Basement Theatre Studio, Lower Greys Ave, Auckland

08/10/2019 - 11/10/2019

Tempo Dance Festival 2019

Production Details


What does it feel like to embody a karanga? How does one hold this large silence? How does its call resonate when in a different body, country or culture?

Trans-tasman movement artists Forest Vicky Kapo and Paea Leach bring a fresh response to an old call, paying homage to new song lines that are awakening and calling to us all.

Karanga is the future.

As part of Tempo Dance Festival 2019.

Performance installation , Performance Art , Dance , Cultural activation , Contemporary dance ,

50 mins

Calling home

Review by Dr Moana Nepia 15th Oct 2019

For Forest vicky kapo and Paea Leach, the Basement Theatre Studio provided an intimate venue in which to stage their collaboration “spatialising kōrero”, exploring how karanga might be “embodied within contemporary performance”, how it might feel, move, sound and be shared, or how “its call might resonate when in a different body, culture or country.” Given the fact that karanga already embody performative expressions of customary and contemporary knowledge, I was intrigued to see how this experimental work might nuance or add meaning to existing understandings of karanga. In addition to their embodiment of deep seated knowledge reflecting the mana and wellbeing of specific tribal, hapū and whānau groups, and the status of those women who perform them, karanga activate links between the past and present, spiritual and physical realms. They also embody cultural knowledge pertaining to women as those who conceive, nurture and bring life into the world, as whare tāngata – the ‘houses’ of mankind – and for this reason, I was pleased that a Māori woman had already accepted an invitation to review this show first before I had been asked.

Leach, who has an Australian mother and whakapapa links through her father to Te Tai Tokerau, including to Ngāti Kuri in the far north and Ngāti Hine, grew up and has spent most of her life in Australia. She has a wealth of experience with leading Australian dance makers and institutions including Chunky Move, Australian Dance Theatre, Lucy Guerin Inc., Bangarra Dance Theatre, West Australian Dance Academy, the Victorian College of the Arts, and European companies PVC Tanz Freiburg Heidelberg and EASTMAN Belgium. Kapo has ties to Ngāti Raukawa and Te Atiawa, and is a Unitec graduate, a performer, choreographer and installation artist who incorporates live and recorded sound, movement and sculptural elements in her installations. She has worked with Atamira Dance Company, I-Moving Lab with Jack Gray and Dakota Camacho, Melbourne Fringe Festival, Tru Paraha, Wellington Performance Arts, and in the United States, Germany and France.

Both performers are compelling to watch. Fluid transitions and shifts of focus between internal and external references, whole body movement, rest, gestural precision, fragments of spoken word and rhythmic vocalisations in Leach’s solo articulate layers of testing, questioning and answering within multiple states of tension and relaxation, between different forces, the known and unknown. Kapo similarly renders spaces of silence and echo in her vocal reverb, spaces between chairs, between ritually placed stones resembling a spine through the length of the performance space, between finely balanced bamboo pointers, and between pauses in her movement phrases, as precise markers or place holders. The series of relationships both artists delineate through their choreographic and spatial design also indicate and reference the external relationships that contextualise their trans-Tasman diasporic experiences, indigenous commonalities, shared discussions and poetic compositions.

Karanga, for Leach and Kapo, is partly a response to the ‘call home’, the call to re-connect with their whānau and to deepen understanding of their taha Māori. This entails whakarongo, a sensing or ‘listening’ through the whole body to that call, what they are experiencing, feeling and doing while journeying to ground themselves in their own tribal knowledge, and learning and listening to what others have done before them. 

In 2011, a karanga was sent out as a vocal call that was digitally transformed into an animated visual journey circumnavigating the globe. It reached into homes throughout the world as part of the opening ceremony for the Rugby World Cup that was live-streamed via the internet. Karanga have become part of the repertoire of Māori material drawn upon by New Zealand film makers and theatre directors to trigger emotional associations with grief, loss and suffering. And in some exhibitions of Māori art, a woman’s work may be placed near the entrance as a karanga or welcome into the gallery. 

What these precedents offer for Leach and Kapo are instances where karanga are not only heard, felt, placed and experienced as contemporary performance, they offer examples of karanga in new contexts where their ability to connect with and enlighten their audiences is potent and direct in spite of the transformative and material renderings they may have undergone. Framing performances as ‘experimental’ will continue to be useful for Leach and Kapo if they can pursue, describe and communicate that direction and their findings to their audiences with clarity and precision. If not, their audiences might grow suspicious that they are being experimented upon.


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A call to return home

Review by Dr Tia Reihana-Morunga 14th Oct 2019

As an Ngāti Hine wahine, karanga has its own enriching and meaningful whakapapa for my whānau. In my own experiences in connecting to this enriching taonga, its knowledge exists well beyond the formalities of ceremony and the common ways we may experience it, such as pohiri tikanga. As we journey through the endless landscapes in the reclaiming of our mana wahine pūrākau, the decolonisation of karanga, much as the decolonisation in how we understand the wearing of our moko kauae as wahine…  means that it is important to state that it is our birthright. The karanga is a taonga in which we connect to, embody, experience, and communicate ourselves in all our shapes, consciousness, sounds and richness. Wahine karanga our morning, our tūpuna, our diverse landscapes, our grief, our joys, our babies as they enter into Te Ao Mārama, our whānau as they journey towards the karanga of Hine-nui-te-pō. We Karanga our loved ones home and onto our whenua, and so much more… We karanga.

