Pukepuke 'o Tonga
20/10/2012 - 20/10/2012
The story of Ancient Tonga based around the Otuhaka, Faha’iula and the Me’etupaki dance forms, preserved for generations in on village in Tonga, within a story context reflecting Tongan cultural life. Pukepuke ‘o Tonga is about Tongan culture, community and life in modern day Auckland. One show only!
Tempo Dance Festival: Final weekend packed with stunners
Review by Raewyn Whyte 22nd Oct 2012
The final weekend of this year’s Tempo festival included Colours of India(Bollywood, Bharatnatyam, Kathak and Odissi), duets in many styles, integrated dance from Touch Compass and Tasmania’s Second Echo, youth dance, up to the minute hip hop in Out of the Box and richly musical Tongan dance.
Each show had its standout moments, stunning performances, and crowd-pleasers – far too many to cover here.
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A first for Tempo Festival, probably a first for New Zealand!
Review by Margi Vaz Martin 21st Oct 2012
We are about to see rarely performed 13th Century Tongan dances presented to a wide community. This is a first for Tempo Dance Festival and probably a first for New Zealand. Anticipation is in the air. I am aware that the choreographer studied at PIPA and has been given opportunities by Pacific Dance New Zealand. I feel grateful that these bodies fought for existence – we are the richer for them.
As I wait, I think about Sesilia’s stated desire to take her dance vocabulary beyond the screen of community walls, and her belief that traditional dance can live on stage just as well as contemporary dance. Glancing around the theatre I see that there are a lot of Tongans in the audience, but there seems to be at least as many non-Tongans. I wonder, is this the biggest group of non-Tongans to see these dances in New Zealand? How will they be affected?
Pukepuke ‘O Tonga begins. Lighting is low. There are six cross-legged men in black skirts and shirts. The soloist begins to chant in Tongan the legend of the first Tu’i Tonga (lord of Tonga) and the five men join him. The family choir, cross-legged at stage front, adds harmonies and the sound is beautiful. The soloist holds a flute to his nose and soft enchanting sounds waft across the room, representing the waking of the village.
Lighting rises slightly as three women take the stage, stepping and with gentle hand gestures, caressing the atmosphere. The red edging on their tapa cloth wraps offsets the red fabric triangles around their necks. All with long hair and a soft plait framing their joyous faces, they move with grace and precision. I notice the faces in the audience are shining back at them.
The show progresses through ten sections as the young girls and boys take their turns on stage with the same grace and precision of the adults. The young boys steal the show, enchanting us with their skill and as they leap, fall and flip over, the audience is giggling and sometimes shouting, “Woo!”
The showcasing of the village maidens is enlivened with props. Each one has two limes to juggle between stepping and turning movements. They are trying not to laugh with us and put themselves off!
In the sequence that follows the men and boys take the stage with small beautifully crafted paddles in hand. The movement vocabulary is interesting and in rhythmic unison. Fortunately there is no basic paddle movement – it is more sophisticated than that. They journey down stage and back up again, miming the presenting of their fish to the King.
A section representing a traditional Kava Ceremony follows, with performers seated around the stage while men take turns in speeches. They speak in Tongan and in a style that could be described as not too unlike an exchange on a Maori Marae. Non-Tongan speakers are lost and it seems quite a lengthy presentation. We are longing for some kind of interpretive markers but they are not offered.
The final section is a joyous time of song and dance.
I sit and ponder for a few minutes. I have enjoyed this show but not quite as much as Hau ‘o Momo, the first development of this piece, showcased in July. I consider the weakness of the acoustics in the Q Theatre loft. It has not been able to carry the sound as successfully as the Metro Theatre. The stage lighting has been a bit low too. My other impression is that some of the village rhythm has disappeared from the piece. Although the programme identified ten sections, showing various aspects of village life, the poignant shifts from day to night seem to have been crowded together and the sense of story has been blurred a little. The audience has not journeyed in quite the clear way they did in the previous piece and discussion in the foyer confirms my impression.
Later, when I enquire, Sesilia tells me that during the development of this show, she tried putting more contemporary dance in. However it felt like it was stripping away from the idea of upholding Tonga. So she removed it again and stayed with traditional vocabulary. The essence of the work, says Sesilia, is preserving the music, dance and stories of Tonga. It passes on to young people the classical dances of Tonga. It is showing dances that were before our time but will continue to live long after we have passed on.
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