22/08/2023 - 27/08/2023
Director - Katrina George
Musical Composers - Samara Alofa and Hannah Lynch
Producer - Jessica Underwood Varma
Red Leap Theatre
Red Leap Associate Artist Katrina George leads a Pasifika ensemble in the creation of this devised work.
Through choreography, indigenous instrumentation, evocative text, and cutting-edge technology, Moe Miti erupts onto the stage. In an ode to the power of storytelling, three generations of Pasifika women attempt to rewrite the future by contending with the past. In the shifting space between waking and sleep, ancient lineages take shape in the darkness.
Pepe, a young woman born in New Zealand, confronts a severance from both her mother Valu and her language and culture. Her land and lineage are on the tip of her tongue, but Valu leaves her mute as she vies for centre stage. When their ancestor Aiga emerges in a dreamscape, and refuses to be ignored, ancient and contemporary identities converge in a collision of intergenerational reconciliation and transformation. Origin stories of cruelty and courage crawl into consciousness.
As plumes of smoke, beams of electric blue light, and spirits appear and recede into the darkness, ancient and contemporary stories collide, pushing theatrical boundaries. Through a uniquely Pasifika lens, this production explores universal themes of family, identity, migration, and the quest for connection. Moe Miti is a means to reclaim identity, honour heritage, and forge a path towards healing.
Q Theatre, Loft, 22 – 27 August 2023,
$25 – $42,
tickets available through Q Theatre: https://www.qtheatre.co.nz/shows/moe-miti
Director - Katrina George
AV/Spatial Design - Owen McCarthy
Lighting Design - Jane Hakaraia
Costume Design - Tori Manley-Tapu
Musical Composers - Samara Alofa and Hannah Lynch
Dramaturg - Anna Marbrook
Producer - Jessica Underwood Varma
Theatre , Music ,
An absolutely wonderful work that deserves the opportunity of a longer season
Review by Lexie Matheson 28th Aug 2023
I will taste the bitter separation and oil my skin with it. I will listen for all that is old and with my ear pressed to the dirt, hear those who sing my name on the wind.
In September 1966, Paul Simon released the iconic album ‘Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme’ and buried in the lyrics of ‘The Dangling Conversation’ was the seemingly eternal question (for us anyway) ‘Is the theatre really dead?’ It’s a line that has stuck in my mind ever since and resurfaced often over the subsequent fifty years, usually when I’ve been sitting in a darkened theatre bored out of my tiny mind by poor work – but also when the opposite has been the case and my response has always been a resounding ‘it’s alive and well, Paul, in the hands of these fabulous artists!’
The work of Red Leap Theatre Company always elicits the latter response, and even more than usual when I attended their latest devised work Moe Miti, staged in the Q Loft. It’s enough to say that the creative team of director Katrina George, boss of AV/Spatial Design Owen McCarthy, lighting designer extraordinaire Jane Hakaraia, costume queen Tori Manley-Tapu, composers Samara Alofa and Hannah Lynch and producer Jessica Underwood Varma have created a small space design masterpiece without looking further – but further is every bit as good. As tech excellence goes, Moe Miti is absolutely magnificent. Add in the work of dramaturg Anna Marbrook and you have a breathtaking example of the art of the audio-visual, the audio including the great text.
The Red Leap is a devising theatre company, dedicated to “innovating theatrical form through the intersection of dynamic physicality, arresting imagery, and inventive original storytelling.” Their kaupapa, as stated on their excellent website, is “women led theatre that is bold, visual, and ignites the imagination. Red Leap creates theatre that celebrates women as the central voice. Red Leap acknowledges that there is a multiplicity of people who are encompassed by the term women. Gender is an increasingly contested construct. Red Leap is invested in this ongoing kōrero. We seek to address the racial, and gendered power dynamics that exist inside the intersectionality of being women living in a colonised country.”
Director Katrina George’s Programme Notes tell us that, as she was “making Moe Miti, this dream space, it’s become clear that the dialogue I want to have is about unpacking intergenerational rage. Wherever the rage has come from (I have a strong suspicion that colonisation has a strong hand in it all) we deal with the impacts on our families and ourselves. I’m interested in looking at the cycle of rage, the regret that follows, and what it takes to shift the cycle. Cycles are part of living. I don’t think we can divorce ourselves from that, but I do think we can shift the trajectory of where the next cycle begins. Moe Miti conjures a conversation between past, present and future, how we move forward or simply come to an understanding/acceptance of the va’a between connection and disconnection. It’s about growing to see one another with more empathy.”
The marketing for the show tells us “Moe Miti – dreams. A feeling. A flavour. The atmosphere of your Aunty telling your favourite fagogo. Everyone is belly laughing, squished around the dining table in your quaint state house kitchen. The sterile white tiles are littered with bare brown feet, stomping in hysterics. The old table bares the weight of steaming big pots of galo, lamb and rice. Talanoa spills out of the windows. Vivid remembering of our ancient and beautiful origin stories strike against the domestic backdrop. Dreams of reclamation rub shoulders with the spirits of our ancestors.
