New Zealand Post - official issuer of New Zealand stamps & commemorative coins

Performing Arts

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The Performing Arts stamp issue paid tribute to the rich heritage and diversity of performing talent that either resides in, or originates from, New Zealand. Six major disciplines - modern dance, music, opera, theatre, song and ballet - were represented.

Issue information

The performing arts have helped shape our nation's sense of identity, and you could see and hear the cultures of New Zealand come together in the country's theatres and concert halls. Samoan slap-dancing met contemporary dance in the work of the Black Grace Dance Company. Cook Island log drumming accompanied the work of Auckland Ballet, the conventions of the marae met those that were known to Shakespeare in our theatres and the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra performed orchestral arrangements of the songs of Split Enz alongside the compositions of Mozart. New Zealand culture was now considered something worth making a song and a dance about.

Increasingly the world at large has being exposed to performances by New Zealanders other than just the All Blacks' haka on the rugby field. The country's dancers can be found in some of the world's finest companies. Pianists like Mike Nock and Michael Houston continued to be in international demand. Opera singers like Kiri Te Kanawa and Donald McIntyre becme household names and OMC and Crowded House climbed the music charts in countries all over the world. Performing artists have also become some of New Zealand's most important ambassadors.

How the tables had turned. While in 1997 New Zealand plays, such as Lorae Parry's Eugenia and Hone Kouka Waiora, toured overseas, a century earlier overseas touring companies brought culture as an import to the antipodes, and the now celebrated Māori performing arts traditions were seen as relics of a dying race. These touring companies did establish the importance of the performing arts for people throughout New Zealand. Opera companies, for example, toured the country at frequent intervals, presenting a dozen or more operas in each of the main centres and taking four or five production at a time to the smaller centres.

While today it is hard to imagine society without them, the professional performing arts didn't fully develop in New Zealand until midway through this century, when the country had a stronger sense of identity. Two World Wars saw New Zealanders rally around the flag and a popular song tradition began to develop. In 1946 a National Orchestra was established, followed in 1953 by The Royal New Zealand Ballet Company and the first professional theatre company, The New Zealand Players, which both started touring the country intensively. A year later in 1954, the New Zealand Opera Company began to develop the high standard of locally produced opera for which today's regional companies are known.

Now we expect to see New Zealand reflected in plays, live music and dance. Composers like Douglas Lilburn have expressed the landscape in music, dancers like Douglas Wright have explored the body's physical and emotional connection to the land, and playwrights like Bruce Mason have put New Zealanders up on stage as characters and allowed Kiwis to see themselves.

Events such as the New Zealand International Festival of the Arts in Wellington and the Opera in the Park series in Auckland have also helped to significantly raise the profile of this important part of our culture in recent years.

Souvenir Miniature Sheet Booklet

A special booklet illustrating the rich heritage and diversity of New Zealand's performing talent was produced for this issue. The booklet incorporated seven stunning miniature sheets and interesting background information.

Product Listing for Performing Arts

Click on image to enlarge.

Image Title Description Price
Single Stamp

Single 40c 'Modern Dance' gummed stamp.

Dance in New Zealand incorporated a wide variety of influences, from the indigenous tradition of Māori kapa haka to the slow movement of Japanese Butoh. While acclaimed New Zealand choreographers like Douglas Wright danced in theatres in New Zealand and overseas, a dance group like Footnote Dance Company toured schools up and down the country, introducing young people to dance through performing and workshops.

New Zealand's first fully professional modern dance company, Impulse Dance Theatre Company, was established in 1975. Since then scores of talented choreographers have given New Zealand a reputation for producing work which is distinctive to this country, paying little respect to overseas trends and instead building on the rhythms to be found in our place in the Pacific.

Important in this development was the formation of Limbs Dance Company in 1977. Limbs helped make modern dance a popular part of New Zealand culture, taking dance out into parks, halls and schools, and inspiring an independent spirit in a new generation of dancers and choreographers in the process. Since Limbs demise in the late 1980s, established choreographers have passionately continued to explore new ways of moving and presenting dance.

