An excited buzz filled the room back in September when Astrid Thiersch announced our 2012 tour destination to the Eurythmy Troupe students – New Zealand! The customary comments circulated: “It’s an island! No, two islands! It’s near Australia… more like a paradise… I think they speak English… Lord of the Rings country! … They have earthquakes… and Maoris… and bungee jumping…” We discovered that New Zealand has all of these things and more, including a thriving network of Waldorf / Steiner schools and a talented, dedicated group of eurythmists whose thoughtfulness and dedication helped to realize a wonderful tour for us in February.
Before we could travel, the students had to put in the hard work of learning a full-length eurythmy program and bringing it to performance level. The Troupe is an elective eurythmy class for tenth, eleventh and twelfth grade students, who dedicate class time and extra hours to learning many new pieces and transforming their movements through individual expression into an art for the stage. Ms. Thiersch creates a new program each year – this one included poetry by Rudolf Steiner, Karl König, Mary Oliver, Rosa Ausländer and Li Qiao; music by Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Schubert and Paul Winter; humoresques; and a tale by Michael Ende, “The Dream Eater”. Our home performances of the new program “Stars Once Spoke” in San Francisco in February 2012 were well attended and enthusiastically received, and then it was time to take the show on the road!
Our plane was full for the twelve-hour flight, and individual movie screens guaranteed a minimum of sleep. Arrival at Auckland airport was in the dark, and we drowsily watched a soft dawn break as we waited for transport, sensing the slightly Polynesian promise of the soft humidity in the atmosphere. Someone remarked, “It’s like England meets Hawaii!” and so it was. We left on a Wednesday and arrived on Friday, Thursday somehow having slipped through the crack of the International Dateline. Because our first performance was Monday, we had dessert first and went sightseeing right away.
Our hostel was new, clean, comfortable, and friendly. After breakfast, some napped while others explored. How easy to be in a country where the natives speak a kind of English! We trekked to the harbour for a glorious two-hour tour by boat, successfully dodging rain cells. What a city of water, islands, inlets, hills, and views! We even passed under the harbour bridge as some intrepid soul bungee-jumped from underneath right over our heads.
Evening brought more free exploring and the students managed to see the sights, from ferries to Devonport (to eat fish 'n chips at the Masonic Pub, oldest in Auckland) to viewing miles of sea and land from the Sky Tower (no jumping).
The gods were definitely smiling, as we had beautiful beach weather and clear starry skies at night, both of which seem to be somewhat unusual in Auckland. Our bus rolled through beautiful country, with ocean views to both east and west, to Goat Island beach, a famous snorkeling spot in a marine nature reserve. We swam with the fish, hiked, and soaked up the sun, which healed the sniffles but induced a few glorious cases of sunburn. (When I later asked a second grader why the children all wore hats at break time, she said, “It’s the ozone, it’s broken!”) At the observatory we were treated to a humorous and informative planetarium show about the southern summer sky, followed by a special talk on Aurorae, and some star gazing with naked eye and telescope (we saw the southern cross!)
Michael Park School, the oldest Steiner school in Auckland, is aptly nestled in a beautiful park-like setting with grass, trees, birds, space, and lovely buildings. We were warmly greeted (and fed!) by the two Dees, and Des, who assured us that all would be "sweet as bro, no worries!" (translation: everything’s great, no problem.) Kimberley from Titirangi School and other friends were ready with irons and boards for our costumes. We were ushered into a beautiful school hall, with a big stage on which we rehearsed, happy to do eurythmy again. At break time we found the fine gym, where Mr. Jackson was beaming as he organized basketball activities. A group of very friendly and welcoming teachers and parents whisked our students away to their homes for dinner, bush adventures, and sleep.
