14/10/2011 - 16/10/2011
Part one, Dreams of Space Shifting, is a meditation on identity and transformation. Louise’s unique dance style intersects with a projected videoscape, blurring the boundaries between flm and live performance. During a 2009 choreographic internship in Toronto, Canada, Louise sketched images of her body’s metaphorical inner landscape responding to various experiences.
A body which speaks volumes
Review by Julia Milsom 16th Oct 2011
Nohopuku means to be silent and go without food -to meditate. Louise Potiki Bryant is silent but her body speaks volumes. Her fast seems to have been to go deeply into the research of her heritage and the ways in which she can embody this in her own performative contexts of dance and video.
The space is simply designed but the potency of the symbols fills it beautifully. Down stage right, white pebbles form a human figure reminiscent of polynesian petroglyphs; on the opposite a piece of driftwood gently thrusts into space. Centre stage, two white screens stand like waha roa which literally and aptly translated means, the gates, or the mouth. I feel like a visitor waiting to be welcomed onto this abstract and timeless Marae.
The work is split into three parts. In Part One: Tumutumu, collaborator and composer Paddy Free and Potiki Bryant are ‘inspired by the rhythms, tones and voices created by the Taonga Puoro’, the Tumutumu. The work begins very gently, the screens are back projected with images that could be spines, petroglyphs or fern fronds. Bryant is lying fetus like behind the screen and reaches upward, hand trembling towards the images. She then explosively enters the atea between her waha roa. She weaves an intricate language full of gesture and power as her body converses with the Tumutumu. The tumutumu is a beautiful instrument, percussive by nature and yet somehow very melodic and playful. It was used in Southern Wanaga. In a sense she is stating once more that nohupuku is a state of learning and she welcomes us on this journey.
Louise manages to integrate her videography and live performance with ease. She clearly speaks both these languages fluently. I never felt the fight to chose what I was watching. She commanded the space and the screens were like living breathing pou which framed the work.
The screens become more focal in Part Two: The Language of the Land. Free and Potiki Bryant transport us to the wild West Coast. Free stands between the two screens to play but he is also backlit using a third projector. This gives a sense of light shafts breaking through the canopy of a forest or through the depths of a deep pool of water. It also alludes again to this idea of the mouth – a voicepiece of light, calling out to us. I have a sense of careering through space and time, flying through a forest like a spirit. It seemed that she was creating a sense of movement for us through the sound and images – which is of course the role of a choreographer – although not all choreographers have mastered their art in the digital format of video the way that she has. In stark contrast to this feeling of environment and prehistory, I felt like I was in a night-club. Paddy Free constantly moves as he plays but the audience sit politely toe-tapping – could we join him and dance? It was an interesting choice to have Free so visually central, I would have preferred to have been left to escape into the forest. Having said this, Free’s music and musical collaboration with James Webster and Richard Nunns were sensitive and subtle and interweaved with both the live and video work superbly.
Part Three: Dreams of Space Shifting brings Potiki Bryant back into a live performance. I grieve for the loss of the Waha Roa as they are replaced by Free and the technician with a larger and singular screen. Perhaps if this had been fluently done as part of the work I would not have felt so sad about losing them. I wanted them to retain their power and magic even once they had gone.
In Tumutumu Potiki Bryant explores the landscape of sound and her culture; Language of the Land explores the landscape itself – her cultural homeland; and in Part Three: Dreams of Space Shifting she meditates on ‘her body’s metaphorical inner landscape’, which is undeniably shaped by language, heritage and the land. Any loss of the two screens is countered by the surreal imagery projected onto this larger screen. A blue patchwork is set against what appear to be tiny black skyscrapers and then a woman appears floating in what has now become water. Potiki Bryant is caged behind. She is far more bird-like in this final section. She shifts with ease behind and in front of the screen, never breaking her relationship with it. After another dynamic and gestural display she pulls the drift wood up so it rests on her back – as though she has a giant spine. She then lies on top of the petroglyph with the wood arcing now like a rib over her prone form. This image instantly makes me think of Marina Abromovich’s Nude with Skeleton 2002-2005. Abramovich says that her work alludes to the practice of Tibetan monks who lie next to the dead, to face mortality – the fear of death and dying. I enjoyed making this connection for Potiki Bryant’s own exploration of her body and Maori beliefs relating to spirituality, death and afterlife.
One cannot deny the depth of research and thinking behind Louise Potiki Bryant’s work, nor her relevance as a contemporary Maori artist. Now I think she has to seek outward critical direction to allow her work to not only acknowledge her cultural identity as an artist, but also to be able to transcend it. I look forward to her ongoing evolution.
Copyright © in the review belongs to the reviewer