Dancers like Shona McCullagh in her work Quick and Michael Parmenter in The Dark Forest have explored on stage the interaction between dance and other forms like theatre and video. Groups like Footnote Dance Company have continued to make inroads into the community. Dance has a youth and vitality which saw it increasingly represent New Zealand in all its cultural colour, from young dancer Claire O'Neil's comment on city cafe culture in Caffeine to Sunny Amey, Jan Bolwell and Keri Kaa's combination of haka and the highland fling in Takitoru.

Single Stamp

Single 80c 'Music' gummed stamp.

New Zealand orchestras, chamber groups, ensembles and choirs have developed to an international standard of excellence since the late 1950s. The New Zealand National Orchestra (now the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra) was formed in 1946. In 1974 it was off on its first overseas tour, with the now internationally heralded pianist Michael Houston and with works by New Zealand composers like Edwin Carr and Douglas Lilburn.

Conductors like Sir William Southgate have taken our music to the orchestras of Europe and New Zealand musicians have gotten invitations to tour worldwide. Since composer Douglas Lilburn followed the lead of poets and writers in the 1930s, many others have striven to express the sounds of New Zealand in their music. In recent years, for example, there have been Eve de Castro Robinson's evocation of the Tui and Kākāpō for bass clarinet and Gareth Farr's exploration of rhythm reflecting New Zealand's place in Polynesia and position on the fault line.

Indigenous tradition and a do-it-yourself mentality have also contributed to some innovative musical developments in New Zealand. Whilst Phil Dadson's ensemble From Scratch performed worldwide with instruments created out of everything from PVC pipes to hub-caps, Hirini Melbourne and Richard Nunns revived the forgotten skills of making traditional Māori instruments. These could be heard in everything from the orchestral work of composers like Jaz Coleman to the popular music of Moana and the Moahunters.

Single Stamp

Single $1.00 'Opera' gummed stamp.

With opera, New Zealanders have proven to the world that they can sing scales as well as they can scale mountains. Soprano Kiri Te Kanawa has beome the symbol of New Zealand artistic achievement ever since she first stepped on to the stage at Covent Garden in England in 1971. Many other singers, like soprano Dame Malvina Major and bassists Donald McIntyre and Inia Te Wiata, have gone overseas to find work and returned home as stars.

Events like Auckland's Opera in the Park signalled new found public popularity for opera. What many don't realise, however, is that New Zealand had a grand operatic tradition long before the quality work of regional companies of today, like Opera New Zealand, Wellington City Opera and Canterbury Opera.

From 1862 until the introduction of cinema in the early 20th century, overseas touring opera companies travelled a well trodden circuit around the country. Many of the singers from these opera companies eventually stayed in New Zealand and needing work, set up their own schools. For over 40 years, the Mobil Song Quest has proved to be a professional testing ground for the inheritors of this tradition.

Composers have also been jostling with the likes of Verdi and Puccini for space on the stage. From Alfred Hill's 1923 opera Tapu, through to Jack Body's opera on the life of Rewi Alley in 1998, Alley, New Zealand writers have not been shy about being operatic.

Single Stamp

Single $1.20 'Theatre' gummed stamp.

New Zealand plays have had a phenomenal success in local theatres, like Roger Hall's Social Climbers, in which a group of school teachers gets trapped by rain in a tramping hut, and Anthony McCarten and Stephen Sinclair's Ladies Night, the tale of a group of blokes who find work as strippers. New Zealanders were able to both take pride in their country and laugh at themselves on stage.

New Zealand theatre had become a melting pot for performance traditions and fresh ideas about local culture, a place for issues relating to New Zealand to be played out. Māori theatre groups, for example, have brought together Māori and European traditions to reflect New Zealand's biculturalism, and plays like John Broughton's Mana and Briar Grace Smith's Purapurawhetu have interwoven Māori myth with contemporary social situations. Increasingly, New Zealand's place in the Pacific Theatre have looked at the way Polynesian people have ingrained into New Zealand urban culture.

It wasn't until the 1950s with the New Zealand Players that professional theatre began to develop. In the 1960s the formation of regional theatres like Auckland's Mercury and Wellington's Downstage, and the institution of a national drama school in 1970, fostered New Zealand performers and directors, and encouraged New Zealand writers to explore issues relating to the country's identity. Previously Bruce Mason's first plays in the 1950s were met with uproar. Today it is plays by Mason like End of the Golden Weather and The Pohutukawa Tree which remind us of our history.

