150 writers to 45 events at 27 venues from 9 to 11 November. The planning and booking is “pretty much worked out”, now it’s a matter of refining sessions before the programme release in September. Andrew reckons the Saturday evening “crawl” part of the event, which sees numerous koha-entry sessions in taking place at the same time in unusual venues across the city, has reached an “optimal size – last year people could always get in to something.”

They will be spacing out the paid daytime sessions that were trialled sucessfully at City Gallery for last year’s LitCrawl to include other venues as well.