The karanga of Paea Leach and Forest Vicky Kapo onto whenua holds much significance, however humble, in suggestion to audience. And in the simplicity of set, costume and moment I am willing to let go the constructs of what we might expect within the theatre and as Forest comments – their ‘works in progress’. Inside the naming of this collaboration there are implications for how we engage with each other, our histories and futures. Like the awa that flows under the urban concrete setting of Tāmaki Makaurau, it belongs even when we do not immediately see it.

This work is a meaningful koha, and socio-political undercurrents exist. The personal is political and it is important that as iwi we continue to create respectful spaces for others to partake their own hikoi unique to our shared respect and love of the atamira.

So we enter a quiet darkened studio space, and Forest greets us in an informality that lends to what is incoming without tinsel and pizzazz. And it is.

Paea Leach is the first to perform. Having responded to her own karanga to return home (as many of us do), her provocations explored intrinsic landscapes of connection. Navigations of the body and space as means to move towards, through and underneath as she quotes the “atmosphere” and “feel into Māori-ness” situate the work as a vulnerable and generous exploration of self.

Her work with 4 remote operated spotlights, moving propeller blades hanging from the ceiling overhead… and the simple exchanges of clothing between sections, create the soft structures in which to engage as audience. Layers lost and movement transitions are often uncertain to witness, yet durational to allow time for a narrative to form in thought. Key words in stutter, whisper and repetition suggest the thinking body that drives movement. Whakapapa is heard in fragmentation, and at times almost frustration as her body and breath articulates what might be familiar kinaesthetic histories.

In her performance, eventual emerging motifs that connect to sound and self, are strange, simple, personal and gentle. There is nothing aggressive throughout that exerts a fixed identity to audience… more a play between spaces. The tohu are there yet they are not overt gestures of culture, instead appearing as moments in the quest of something near?

Paea and her use of oral landscapes consider developing states of karanga; they are deep calls, sometimes muffled and almost child-like. A karanga within, like the awa below. You cannot see it through concrete, wall and urbanisation… But it is there… As Paea asks in written word ‘How do we know that our tīpuna are there? We know, because we are here… just like the awa below.

Perhaps the most predominant in Paea’s work is breath. It is strong to reveal the hidden storyline of connected and kaha, dancer and wahine. So if we connect to consider that Paea is feeling into whakapapa then the mātauranga of karanga as means to facilitate her journey exist well beyond the confines of this short performance.  There is much in there, provocations and a plurality of words that adhere to Te Ao Māori, perhaps too much to confidently embody for most in this time-line. The work felt into her own at times fragile (like many of us) notions of mana wahine.  I look forward to seeing more as her journey continues on whenua and beyond.

 Following Paea the formalities of evening were undone further with performance artist Forest Vicky Kapo.  Also returning home from Australia for this work, the duality of having both wāhine working on whenua added to the complexities of Karanga. In our observations Forest invites a curiosity to the reset of space. Amplifier in retro landscaping, microphone hanging, wooden chairs, rocks and lengths of bamboo await activation.  She begins in chanting whilst negotiating interplays with beat box, that have weird green lights to signal some kind of performance dashboard. There are breaks with the performative walls throughout. Unexpected, unplanned situations where rock is rolled through space on floor are attentive to our audience inclinations for intrigue.

Forest creates junctures that arrive somewhat unawares to preamble sites of mātauranga. The rolling of stone, and discussion between ātua where a “hello god 1” dialogue comically prods our current agencies of environmental terror and extinction. Long bamboo antennae as means to sense space or navigate ocean are then placed on microphone stand to make mobile and low level pathways. There is more rolling of stones and we are also animals invited to board an ark. It’s peculiar and asks for us to re-imagine.

And in my ongoing re-imaging during this work, perhaps most consequential are her visual sets guided by pūrākau and brewed via morsel conversations with audience. Near conclusion (which Forest announces is in approach) a reformed studio landscape involving the strategic placement of large stones is created. Each is carried and thoughtfully laid to rest on floor. We are introduced to her mother’s sisters… the seven sisters. At this time I tuned to our own cluster of stars, to remember that I to have seven sisters. It’s a significant arrival to the work and I can’t help but think that over the previous 3 nights performances that the arrival of the rock sisters have been different in modality each time.

At the end there is a mauri that remains and an agency that wants to acknowledge the karanga (a call home) for these artists to share. That the stories are inherently different and challenging to our preconceptions of culture and Māoridom is important. To hear the karanga and respond; to walk across the ātea; to move from states of waewae tapu to noa; to reignite our mana motuhake as mana whenua; to evoke those present and passed; and to contemplate the enlivening of wairua within the constructs of theatre and festival. is a good good thing. So good that we should be fearless of our ongoing support that karanga to our diverse mana wahine to continue to occupy such creative and charged landscapes.


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