“Through choreography, indigenous instrumentation, evocative text, and cutting-edge technology, Moe Miti erupts onto the stage. In an ode to the power of storytelling, three generations of Pasifika women attempt to rewrite the future by contending with the past. In the shifting space between waking and sleep, ancient lineages take shape in the darkness.
“Pepe, a young woman born in New Zealand, confronts a severance from both her mother Valu and her language and culture. Her land and lineage are on the tip of her tongue, but Valu leaves her mute as she vies for centre stage. When their ancestor Aiga emerges in a dreamscape, and refuses to be ignored, ancient and contemporary identities converge in a collision of intergenerational reconciliation and transformation. Origin stories of cruelty and courage crawl into consciousness.
“As plumes of smoke, beams of electric blue light, and spirits appear and recede into the darkness, ancient and contemporary stories collide, pushing theatrical boundaries. Through a uniquely Pasifika lens, this production explores universal themes of family, identity, migration, and the quest for connection. ‘Moe Miti’ is a means to reclaim identity, honour heritage, and forge a path towards healing.”
For once, the marketing blub more than accurately reflects what is to come.
My own notes taken during the performance are economical, reflective of the fact that the production, rather than my usually obsessive notetaking, was my primary focus. I listed “evocative beats, mirror reflections, hose pipe, the music mellows out, haze/smoke, the music changes up, emotional impact, purple stars, technology, figures move in and out of focus, back lit, voices, haunted dreams, Pepe, sliding down the light beam, I’m about to be born, the umbilical cord, shadowy, Mum, where did you go, mirrors, cord snapped, blood – freaky figure, cigarette, night club or bar, a body with sacred markings, Aiga, thousands of eyes staring at me, film, storytelling in English and Samoan, nobody cares about us anyway, this a merciless hell, why can’t you put the fucking lights on, I can see it now, you are stronger than any giant, so angry, I love you Mum, beautiful final song.”
But I get ahead of the play.
Moe Miti in many ways defies description. Just when you get a handle on it, it morphs seamlessly into something else, something even more relevant. Yes, it involves a traditional creation narrative but it’s also a deeply moving contemporary story of personal disconnection, schism and the rage caused by a colonisation so recent it’s still happening and largely impossible to analyse from inside the living experience. It’s smart, it grabs you, and it doesn’t allow for any sort of glib response even in a palangi whose primary job is to dispassionately record the experience for others. As I write this review days later (life, crumpled metal, insurance companies and illness intervened) Moe Miti is still crashing around in my psyche just as I’m sure it was perfectly designed to do.
Deconstructed, it’s born from the traditional, roundly misogynistic, Samoan creation story which, in itself, is actually quite extraordinary. There’s a plot and human-like characters who speak and transform easily, all of which is set in the dim and nonspecific past that historian Mircea Eliade calls ‘in illo tempore’ (at that time).
Certainly not our time, nor this time.
Creation narratives develop in oral traditions and, as such, typically have multiple versions and no more so than in ‘Moe Miti’ where the genesis of everything is the enraged birth of Pepe, the wrath to her mother Valu, and all witnessed by the mystical Aiga. Aiga is the personification of not only the immediate family, father, mother and children, but also the whole union of families of a clan and even those who, although not related, are yet subject to the family control. I’m guessing this is where the ‘thousands of eyes’ motif comes from. Here tradition collides with the contemporary and the flux is undoubtedly colonisation. It’s expressionistic and visceral, a bit like the ugliest of the Greeks echoing Medea who killed her sons, and Oedipus who loved his Mum just a bit too much and with such tragic consequences.
The traditional Samoan story that gave birth to Moe Miti tells us that “in the beginning, there were only the heavens and the waters covering the earth. The god Tagaloa looked down from his place in the sky and considered creating a place on the earth where he could stand so he made a resting place by creating the rock called Manu’atele. Tagaloa was pleased with his work and said, ‘It would be well to have still another resting place.’ He divided the rock Manu’atele so he would have other places in the sea that would serve as stepping-stones. From these pieces of rock, he created Savai’i, Upolu, Tonga, Fiji, and the other islands that lie scattered about the wide ocean.
“When Tagaloa had finished fashioning all of these islands, he returned to Samoa. He measured the distance between the islands of Savai’i and Manu’a and found it to be too great. So he placed a rock halfway between and designated it as a place of repose for the chiefs. He called this last island Tutuila.
