Te Papa: Soundings, Wellington
04/03/2006 - 08/03/2006
New Zealand International Arts Festival
Choreographed and performed by Carol Brown and Charles Koroneho
Designed by Dorita Hannah
Flesh to stone, stone to dust, dust to spirit, spirit to flesh; journeys of transformation woven from the strands of Maori ancestral stories and European mythologies.
Performance installation , Dance , Contemporary dance , Theatre ,
1 hr 30 min, no interval
Review by Deirdre Tarrant 31st Mar 2006
Asked to name the two most renowned New Zealand dancers who have left our shores to work and gained international recognition – I would have to say Carol Brown and Jeremy Nelson, both deservingly recognised for their talents away from Aotearoa and both back here this year.
Nelson has been and gone and I was eagerly anticipating Brown’s work for the International Festival as one of the two solos in a performance landscape Aarero Stone.
The landscape, by designer Dorita Hannah, was austere, sophisticated, meticulously realised and beautifully lit by Vanda Kaloczak. A river of stones reflected and caught the light and shimmer of water.
Brown seemed impossibly suspended between life and death, a dotted red line sliced the space and luminous white crosses provided markers for the steps we tread – all gave both the open spaces and confines of existence in which to make personal and solo statements.
The two dancers could not have been more contrasting in their treatment of this landscape. Brown trod carefully, with minimal movement and measured steps, placing herself inside a long black coat as well as the black holes of history and using two scarves to cover her face and a dress that seemed to slip, like the water she ultimately danced in, to give her a range of personas.
The river stone she used to portray her chorus of reality and myth was treated tenderly. Charles Koroneho, the other solo maker, entered in shaman style with bells and playing a skulled recorder, used a range of poorly executed ballet vocabulary and a series of objects to tell us something about his take on the world.
He seemed very confused about what he wanted us to hear and quoted copiously from The Lord of the Rings (Tolkien was a considerably better writer), vented cultural ire about a stolen treaty – Gollum stole the ring in the first place? The much laboured literary connection seemed to miss Koroneho’s intercultural point. Recordings of the Pakeha ritual of singing Happy Birthday, took us to battle and ultimately sang a poignant closing wiata.
Both Brown and Koroneho evoked loss and lamentation and connected this to war but there seemed no cohesive point between the two solos or any rationale for even being on stage together.
The technical mastery and artistic communication was simply not there and as one of the few New Zealand-made Festival shows and one of only three dance events it was a wonderful opportunity wasted.
Copyright © belongs to the reviewer
Where is the key?
Review by John Smythe 28th Mar 2006
The promotional information has intrigued me, although every time I’ve seen something written or heard someone talk about Aarero Stone, it has seemed like a different beast. I therefore decide to approach it with no preconceptions or expectations. But I do deduce, from the rather abstract programme notes, that Aarero Stone means Tongues of Stone, which turns out to be useful.
The opening image is stunning. The sounds of wind and sea amid a hazy light give way to silence and darkness. A figure appears suspended in space, lying on its side behind glass. In formaldehyde? Mummified? Prehistoric? Its head and shoulders, arms and hands, legs and feet are fully fleshed but a black oblong displaces its torso. Only when I am fully convinced it is a latex model does it begin to move, slowly recovering movement, despite – and seemingly beyond – the limits of its box. In a watery projection on the back wall, amid grey drifting splodges (pollution?), her face appears. Voices call, dogs bark …
The woman (Carol Brown) appears on stage in her dark sheath garment and works with a length of flimsy red gauze – a head wrap, a veil, a scarf, a gag, a blindfold – as, mostly clad in a long black coat, she interacts with Dorita Hannah’s performance landscape: a floor marked with white-crossed grid points, a large black slab evoking a granite grave, a shallow dark reflecting pool with a mirror suspended high above, a long elevated trough of large white stones … The tongue of stone. Russell Scoones’ textural sound score is sourced (the programme tells me) from a range of stones and branches as well as glass, metal, water and voice samples …
When the woman stands on the granite slab and speaks lines from Iris Murdoch’s The Agamemnon Class 1939, the hitherto subliminal theme of war, or its aftermath, is confirmed. As a red-veiled whirling dervish (replicating the spin of the Earth), she suggests endless cycles of blood-letting. Laid in water, the scarf suggests rivers of blood. Front hem corners pinned back to the waist, the coat suggests a military uniform. The military discipline of the grid gives way to poetic free-wheeling … Across the back wall a line of text speeds, in English from right to left (so we read it from left to right), in Arabic in the opposite direction. I catch a reference to "Operation Let There Be Light" – an Operation Desert Storm euphemism (am I right?) for high-tech carnage – which ends with "Silence … In shock … So silent" (from White Bachelors by John Downie).
