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Print Version

Auckland Fringe 2013
Mixed Nuts 3 - Mythical
Director/producer: Olivia Taouma

at Mangere Arts Centre, Auckland
From 27 Feb 2013 to 2 Mar 2013
[70 minutes]

Reviewed by Dr Linda Ashley, 27 Feb 2013

Since 2008, LIMA has been supporting emerging Pacific performing artists by giving them opportunities to perform and develop their choreography. Home base is the delectable architecture of the Mangere Arts Centre, Mixed Nuts 3 makes imaginative use of the site's spaces and acoustics combining a promenade style and more conventional proscenium performances. The matinee performance embraced and engaged an audience composed of a cross section of the community, young and old, able and not-so-able, and a large school group with the retelling of some traditional Polynesian myths.

We start outside the theatre with two “Men In Brown”. James Tomasi and Onetoto Ikavuka, AKA Maui and Maui, combine street dance with carefully chosen dialogue, great comic timing and simple but effective changes in choreographic relationships. We are told later on that this was thought up in their garage, adding further to the cool caché and understated poise. They pick up their roles as our guides to the show and, with great anticipation, off we go.

The reinvented Tongan legend, Fale fa, is our welcome mat. Paulo Mohenoa, Tevita Vaka and Leki Jackson Bourke are commanding, mesmerising and poised with ashened skin and golden costumes. Watchful whispers, measured stealth, the uncurling fingers and rotational wrists convey power and grace. All of this is enhanced by their sung accompaniment, a perfect acoustic mix in the Arts Centre foyer. Then as the voices drift away out of the building it all seems like a dream.

Our Usher, ‘Maui', leads us on, continuing with helpful narratives and introductions to each piece. As we walk through the courtyard I am also enjoying the resident sculptures and surrounds, then suddenly the large roller door is found open and Hypnodo Taidem tells the story of how Maui (the real one this time) took away Rohe's face because he thought her beauty made him look ugly. In this solo, Te Kowhai White performs her choreography of recycled and transformed traditional haka movement, in which the black mask covering her face is emphasised. She is all confrontation and travels, jumps, changes level seamlessly amongst the haka vocabulary without compromise of culture or intent. A real tour de force performance is this one, and quite challenging for the audience. You do not want to meet Rohe at the gates of the underworld because she wants her face back!

 Into the theatre – well after a small delay and some cheeky adlibbing from Maui-the-usher in which we are reminded that we, as audience, should be writing down what we like and dislike. I reflect on how my review could be made up of what everyone else writes and how more interesting that might be. Into the gloom– song and sound hint at the theme of the next piece, a Samoan myth about how tattooing was brought to Samoa by two female twins for the women and how the men stole it from them. In this battle of the sexes, my money was on the women who seemed to put up some pretty good opposition. Struggle, pain, striking, percussive, vivid and vivacious patterns scythe through the space as the two duets  battle out a series of simple, but effective counterpoints. Changes of pace, lighting (Samson Chan-Boon) and colour add to the whole, making for an involving piece performed and created by Jaycee Tanuvasa, Chevourne Tairi, Isaako Ah Kiong and Maxine Kalolo.

An ocean of motion, in which borrowing between Polynesian cultures is recognisably traditional, takes us to Hawaii for the next dance. I am reminded of a description written in 1937 in which an incessant interchange of ideas, the firm roots of tradition always sending out new branches on the evergreen tree drift from island to island. I enter into liminal state of suspended belief. The Hawaiian goddess of fire and volcanoes, ‘Pele', takes to the stage but this is more of a seductive Hotness! Darren Tanuie is helpless and hapless enslaved to the power of Pele, danced by Amanaki Prescott-Faletau. Rippling torsos, traditional gestures of arms and legs are surprisingly mixed together with recognisably street dance; a traditional hula this is not.

The duet that follows was unannounced and I am unsure about how it fits into the programme notes as I was informed it was not being performed because of a family bereavement. I comment briefly on the combination of contact improvisation, western contemporary dance, martial arts and glimpses of recognisably cheeky humour. The whole is performed cleanly but reminds me that sometimes this western vocabulary does not sit so well as that from other cultures. 

The final work reaches a quality level of performance, even though it is still in progress. Is more to come maybe later in the year? Home Land & Sea is working from a rather unpleasant piece of political diatribe, written by John Banks who for some confounded reason paints a ridiculous stereotype of the way the young Polynesian males live in South Auckland. He needs to get out more. Is he invited? Should he see this show, he may well eat his words as the young male dancers in this piece confront and rewrite unwanted and unwarranted stereotypes of sitting in front of tv all day taking drugs, drinking and only venturing out to commit burglary. As beige-woman, I am embarrassed for my iwi. Fortunately, I see so much lovely work from young people of all races that I know better.

Olivia Taouma and her 7 performers intersperse solos in which urban, traditional and rural vignettes evoke questions of how young males search for, find or struggle with questions of identity. I am reminded of a conversation I had last week with a well-recognised Tongan dancer who told me that introducing new movement into traditional Tongan dance is a very gradual process in which ‘new' motifs appear first only as transitional moments. So it seems here as the western vocabulary links lengthier passages of more traditional movement, establishing a heartfelt cultural balance of borrowing, recycling and invention.

This show “put a smile on my heart”, as an audience member described it in the Q&A session. Why are Q&As seen as being for schools? This one was just riveting because these young Pacific performers, aged between 18 and 28, are just as articulate and beautiful in telling us about what they do as as they are in performance.

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