“Tagaloa then sent a sacred vine to spread over the rocks. The leaves of the sacred creeper fell off and decayed and things like worms grew from them. Tagaloa saw that the creeper had given birth to worms that had neither heads, nor legs, nor breath of life so he came down and provided these worms with heads, legs, arms, and a beating heart. Thus the worms became men. Tagaloa took a male and a female and placed them on each of the islands that he had created. The man, Sa, and the woman, Vai’i, were placed on one island and the place was called Savai’i. U and Polu were placed on another and it became known as Upolu. The couple Tutu and Ila were the first inhabitants of Tutuila. To and Ga went to a place that Tagaloa named Toga [Tonga], and Fi and Ti were taken to the place to be called Fiti [Fiji].
“Then, Tagaloa decided that men should be appointed to rule the different islands and so he created the title of Tui [king]. He created the titles Tuiaga’e, Tuita’u, Tuiofu, Tuiolosega, Tuiatua, Tuia’ana, Tuitoga, and Tuifiti, and thus established lords of the islands.
“Then, Tagaloa looked upon all he had created and decided that there should be a king greater than all the others and that he should reside in Manu’atele, his first creation. He selected the son of Po [night] and Ao [day] to be the king of kings. When this boy was to be born it was found that his abdomen was firmly attached to his mother’s womb. Because of this, he was given the name Satia i Ie Moaatoa [attached by the abdomen], and the whole island group that would be his domain received the name Samoa [sacred abdomen]. When the child was born, he sustained a great wound as he was ripped from his mother’s body. From this came the name of the place of his birth, Manu’atele [the great wound]. When this boy grew to manhood, he became king of all the Tui [kings] and carried the title Tuimanu’a Moaatoa.”
This ‘creation story’ was first recorded in written form by two American cultural anthropologists, Lowell D. Holmes and Ellen Rhoads Holmes, and is taken from their 1992 study, ‘Samoan Village, Then and Now’. Colonisation at its most evident, and a recording by Westerners of an oral tradition in which women evolved from blind worms and played only a tiny role. This Moe Miti, then, vastly different, is an unashamed feminist revision of the original which retains the emphasis on the tearing of the umbilical cord, but in our case told from the perspective of the two women involved. As you would most certainly hope it would be in 2023.
I’m left, during the playing out of the action, in horror at the deep rage and inward-looking anger emanating from both central characters knowing that the consequence of such fury is seldom life-affirming. Turns out I’m ultimately wrong, and happy to be proved so.
Creation stories commonly convey profound cultural truths both metaphorically and symbolically, sometimes even literally, and in describing the ordering of the cosmos from an initial state of amorphous chaos to what we have today, Moe Miti certainly fills this void, and the schism caused by colonisation embodied in the mother’s cigarette and Pepe’s refusal to engage with the drunken nightclub life leave hope – and so it plays out as hope is at least partially realised.
In mythopoeia, the creation by contemporary writers of a parallel mythology such as is the case with Moe Miti, traditional themes and archetypes are often integrated into the new fiction to embody ‘in illo tempore’ and in this case colonisation becomes the new chaos and a profound birth narrative stands as emblematic of this new mythic structure. Metaphor and symbol remain the storyteller’s primary apparatus but a new addition to an otherwise traditional existential toolbox is a new, and ugly, realism that will not be denied. It’s impressive, challenging, deeply satisfying, yet relentlessly disturbing, in its irrefutably primal power.
Lacking knowledge, I have consulted wiser people than I am and, with a generosity that was heartwarming, I received the following: I was told that “pregnancy and childbirth figure strongly in the indigenous religions of the Samoan people. The sacredness of pregnancy and childbirth portrays the need for the baby to be well protected and cared for from conception to birth. There is a belief that obeying the rules of tapu brings an easy birth, and disobeying brings pain, excessive blood flow during labour and difficulty giving birth. Samoan indigenous spirituality holds strong beliefs about where a baby’s placenta and umbilical cord should be buried. These beliefs reflect the close connection between human beings and the land, and the connections to one’s identity, belonging and ownership.”
That all sounds overwhelmingly familiar.
I acknowledge this generous wisdom and support.
Read Leap advise that “the ensemble cast of Moe Miti is comprised of an exceptionally talented group of performers from across genres, including Katerina Fatupaito (Wild Dogs Under My Skirt, Teine Sā), Ma’aola Faasavala (Duckrockers, Shortland Street), and newcomer Malama Tila making her professional debut.”
Without question they are magnificent, individually and as an ensemble. This is a very complex work requiring a deep personal understanding and commitment, alongside the ability for each performer to carry with them the cultural milieu, the intellect, the emotion and the passion, and to share it with an audience who only get 60 minutes to process it all. Fair to say the cast and crew do all of that superbly.
They also bring us to a point of healing which is ultimately at the heart of the work but which they’ve cleverly kept under wraps for 55 of the 60 minutes of the journey. For me and my guests, the conclusion is both credible and satisfying.
Moe Miti is an absolutely wonderful work that deserves the opportunity of a longer season because the more it’s played, the better it will get – and the more people who experience it, the better off we will all be.
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