The Edinburgh Playhouse, Edinburgh, Scotland

16/08/2014 - 17/08/2014

ASB Theatre, Aotea Centre, Auckland

06/03/2015 - 07/03/2015

Auckland Arts Festival 2015

Edinburgh International Festival 2014

Production Details

Following his acclaimed performances of Tempest: Without a Body and Birds with Skymirrors during Festival 2010, Lemi Ponifasio returns with another stunning work, exploring the legacy of the First World War and the seismic impact the conflict had around the world. 

Through an intoxicating mix of extreme physicality, poetic movement, striking imagery and a dynamic interplay of light and darkness, I AM takes inspiration from artist Colin McCahon’s ground-breaking painting Victory over Death 2, exploring identity, conflict and the power of art to transform and elevate us in counterbalance to the horrors wrought by war. 

New Zealand’s most innovative international contemporary dance and theatre company, led by one of the most distinctive choreographers working today, MAU tackle issues of politics, race, tradition and mythology through a dynamic combination of ideas and influences, performed by a community of dancers drawn from all walks of life. 

 “Both Tempest: Without a Body and Birds with Skymirrors touched viewers in a very deep and unexpected way, and I for one will never forget them” – The Scotsman, Festival 2010 

“Physically extraordinary and imaginatively charged – The Guardian, Festival 2010 

Please note this performance contains nudity.

The Edinburgh Playhouse 
16 – 17 August 2014
Running time: 1 hour and 50 minutes approximately





“A proliferation of striking, unforgettable images… nothing short of epic” – The Scotsman, Edinburgh

“It is impossible to encapsulate fully this mesmeric performance”  – The Guardian, UK





6 March – 7 March 2015

Aotea Centre

Powerful, immersive and visionary I AM makes its New Zealand debut 6 – 7 March 2015, as part of Auckland Arts Festival 2015.

The latest internationally-acclaimed creation from MAU and the brilliant artistic mind of Samoan-New Zealand director, Lemi Ponifasio, I AMexplores thelegacy of the First World War and the seismic impact the conflict had around the world.

Against a visual backdrop of Colin McCahon’s Victory over death 2 (1970), and a dynamic interplay of light and darkness by Helen Todd, MAU’s performers communicate using a mix of extreme physicality and moving beauty, a mix of dance performance and apocalyptic vision.

At its core, the themes of identity, conflict and the power of art to transform and elevate.

A pioneer in the development of contemporary Pacific theatre and dance, Lemi Ponifasio is known for his radical approach to the theatre. He presents his work at major theatres and festivals internationally including Theatre de la Ville Paris, Holland Festival, Southbank Centre London, the Venice Biennale, the Lincoln Center New York, Edinburgh International Festival and also throughout the Pacific Islands.

Ponifasio’s unbending directorial conviction and distinctive aesthetic make MAU one of the world’s most innovative visual-theatre companies. Garnering accolades from audiences and critics in Europe, the Americas, Asia, Australia and the Pacific, MAU’s trademark, genre-defying performances challenge what it means to be human.

With generous support from the First World War Centenary WW100 through the Creative New Zealand WW100 Co-Commissioning Fund.

Auckland Arts Festival
6 & 7 March 2015
ASB Theatre, Aotea Centre
Bookimgs: http://www.ticketmaster.co.nz/Mau-tickets/artist/1967975

Costumes Kasia Pol
Production Susana Lei'ataua

Sound composition Lemi Ponifasio and Marc Chesterman (including sound track from PARADISE)
Moteatea (traditional sung Maori poetry) Ria Te Uira Paki

Sound director : Sebastian Schottke

MAU Performers: Arikitau Tentau, Bainrebu Tonganibeia, Charles Koroneho, Gabriel Castillo, Helmi Prasetyo (Teater Ruang),  Ioane Papalii, Kasina Campbell, Maereke Teteka, Peter Saena-Brown,  Ria Te Uira Paki, Rosie Te Rauawhea Belvie, Nina Arsenault, Peresetene Afato, Terry Faleono

with the participation of : Caitlin Davey, Lydia Connolly-Hiatt, Amy Mauvan, Lisa Greenfield, Tallulah Holly-0Massey, Jahra wasasala, Xin Cheng, Chelsea baxter

Paintings: Colin McCahon Victory over death 2 and I applied my mind

References: Hamlet-machine Heiner Muller; Pour en finir avec le jugement de dieu  Antonin Artaud

Spectacle , Performance installation , Pacific traditional dance forms , Pasifika contemporary dance , Multi-discipline , Dance ,

1hr 50mins

Cosmological figures in play

Review by Raewyn Whyte 20th Mar 2015

As the work continues, played out against the rumbling, thundering score first created for Paradise (2003), with vibrating sub-sonics invading the bodies of the audience, other familiar cosmological figures take their pivotal places. The seemingly ancient bent-double walking Monkey Man (Helmi Prasetyo) provides a symbol of human evolution, the destructive power of bombs, and human resentment of the power ascribed to the Gods 

Read the review


Make a comment

I AM: ASB Theatre

Review by Bernadette Rae 07th Mar 2015

Activism through art specialist Lemi Ponifasio and Mau take Colin McCahon’s iconic painting as a huge and architectural backdrop to their spellbinding tribute to the fallen of World War 1 – and take its sub title “Victory Over Death 2” to the very heart. The giant image emerges magically from a tilting back panel that initially portrays a darkly monochromatic abstract that might be the geological strata of an ancient earth, trench viewed: and, at work’s end, a climactic torrent of waterfall that fails to completely obliterate the dreadful detritus of what has gone before, in spite of its cleansing power.