We all arrived at school Monday morning, with everyone well cared for, and some with surprising stories to relate. After a short rehearsal, we gave two performances. The early show was a packed house of about 300 children from classes 1-6 from three different schools. We performed the program in record time, and the children were entranced (and all wanted verses to call the Dream Eater afterward). There was no let down for the second performance, for nearly 200 older students, classes 7-12 (who welcomed us with a Maori haka greeting), and many adults, including a group from Camphill, and our old friends Jeff and Teresa Saarman, who were down under sailing.
The Beethoven came alive under the capable hands of our accompanist Lilia Zheltova, and the stage was spacious and beautifully lit by Jeroen van Terheijden, a gift from the gods in a van full of lights, who drove up from Wellington just to tour with us. The troupe had wonderful focus, and performed beautifully. The performances were enthusiastically received, and we were hosted with great warmth and thoughtfulness.
The route from Auckland to Hastings is through the center of North Island to Lake Taupo, then east over ranges of hills to Hawke’s Bay. A day-long bus ride took us through miles of beautiful farmland, with many sheep and cows. We arrived without mishap and Nives Frigerio met us at the lovely Taikura School with a buffet and a crew ready to iron. She gave us a tour; the school is 61 years old, and was the beginning of Steiner education in New Zealand. It is beautiful and well equipped – we marveled at the newly purchased high school building, and the students were intrigued by the Maori arts and culture curriculum. We found another very well designed school hall (with Jeroen hard at work), and the students joined their new host families for home stays in town, in the bush, among the vineyards, and all about Hawke’s Bay.
Gathering with the whole school in the morning, we received a traditional Maori taka and powhiri welcome. The taka, originally designed to frighten enemies and used to show respect was powerful indeed, and the powhiri, complete with exchange of speeches, gifts, songs, and hongi (nose pressing), was quite moving. We performed the program for the whole school, with a most enthusiastic response. After lunch there was social time with their high school students, with games (rugby!) and just chilling. Our evening performance drew an unexpectedly large crowd from the local community (Anthroposophy has been alive here a long time), with bravos and standing ovation, followed by a social hour hosted by class twelve. The students met in a deep and heartfelt way, trading cultural and linguistic curiosities and discovering beneath the differences how much they had in common.
We said a long goodbye to new friends at Taikura, with many promises of future visits on both sides. A five hour bus ride took us through farms, ranches (more sheep and cows) and high hills with wind and rain, down into the Hutt Valley above Wellington. We were warmly received at the Little Theater in Lower Hutt by eurythmists and teachers with a buffet (one does eat well in New Zealand!) and the ever-present irons and boards. There we finally met Sue Pegler, our tireless correspondent and organizer and the guiding spirit of our tour, along with former Stuttgart colleagues Eileen and Uta. A quick trip into Wellington revealed the great beauty of the harbour and city, and an Orlando Bloom sighting provided much excitement. The students were wafted away by new families again for two nights — becoming quite professional guests by now.
We visited Raphael House School in the morning, which is arranged completely vertically on a hillside above Lower Hutt. We won’t soon forget the “zig-zag path”! There we met more wonderful teachers and students, and were taken to the theater, for a final crescendo of three performances (seven in all!) We did two morning shows, one for classes 1-5 from two schools, and one for 6-12. The mood was magical, and the children were entranced. After a rest and some pizza, we did the program a last time in the evening for a very enthusiastic audience (more standing Os!)
As we struck the stage and packed, the students went off to their last “billet” night. We met the next morning in Wellington for a celebratory brunch with friends from the school, feeling fulfilled and happy. In our last few hours we explored Wellington, a beautiful city of hills, water, and wind, from top (cable car) to bottom (harbour) and in between (shopping!)
Flying home we were filled with gratitude for our new experiences and friendships in the paradise called New Zealand. We could sense how the patient dedicated work with Rudolf Steiner’s education and eurythmy has penetrated the communities we met, and so it was a special gift for us to bring a eurythmy program to them. It was sweet as bro, and we even got two Saturdays coming back!
– David Weber, March 2012