Birds of Paradise

Ascension Vineyard, Matakana, Auckland

24/10/2009 - 25/10/2009

Leigh Sawmill Café, Auckland

16/10/2009 - 17/10/2009

Tempo Dance Festival 2009

Production Details


Somewhere north of Auckland, sometime this October, some truly fantastical creatures will be part of an evening’s entertainment you’ll never forget.

Birds of Paradise is an opulent and flamboyant avant-garde burlesque cabaret, exploring the rituals of courtship and the attention-seeking performances of some of our most bizarre and alluring feathered friends. Birds of Paradise promises to be a uniquely spectacular event, weaving together dance, music, drama and comedy into a feast for all senses.

This will be an unforgettable evening, filled with exquisitely ornate, humorous, and delightfully sensual creatures which are brought to life by the uniquely talented Morag Magnolia Brownlie.  

Also on hand to entertain is the hugely talented Mika, the stunning Caitlin Smith (Georgia Wood at Acensioin Vineyard) and Henry Taripo, and the hilarious Jonathan Brugh.  Delicious dancers include award-winning dancer Georgie Goater, Naressa Gamble, Seonade Lyons, Mike Holland, Leda Petit (Sunday Show only) who is the reigning queen of burlesque, and members of Pasifika Sway and many other acclaimed performers will join Morag to delight and tickle your fancy. Some tease, some taunt, some startle with their voice and some have other special abilities…

Morag is best known for her decades of directing, choreography, visuals and design on The NZ Wearable Art awards, internationally acclaimed films, and multimedia dance extravaganzas. She has designed many unique performance experiences including the Team New Zealand Americas Cup Ball’s and Sky City’s New Years Eve spectacles, and the occasional 20 tonne digger dancing in the Auckland Domain, to the Symphony Orchestra …

If that is not enough to tantalise your taste buds there is also the exquisite wardrobe which combines a luxurious concoction of international and local designers. Featuring items from Trelise Cooper (pink skirt pictured), Issey Miyake, Brook Tyson, Suzie Millner and Morag’s own designs- (white pictured) and World (pink blouse pictured). Missy Millner has collaborated on some exquisite hats. And Sensorie contribute to both wardrobe and performance.  Frances Melhop, voted one of the top 200 photographers in the world 2008 (by Luerzers Archive), is a collaborator on the imagery for Birds of Paradise.


Birds of Paradise takes place over two consecutive weekends (including Labour weekend). Organisers are asking the audience to dress with style.  Come adorned with a fascinator hat or feathery cravat and you may be in for a prize or treat.

So, prepare yourselves for a luscious and truly memorable evening:  exquisite food; delicious cocktails (provided by Absolute at the Sawmill); the Birds of Paradise show; and, later, shaking your tail feathers dancing. 

Birds of Paradise:
Fri 16 & Sat 17 Oct – Leigh Sawmill Café (DJ and Caitlin Smith at Sawmill only)
Sat 24 & Sun 25 Oct – Ascension Vineyard, Matakana.  
Both venues open at 6pm for a special feathery feast and drinks.  Show – 9pm.
Tickets:  $35 – $55.  
Booking: or

Writer, Director, Choreographer: Morag Magnolia Brownlie
Morag choreographed all sections of the show except the Pacifika Sway trad dance section, Leda petit performs her own choreography, Cuban Groove contributed a lot of their own material. Thanks to all the dancers for their contributions

Bird Dancers: Georgie Goater, Seonaid Lyons, Naressa Gamble, Mike Holland, Leda petit, Greydis Montero & Vivio Ramos (The Cuban Groove), Aruna Po-Ching, Feeonaa Wall (Pasifika Sway), Tarja Pabruwe

Actors / Singers: Johnny Brugh, Caitlin Smith, Mika, Henry ah foo Taripo, Georgia Wood, Ms Mmmmmm

Designer: Morag Brownlie
Major creative contributions: Trelise Cooper, Brooke Tyson, Suzie Millner, Flo Foxworthy, Taria Pabruwe
Thanks to Brooke Tyson and whanau, Ruth Wynne for her valued assistance, Wendy, Kate Lang and Kalou Koefoed.  