Read the review


Make a comment

Shouting to the void

Review by Jesse Quaid 07th Mar 2015

I AM; a powerful statement of self, a shout into the void. The desire to be seen lies at the heart of Lemi Ponifasio’s latest work, delivering stillness, fury and a vehement certainty in the face of an uncaring universe. The inhabitants of this starkly lit space have too many faults to be uncertain lest their world crumble down around them.

I AM is a response to war, and there is imagery enough to support this premise; the blue-clad soldier, the blood-drenched idol carrying a musket, a stage that is replete with ghosts, facelessly stoic against the fury of the antagonists. More so, though, it is human nature when faced with the battlefield; an exaltation, a supplication, a “fuck you” and a plea to the gods.

The space, shaped by the monolithic wall, is cleverly lit by Helen Todd in shades of black and slate and stark white to create a post-apocalyptic vision reminiscent of early science-fiction. The humanity of the performers is often negated making the individuals, picked out and luminous, seem archetypal. Supporting this is the rumbling soundscore, loud enough at times to make the seats shake. The voices of the performers both compete with and weave through the sound and it is within this that the full power of the work sits. Whether without words or one of the many languages used the voices of the performers carry all the violence, grief, pain and the sense of danger that the movement alone can not quite reach.

This is a work of straight lines. Images slide across the stage as though on a conveyor belt, proceeding inevitably to some unseen end point. Where curves break this flow they become portentous, like the gliding Kiribati flowing through the shadows in silent judgement, or chaotic as when Gabriel Castillo flings himself wildly across the stage in perpetual conflict with everything and everyone.

A man bends himself backwards for an uncaring god, swallowed by the glare of a single light. A line of black clad bodies stands, obedient, hands slapping like moth wings. The soldier, become half beast, throws eggs at the wall in futile defiance. Against an uncaring universe, swept up by the tides of humanity’s violent tendencies, the work’s title becomes a statement of survival, of defiance, of solidity in an uncertain world. I am.


Make a comment

IT IS a conversation with the gods

Review by Dione Joseph 31st Aug 2014

As an artist (both as a director and a writer) one of the most useful pieces of advice I have ever been given was by Lemi Ponifasio himself: “Stop trying to understand – just imagine.”

The latest work from New Zealand based company MAU requires you to do just that – IMAGINE.

Spearheaded by Ponifasio, artist and activist, I AM is a poetic and visceral invocation that requires, no actually demands, that you relinquish the cerebral demands for comprehension and simply immerse yourself in a complete saturation of the senses. 

Lemi’s advice becomes clear as I settle into my seat for the company’s debut UK performance at the Edinburgh International Festival. To imagine is to activate the space; indeed the universe that Ponifasio creates is one where expectations of theatre, dance, poetry and prayer are intricately woven together to create a response that transcends expectations of what could be – or should be – and instead engages with what endures after the tragedy.

The production begins not with the conventional dimming of the lights but when the audience notices, takes heed, of a single man in military uniform walking along the elevated edge of a diagonal surface. Beneath him boxes shrouded in black moved slowly, painfully, and as they push across the massive stage he opens his spirit unto the heavens and sings.

I AM isn’t an attempt to be grandiose or bombastic but it does channel, unequivocally, the epic. It brings a depth of ritual in its true performative context into the theatre – the politics are our own to impose (or not) as we please. 

Indeed it is tempting to draw upon references that seem obvious: the visual inscription of the words I AM from New Zealand artist Colin McCahon’s Victory over Death from the 1970s; the work of German director Heiner Muller particularly in his production of Die Hamletmaschine; the work from French playwright Antonin Artuad and of course Samoan song cycles and prayers.

But when the programme notes have been thumbed through, the crackling of cough lollies has desisted and chairs creak into a position of comfort, none of those references matter in the moment. They are almost forgotten. What is vividly recalled are the corridors of light. Exquisite in its blinkered moments a chorus of shadows flits across the stage highlighting the illusive black and white realities of our existence, a call unto the gods is made in Samoan, and a woman begins a karakia in Maori. These are our cries for recognition, we are here.

And then stark, naked, bodies on stage. A crucifixion. Smashed eggs drip slowly down. The embryo and the Prophet both hang upon the massive canvas of our own unfolding. A red red flower stuffed into the mouth of a woman. Confronting, intoxicating, she is everything we have despised and yet we love love love her; our eyes cannot tear themselves away from this wet and bloody stoning.

With no interval the performance demands that you take as much or as little notice of the world that is manifest before you. Devastation, degradation and complete disenchantment – this is the legacy of the Great War. This is a testimony to the unheard voices and the many bodies that are not noticed. And yet there is hope. 

18 dancers breathe life into this space. Quick applause. Light movements. Slow heavy and yet highly nuanced and sculpted movement create a visual ecology of understanding and relationships. The stage floods. Cinematic and yet cleansing. Sublime, not because of the moment itself but for the horror that was inscribed before.

I AM is not a challenge to institutionalism or western orthodoxy. It is a testament to recognising our humanity; an opportunity to have an encounter that transgresses the boundaries of what we know – and more importantly think we know. 

It is inevitably, whether you care to believe or not, a conversation with the gods.


Simon Taylor September 2nd, 2014

the show may not be grandiose and bombastic, the review is.

Make a comment

Wellingon City Council
Aotearoa Gaming Trust
Creative NZ
Auckland City Council