And so to the stones. One large one becomes her face, her shackles, her burden – or maybe her sustenance, her child … I take one positioning of it to represent a white beard then realise it’s a tongue. Of course. The stone is wrapped in the wet red cloth and placed on a shelf (a torn out and bleeding tongue?). Now the performer rolls in the water and vertical now, in a shoulder stand, her movements echo those of the waking cadaver at the start. As she gathers her things and leaves the stage, a shrill whistle sound invades the space…
What mythical creature is this, with feeler-like horns, pale tunic jacket, Samurai cummerbund, black pleated skirt, his long dark hair white at the centre, the white centre line running over his nose, mouth and chin? His whistle is a wooden recorder decorated with the small skull. Charles Koroneho’s movements blend the primal, kapa haka and militaristic (I thought I discerned a flag-bearer there). Pukana – the protruding tongue of Maori carving, the tiki, the tip of the taiaha – makes its inevitable appearance. But there is something quizzical in his grimace … A jet passes overhead … He reclaims his space with waiata, kapa haka, pukana … He produces a yellow pencil, a globe of the world. It’s a pencil sharpener. He swallows the shavings … A voice-over narrates the dawn of another Anzac Day at the obelisk in Ohinemutu, "Not to the glory of war …" He assembles props (passed from behind by Brown): a tomahawk, a cluster of white feathers, a patu, a stem of flowers, a rifle … "They shall not grow old …" Rifle drill. "Abide with me …"
He uses the rifle barrel to blow a conch call, strips off his jacket to reveal the Tino Rangitiratanga flag wrapped over his nono. Now the red dotted line that bisects the beige-panelled back wall takes on some greater significance (but what exactly?) when he peels a strip off and sticks it to his patu. And so he begins to speak, not in the tones of marae oratory but in a whining little voice: "They’ve stolen our Treaty, the little thieves …" He has appropriated Gollum in a piss-take of the protest movement that winds all the way to the Beehive – "You never come out because she gets hungry!" – and the Hikoi of Hope … Cher bro! Brave! (This is self-send-up Maori humour that should not be seen, as I understand it, to dismiss the substantive issues. Rather it clears the way for a fresh approach.) Finally, as the sound track shares the formalities of Charlie’s 50th birthday, Koroneho sits, takes something from a flax basket, unwraps it … It’s traditional kai in red cardboard fast food containers: kumara and shellfish.
Koroneho and Brown do not de-role for their curtain calls but eye each other warily. The issues canvassed remain unresolved.
In the foyer afterwards it becomes apparent that opinions are very divided. One who expected dance feels disappointed (limited palette, no elevations, no change in tempo …). Another notes Brown has interacted with the "performance landscape" but Koroneho has not. Some feel the verbal content is out of place while others welcomed it as offering some hint, at least, as to what it is all about, really, beyond the physical display of stylish performance skill and imagery.
I have found Aarero Stone compelling and feel full of admiration for the physical control of the performers, and for the design, including the lighting (Vanda Karolczak) and sound (Russell Scoones & Charles Koroneho). Many moments and images have gripped my interest and stimulated my natural human impulse to ascribe meaning to them. But I come away feeling as if there must be more to it, that I haven’t got; as if I’ve had my nose pressed to a large glass door for want of a key to let me in. It seems a shame to me that the co-creators, who presumably have communicated clearly their rationales to each other, have insisted on denying their audiences equal access. I’m not saying we need to be spoon fed. Provoking enquiry and posing puzzles can generate great audience satisfaction, provided enough comes clear in the end to reward the attention paid and the effort expended. But leaving us floundering and unfulfilled is not likely to win large audiences through word of mouth.
[Footnote: I have consulted three Maori dictionaries (Ngata, Ryan and Armstrong) and none of them recognise "aarero". All spell the word for tongue "arero". So is the mis-spelling an error or an affectation?]
Copyright © belongs to the reviewer
Sue March 6th, 2006Hi John, I had wondered if the 'A' in arero referred to a mix of English (latin derivative) and Maori arero meaning 'tongue' and that Aarero suggested that Maori had been rendered speechless when in contact with European culture or literally that 'Aarero' means without tongue? However having read the other comment about annunciating Aarero that idea appeals now. Cheers Sue
David Geary March 5th, 2006Hey John - enjoying your reviews from afar. helps me keep in touch the festival. what some Maori do re-spelling a vowel with a long a sound is they put aa. That way you get the pronunciation better. I reckon that maybe the key to aaruero = tongue. you see it sometimes with Taamaki-makaurau for Auckland, when mostly it's written Tamaki-makaurau. Not that I am a Maori scholar by any means. Ask Charles? cheers David Geary
John Smythe March 5th, 2006Thanks for that, David - good to hear from you. I should have said all the dictionaries use macrons for long vowels (the alternative to a double vowel) and none placed a macron over the 'a' of arero. Cheers John
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