Makeup: Kris Kammelbac
Hair: Linda of Hairworld Orewa   

Props: Special thanks to: Jo Bleakly, Paula Coulthard, Ruth Wyne, Tane Jaret
Photography: Frances J Melhop
Music Selector: Morag Brownlie
Thanks to Sean James Donelly for his suggestions, original composition and existing stunners off his new album. And to sound operator Mark Paton for help with sourcing, sprucing and splicing. It is a wonderfull concoction featuring SJD, Gold Frap, Bonobo, Sola rosa, Michael Nyman and many more.
Producer: Morag Brownlie
Admin/Production Assistance: Helen Langford, Anne Marie Pope, Siobhian Glancey Ross
Lighting: Jenny Puller, Otis Mase (follow spot)
Sound Operator: Marc Paton, Nigel Music Mountain
Stage Manager: Siobhian Glancey Ross
Assistant Stage Managers: Lance, Leighan, Wendy
Front of house: Ruth Wynne, Helen Langford
Publicity: Thanks to Elephant publicity and Rita Riccola

An inspiring, mindful work of international class

Review by Celine Sumic 27th Oct 2009

Fashioned from top local talent and delivered with choreographer Morag Magnolia Brownlie’s characteristic humour and sensitivity, the disarmingly beautiful Birds of Paradise is a unique blend of feathery fantasy and environmental fairy tale.

Woven together with a thread of vocal gold, this unusual show features an outstanding mix of live and recorded sound integrating a contemporary, experimental use of voice with the recorded riches of Sean James Donnelly and others.  Mixed in the moment by sound operator Marc Paton, the score of Birds of Paradise has an unusual sonic dimensionality, with its layered, collaborative quality reflective of the personality and choreographic intellect behind the work. 

"Thank you for leaving your technology at home," applauds Brownlie to the audience at the beginning of the show, although arguably we never quite do, with the impact of technology carried within the constructs of our identities, our senses and subjectivities, as well as our expectations and perspectives on life and art …

Joining the journey of sound, an unfolding narrative of ecological warning is played out amongst a series of danced unveilings.  Layers of opulent costuming, designed by Brownlie and featuring significant creative contributions by Trelise Cooper and others, create a strangely oscillating aesthetic experience given the context of the low key venue, leaving me with the feeling I have stepped inside the zoom function of Google Earth.

Towering above us from a pair of black stilts, replete in black crinoline frock (a fabric expanse Brownlie refers to as a ‘story book’), there is an otherworldly quality to this work that reminds me of Wim Wender’s Wings of Desire.  The angelic inference, found in the choreographer’s surreal stance as she sprinkles the audience with handfuls of glitter and snatches of bird song, is underscored by her initially monochromatically-clad cast who subsequently dramatically unveil over the evening in sequential bursts of colour.

An intellectual work gracefully wrapped in the playful cellophane of fantasy, Birds of Paradise observes the absence of the female figure in contemporary children’s mythology, bridging questions of gender identity and ecological concerns with embodied expressions of both human and ornithological courtship.  "Have you noticed," Brownlie observes in lilting, story-telling tone as she prepares to rewrite The Hungry Caterpillar as a she-male, "even pink Piglet is a boy." 

Falling from an ethereal, black-stilted height, her words land together with a handful of glitter, somewhere on my skin, contributing to the dissolve of the paradigmatic ‘fourth wall’ between audience and performer. 

Full of surprises, moments of pathos and sexually competitive humour, Brownlie’s lightly played work of feminist regard is further developed by her inclusion of male dancers in this contemporary and ethically provocative take on the burlesque form.   As the sequential removal of layers of costuming from the female dancers eventually reveal a triplicate splash of bright-pink satin frills, shaken in impressive tail-feather style to Beyonce’s hot Single Ladies by sparkly-shoed Naressa Gamble, Georgie Goater and Seonaid Lyons, male dancers Mike Holland and Vivio Ramos create a striking contrast with their chiselled bodies and expressive faces.

Alternating with Brownlie’s frequent interpolations, a wide-eyed Jonathan Brugh plays the studiously attentive David Attenborough, lacing together various sections of the show with his finely crafted comic ease.  The expressivity of the face, together with elements of courtship rituals interpreted within contemporary, hip-hop and Latin-American dance vocabulary make this work a multi-dimensional choreographic challenge tackled by the artists involved with a collective coy conviction.

Integrating performance theme, dancers’ costuming and audience members’ hair-dos (encouraged via the advertising and ticketing information), all contribute to the sense of intimacy of the work, along with a frequent use of the aisles as part of the performance space.  Brownlie, Mika, Henry Ah-Foo Taripo, Cuban Groove (Greydis Montero and Vivio Ramos) and Pacific Sway (Aruna Po-Ching and Feeonaa Wall) all make notable appearances in this area.

Of global appeal, with an outstanding use of sound and costume and the integration of themes of identity, femininity and environmental concern, Birds of Paradise is an inspiring, mindful work.  A genius of casting, Henry Ah-Foo Taripo’s transcendental voice and Georgie Goater’s luminous delivery of danced abandon and delicate bird-like nuance mark them out as artistic lights in this undeniably fantastic collaboration of local talent. 

While arguably a little too long in its current form, with some editing and attention to transitions Birds of Paradise suggests a performance product of international class. 

One of the best shows I’ve seen this year. 
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