My Penina

Herald Theatre, Aotea Centre, The Edge, Auckland

02/08/2010 - 07/08/2010

Production Details

My Penina invites the audience to be guests at the 50th wedding anniversary of Aniva and Pelenato. It is an interactive work of storytelling as the couple share their lives, loves, hardships and jubilations with their guests.

Guided by their ‘daughter’ Maraea, they celebrate their long lasting love in a way that only a couple who have been together for that length of time can. My Penina is set in Samoa and spans a lifetime of 70 years, of which most was spent in Auckland. We meet the twin grandchildren – Kristina the singer, and Steven the artist – who, being afakasi palagi and Samoan, bring in the modern ideas to the lives of this wonderful ‘old’ couple.

Through western theatre, traditional Samoan story-telling, movement and song, Aniva and Pelenato take us on a journey of true love, forgiveness and the reality of a lifetime together.

Performed by Aleni Tufuga, Iaheto Ah hi and Fiona Collins

My Penina
Monday 2 – Saturday 7 August
Herald Theatre, Aotea Centre 

Comedy and tension permeate little masterpiece

Review by Bernadette Rae 04th Aug 2010

Gifted trio invite audience to share in an intimate moment of Samoan reflection   

With just three actors, three simple chairs and a spread of woven mats, Fiona Collins creates a little masterpiece in My Penina, encompassing enduring love, the pull and power of family and the stress fractures that form in lives caught between cultures and traditions.

For palagi the work offers a precious invitation to share in an intimate moment of Samoan reflection and preparation for a celebration – a 49th wedding anniversary. For the many Samoan members of the opening night audience, it would surely have felt like coming home. [More
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Hilarious and heartfelt story-telling

Review by Jack Gray 03rd Aug 2010

My Penina, written by Fiona Collins, is a remount of a play that has been revised and developed with the help of director Anapela Polataivo and choreographer Justin Haiu (currently the Manukau Pacific Dance Artist in Residence).

This production is the first theatrical outcome from the newly formed Pacific Dance New Zealand organization (directed by Iosefa Enari) seeking to cater towards the needs of growing a vital Pacific Dance Theatre community. While not strictly a dance theatre performance, this offering is an admirable attempt to collaborate between dance and drama framed within both Western and Samoan story telling methods.

Golden flax mats, tipped over wooden chairs, a wicker basket, sound of waves and a blue light (lighting design by Katrina Chandra) evoke opening images of a Samoan fale, a sense of nostalgia and allude to both gentle and unsettled ways of island life.

A game of hide and seek ensues between two giggling lovers, Aniva (Fiona Collins) and Pelenato (Aleni Tufunga) as they snake, weave, spring and dart through the house. “Do you truly love me?” he enquires, as he begins a traditional Samoan song of wooing and courtship. He begins to twirl Aniva in a sweet little informal waltz duet that combines swaying embraces with outstretching arms and lots of lively facial expressions.

Malaea, the Fa’afafine best friend/soul sister of Aniva, played beautifully by Iaheto Ah Hi, makes an entrance and sets up the house, righting the chairs and fluffing around the mats. She puts a flower in her hair and gingerly checks the house is clear before treating the audience to a good ol’ lip synch in true transgender fabulosity with word-to-action matching for comic delight. Body ripples ending in clutching at a lower back pain and a funny Zumba reference, are trademark Pacific ‘clowning around’ motifs and very tongue in cheek. 

The three characters have a great ease together, enjoying playing off each other, teasing, cajoling, laughing, making fun and “making the love”. A side story of Kristina (also played by Collins) as grand daughter (and narrated through her letters back to Samoa) see her exploring the world and coming to an undainty escapade falling off a bike in Holland, ripping her lavalava off only to reveal she was wearing….no undies! Being rescued by a blue eyed, Silver fox Stephen is all too much for her grandfather. His shock at how this “good Samoan girl raised to pray, pray, pray” plays on the tension between modernity, change and westernisation, as well as the keenness of youth and the fancifulness of love.

The next main movement sequence, hilariously performed and thoughtfully conceived, is a “remember how we met on the bus all those years ago?” montage, where Aniva and Malaea enact hailing a bus, mime stepping over imaginary legs sticking out this way and that (“Tulou, Tulou”). Cue the entry of a youthful and cocky Pele who upon realising he is standing next to a woman of his dreams, starts to blow kisses and uses his sweet charms to good effect. In their version, Malaea gets the pip at various passengers poking her from front and back and ends up knocking them all out in a display of unladylike fierceness. A fast replay of the scene as remembered by Pele has a similar layout with the exception of him being more of a hulking behemoth and taking the driving reins in a cowboyish way. The audience were in fits.

As the play progresses, deeper levels of context come into the story giving other insights into their own history and that of Samoa. Black Saturday is given a more sombre tone as they explain the events of that fateful day when the New Zealand military opened fire on a peaceful political protest by the Mau (meaning strongly held opinion) against colonial rule. A reference to the Dawn Raids of the 70’s in New Zealand also highlights the struggles many Samoan families of that generation faced and the pulls between loyalty, dignity and loss of face and family ties.

A repetitive motif of slapping thighs, chest and hands (in traditional Fa’a tau-pati slap dance style) builds up in intensity as Pele recounts the loss of his father and the loss of his son. Tears, sweat, anger and pain become visceral layers pressing upon his body and the space, more eloquently expressing his emotions than any choreographed movement could.

In a very subtle way, we shift from the eve of their 49th wedding celebrations to a year later and work out from Malaea’s lamentable wandering and Pele’s heavy sleeping that there is an emptiness that has descended upon the fale. 

Fiona Collins – writer and actor – is at her very best in Aniva’s spirit form as she performs a ghostly dance around her love, Pele. She literally shimmers and pricks the skin with goosebumps as we recognise her in another realm. “This is the hardest time when the sun is gone and I must lie here by myself.” 

Heartfelt story-telling nicely done. Let’s hope more Pacific Dance New Zealand performances abound to add to the diversity of our homegrown theatre and dance culture.

Ia Manuia!
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