Final showing from the Pacific Dance Choreographic Lab
14/10/2011 - 14/10/2011
Three up and coming Pacific women choreographers -- watch this space
Review by Margi Vaz Martin 15th Oct 2011
The Pacific Dance Choreographic Laboratory is an annual lab in which three choreographers of Pacific descent create dance works; this year under the guidance of esteemed dance mentor Neil Ieremia, of Black Grace. This public performance showcases the works in development by these up-and-coming dance choreographers. Watch this space!
At 7.15pm Sefa Enari, formally introduces the show in true Pacific style, and then the show is turned over to the first choreographer, Aucklander Sesilia Pusiaki Tatuila, who briefly describes her concepts.
Maile (Lomipeau fika 3) is a poem composed by Sesilia’s Great Grandfather around 1930 in honour of Queen Salote of Tonga and performed by her family singing group Lomipeau. In this piece she explores ancient tradition while trying to incorporate contemporary movements and without losing an essential Tongan movement base. She describes a struggle and a choice made by a woman to return which is why Tongans can walk on solid ground today.
The stage is set as fourteen Tongan singers sit crossed-legged stage front, facing the dancers. A few dancers come in but the lights are barely on and shadows encase an unknown number. A back stage drum-beats and dancers clap as lights rise to half and three couples come into view. The men stay down stage and Tongan hand movements are woven into modern roles and swings. The young men turn their backs as they move on the spot, while the young women upstage penetrate us with their eyes and their presence. The men are stamping and turning and voacalising “Sah” and “Kiss” while the women leap and turn and roll. Everyone is dressed in black, the men with tupenu (like lava-lava) the women with two layers of long organza skirts over tights. The Tongan choir takes over from the drum beat and adds deep-warm drones and harmonies to the air. The young women’s long, wavy hair swishes as they move with busy, intent; while the men dance their own story using strong shapes, resembling haka.
Lights lower again and couples interact in lyrical connected movements, taking turns at energetic focused patterns and times of stillness or slow rhythmic floor work. At this point the energetic, full and fast singing captures my attention, while the dancers have taken their own slower, lyrical rhythm. The energy of the music acts as a counterpoint to the measured dance, and the effect is a dynamic contrapuntal blend.
Sesilia explains to me afterwards that this is a traditional Tongan form. I notice the tree shadows projected on the back wall, then the tan and amber lights and then it is over. I think of the strength and poise I have experienced, as I consider the meanings and wish for another showing soon.
A beautiful, slight woman, originally from Guam, in the Western Pacific Ocean; is captivating in her loose, white, knit dress. She is Ojeya Cruz Banks, lecturer from the School of Physical Education, University of Otago. Espritu Tasi is an ecological exploration of Guahan’s waters she explains. Research about her home led Ojeya to consider the qualities of waves drawing in and breaking and these features of oceanic water are used as metaphors for understanding her own family narratives of the Chamorro Diaspora . [The reality of diaspora. The internet and other forms of media and communication technology can make up for it, or limit it, but the harshness of the reality still persists. Chamorros as a people are being stretched thin, almost torn into two (or three depending on how one views the relationship between Guam and the CNMI). The diaspora continues to threaten their place on Guam, and the vitality of their culture.]
A busy soundscape emerges of water, children playing, electronic drones and panpipes. They fill the space and Ojeya begins her solo. Her body is the ocean with a circle of light projected onto her torso. It expands until it fills the back wall with softly moving sea and her waving, flowing body opens and closes, rises and lowers. Her movement vocabulary is contemporary but flowing, the projection and soundscape locate us in her meaning, as turbulent motion gives way to quieter currents and moments of pause. At times her rhythm is a considered wading slowly through water, then she falls, rolls and reaches.
Skillfully filling the space with her one body, Ojeya becomes the tide, her speed matching the rushing energy of the water. Until finally, the ocean projection shrinks back into a small circle, and onto her petite body again. A didgeridoo drone, birds and wind chimes fade from the air.
The third and final showing for the night comes from Auckland Choreographer Tapaeru-Ariki Lulu French. The Pacific Muse is a political piece. It focuses on the ‘white’ construct of the Pacific as a ‘sexual paradise’. Lulu has intended to create an alternative position that asserts a Pacific island woman’s voice. She describes images of the ‘Dusky Maiden’ and the ideas surrounding a highly eroticized Pacific feminine mystique. She says that she and her dancers have been using the phrase ‘savage sexy’ as they have worked on the choreography. But her intention is to move beyond and break away from these notions.
A soundscape of waves meets our ears followed by a 1960s New Zealand Pakeha male broadcast voice. He invites us to meet these exotic ones and the graceful rhythms of the happy people. During the voice over the stage is in half-light and the three sexy savages come on stage in floral bustiers and white grass skirts. Their hair is perfectly styled in buns with a multitude of fake flowers framing their gorgeous faces. Male blood pressures can’t help but rise.
With their hips swinging, hands flowing and faces beaming they are intoxicating. Then backs turned, their beautiful behinds swing at Cook Island speed. They represent the stereotypical sexualized image with ease, epitomizing the western-colonial notion that Lulu wishes to challenge.
The middle section of The Pacific Muse is different to the first and last sections. Lighting is red and lowered, a drumming track takes over from harmonious singing, and movements become more angular. The women are serious and intent, moving a little bit faster and while still Pacific in their vocabulary, they seem to be at work, rather than at play. Section three is light hearted and sexy again. I consider the fact that this is the beginning to a longer process of developing this dance and wonder how Lulu will further develop the political themes. I am genuinely intrigued.
Sefa Enari is back on stage, drawing the night to a close, but not before MP Su’a William Sio makes pertinent comments about the grace, poise and strength he has witnessed and how he has been reminded that there is one earth and we are all dependant on the waters. Ocean and climate change, he reminds us, are significant issues for Pacific peoples.
Spearheaded by Pacific Dance New Zealand (PDNZ), the Pacific Dance Choreographic Lab creates opportunities for emerging choreographers to spend focused time creating new work while showcasing the diverse talents and cultural heritages of New Zealand’s Pacific Community. The three pieces shown have been in development for three weeks and are original, of Pacific flavour and presented as embryonic forms, pregnant with future full-length possibilities and performances.
This is the opening to the energetic and creative Southside Arts Festival [www.southside.org.nz] which encompasses more than 30 events across Auckland South, from October 14 to November 6th.
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