Pasifika Festival Opening Night Showcase Concert
Western Springs Lakeside, Auckland
11/03/2010 - 11/03/2010
Pasifika Festival Opening Night Showcase Concert featuring the best of the Pacific’s
stories, dances and songs about this year’s themes – the molokau (centipede) and the frangipani.
Thursday 11 March, 7-9pm
Western Springs Lakeside
Guest performers: Sunameke Dance Company from Papua New Guinea
and Mana Manoli Collective from Hawai’i
Aotearoa – Kapa haka
Cook Islands – Piprima Showcase Dancers
Fiji – Sini Bua Ni Kaleli
Kiribati – Auckland Kiribati Society
Niue – Sialetafa Performing Arts
Samoa – Passion
Tahiti – Tahiti la Ora
Tokelau – Auckland Tokelau Society
Tonga – Kalapu Folaha Loutokaiano Aotearoa
Tuvalu – Tama Nuku Youth
2hrs 15 mins
Diverse and spectacular opening
Review by Margi Vaz Martin 12th Mar 2010
Auckland’s popular Pasifika Festival is a free celebration of our diverse Pacific communities, organised annually by Auckland City Council. This opening concert featured performances from each of the 10 communities that will be represented as ‘villages’ on Saturday’s festival day, as well as a special contribution from PIBAC, the city’s Pacific Island Board, and performances from international artists travelling to Auckland for Pasifika: Sunameke from Darwin, Australia and the Mana Maoli Collective from Hawaii.
Undiscouraged by sprinkling rain, crowds arrived Lakeside, Western Springs, in Island time. The diverse Pacific Nations that enjoy Auckland’s environment were out in all their colours along with a handful of Palangis. 7.15 was a good start time for a 7pm concert and Mayor John Banks opened the concert with respectful words about the Pacifika Festival. The Kapa Haka group came running from their van just in time to open in song at 7.20 and began the concert with warmth and enthusiastic volume. Bruce McCarthy from the Pacific Island Board of the Auckland City Council pointed out that this is the biggest Pacific Festival in the world, although opening night saw a few hundred guests, not the thousands expected on Saturday.
Miss South Pacific took the stage dancing. Crowned in Suva last week, her classic beauty was well displayed in grass skirt and top, necklaces and wrists with woven flowers and a-glowing, oiled skin. Her infectious smile added to her smooth swinging hips and gentle hand gestures.
Next on stage were Sunameke, special guests from Darwin, but of PNG origins. This professional group has been travelling a lot lately, making the rounds of Pacific based festivals. Four women make up the company and NZ-based relatives filled the team out to seven dancers. Six appeared on stage and the seven will be performing on Saturday.
Those wishing for a spectacle were disappointed here. But Sunameke are known for their desire to promote Mekeo culture through performance and requiring the audience to think about this. They remained true to this on the night. They danced Geva, a custom dance from Mekeo, usually danced in the centre of the village where men court and attract women.
Months of preparation traditionally go on as feathers and dogs teeth are collected for elaborate head dresses and costumes called Pakai. Geva and thus Pakai is the art of ‘pulling’ women. Sunameke appeared with swinging hips, stepping side to side in hypnotic rhythms and blank, focused faces. Their upper body movement was bound as they clutched hands together around frangipani leis. Yellow tops and headbands were simple compared to the heavily laden chests in the village setting – NZ customs would never have allowed all the costume in! Face paint in yellow, red and black displayed two different designs, differentiating two Mekeo clans.
The swinging hips created half-circle patterns emphasising their layered grass skirts with strips of tapa seen hanging through the strands of yellow, green and red.
Nuiean guitars, ukeleles, slit drums and singing were celebrated with seven gorgeous girls in an action song about frangipani and the centipede – the conference theme. Lime green lava-lavas swayed side to side as hands gestured and turning faces smiled. We felt like we were in the village with them and we relaxed and laughed.
Tokelauan and Tongan groups followed, the Tongan group coming all the way from the Island. The Tokelauan drumming grew louder and the pitch of voices higher as dancers maintained their rhythmic stepping, hands rising and falling, joining and pulling left and right. The Tongan highlight was the comedy around the two male dancers as they crisscrossed behind the female dancer who stayed in centre placement. With stage laughter, swimming arms, slapping and a centipede on a string being dragged around, we were laughing raucously by the end.
The Tahitians followed and male blood pressures rose as short red skirts and bikini tops were enhanced by huge black and red feather head dresses, fast moving hips and wild drums! The gorgeous, long haired teenage girls changed configurations, bobbed up and down and I saw a rock and roll foot step at one point. Contemporary influences were present.
The concert was gradually revving up in speed and spectacle. Kiribati followed with adolescent performers who held their own with the adults; shouting, slapping, stamping and clapping. Their mat skirts proved their percussive ability as they were slapped.
Fijians presented a Melanesian and Polynesian blend in white shirts and sulus to the ground. Energy levels settled for this performance. A recorded backing band sang in a Fijian dialect and then English – “lovely frangipani, I adore you” – and gentle lyrical hands threaded, carried, rose and fell as a feeling of being in “the Happy Isle” permeated the relaxed lakeside setting.
Then a huge crew of Cook Islanders crowded onto the stage with male dancers in front shouting and waving spears as they stamped and jumped. When the girls danced through the men to the front, in their coconut shell bras, with loud singing and background drumming, the crowd went wild! Plenty of dry ice did not prevent us seeing that the men had only mat loin clothes with a bit of grass edging, the hips bare and swaying. The head dresses were spectacular.
When the Samoans finally took the stage the audience was revved up and ready to party. Three men in yellow lava-lava bounced through a double-time slap dance to Bollywood hip hop music. We could see this was not going to be the traditional village experience, but the contemporary one! With sophisticated backing tracks the Samoans blended contemporary music with authentic traditional movement vocabularies and threw in some fire dancing to a fast rap track. We were on fire!
The two and a quarter hour concert came to a close with the big overseas guests taking the stage: the Mana Maoli Collective from Hawaii. There was to be no traditional undressing into grass skirts here. A band in jeans and T-shirts carried guitars, ukulele, and basses. Vocalists came too, the girls in dresses and jean jackets. A 38 member crew had made the flight over. A conch shell sounded while women sang a haunting chant with lots of vibrato. Five dancers came forward with a long and a short driftwood stick each, playing their own stick and their neighbours, as they moved with tall posture, tension, precision and blank faces. It was strong.
Their second piece contrasted this, with a solo female beauty in a long black dress and scarf. The movements were slow and lyrical with hand gesturing, smiling and the emergence of birdlike whistling from a vocalist. All their pieces were a homogenous blend of traditional and contemporary and very professional in presentation. They are certainly worth seeking out at Saturdays’ concert. A Reverend closed the concert in prayer.
The culmination, festival day, takes place on Saturday, 13 March, bringing together thousands of Aucklanders for a great day out at Western Springs. Expect more than 350 stalls, 10 Pacific Island villages and 12 stages.
Pasifika Festival has expanded with the week leading up to festival day seeing several new exciting additions to the programme. The Best of the Auditions concerts in the city centre featured performances from the top 10 individuals and groups, from festival auditions held in January, as well as guest artists from Dawn Raid and the Mana Maoli Collective from Hawaii.
Pasifika Festival also presented Fakakaukau, a Pacific debate series, at Auckland Town Hall and Aotea Centre Mika and the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra in Po: Beautiful Darkness on Friday, 12 March (to be separately reviewed).
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