Single Stamp

Single $1.50 'Song' gummed stamp.

New Zealand has little of the folk song tradition that gave Australia Waltzing Matilda. Most of the settlers who came to New Zealand were more skilled and educated, and the folk traditions less strong. Māori however, had developed their own strong tradition of waiata or song, passed down as a connection to their past. These were songs to be sung publicly at both important occasions and in everyday situations, used to express feelings, sway emotions or convey a message.

With the arrival of Europeans, Māori embraced the English choral traditions and waiata became influenced by Western melody and harmony. No wonder then that New Zealand's answer to Waltzing Matilda would probably be Pōkarekare Ana or How Great Thou Art, as sung in both English and Māori.

World War brought with it a stronger European song tradition, as New Zealanders from a distance sung of home and expressed a sense of newfound pride. Then in 1949 with the pressing of Ruru Karaitiana's Blue Smoke and Ken Avery's Paekākāriki, a local recording industry was born. With songs like Puha and Pākehā and the Howard Morrison Quartet's My Old Man's an All Black New Zealand culture became something to sing about.

Popular songs like Dave Dobbyn and Herbs' Slice of Heaven were distinctly Kiwi without the need to state it and rap groups like Dam Native and guitar groups like The Muttonbirds looked to New Zealand as well as American sounds.

Single Stamp

Single $1.80 'Ballet' gummed stamp.

In 1997 The Royal New Zealand Ballet had a large touring company and received acclaim overseas. In 1953, when founder Paul Gnatt from the Royal Danish Ballet took the company on its first tour, only four dancers, a pianist and a stage manager hit the road. With the historical elegance of its steps and accessories like the tutu and pointe shoes, ballet may seem like one of the most traditional of the performing arts. Its professional history in New Zealand is relatively short - the first ballet examinations weren't held here until 1935.

In 1997, New Zealand's national company was joined by regional companies like Christchurch's Southern Ballet Theatre, whose work demonstrated the talent and discipline of ballet dancing throughout the country. The standard of The Royal New Zealand Ballet Company has also been internationally recognised. In 1998, for example, the company was given the great honour of presenting a work by one of the world's greatest living chorerographers, Jiri Kylian.

Meanwhile ballet choreographers in New Zealand continued to explore new ground, finding new ways of making ballet relevant for today's audiences. Classics like The Nutcracker and Swan Lake continued to be performed, and inspired thousands of children to take up ballet classes, and choreographers brought new perfomance elements to ballet.

In 1997, Eric Lanquet's Alice for The Royal New Zealand Ballet saw the company act and sing as well as dance, while Mary Jane O'Reilly's Romeo and Juliet for Auckland Ballet brought New Zealand poetry to the music of Tchaikovsky.

First Day Cover First day cover with stamps affixed. Cancelled on the first day of issue. $7.20
Miniature Sheet Booklet Collectable booklet containing a range of miniature sheets and further information on the stamp issue. $13.40

Technical information

Date of issue: 14 January 1998
Number of stamps: Six
Denominations and designs: 40c modern dance, 80c music, $1.00 opera, $1.20 theatre, $1.50 song, $1.80 ballet
Stamps and first day cover designed by: Norris Childs, Whanganui, New Zealand 
Miniature sheet designed by: Design Sector, Auckland, New Zealand
Printer and process: Southern Colour Print, Dunedin, New Zealand by lithography
Number of colours: Four process colours
Stamp size and format: 30mm x 40mm (vertical)
Miniature sheet size: 100mm x 135mm
Paper type: 103gsm red phosphor coated gummed stamp paper
Number of stamps per sheet: 100 
Perforation gauge: 14
Cost of unadressed first day cover: $7.20
Special blocks: Plate/imprint, positional or value blocks could be obtained by purchasing at least six stamp sheets. Colour blocks ('traffic lights') were included in plate blocks. Barcode blocks were available in both A and B formats.
Period of sale: These stamps remained on sale until 14 January 1999.