21/06/2012 - 22/06/2012
15/10/2013 - 16/10/2013
11/10/2013 - 13/10/2013
choreographer Louise Potiki Bryant
taonga puoro Richard Nunns, composer Paddy Free
Atamira Dance Company
The Tumutumu is a Taonga Puoro, a percussion instrument, which can be made from various types of stone including pounamu, and also be made from other materials such as wood and bone. The tumutumu is very much a southern instrument, used particularly in whare wananga (houses of learning) to accompany intoned learnings.
The Puaka Matariki Festival 2012 is delighted to host the world premiere of TUMUTUMU, a solo contemporary dance performance by acclaimed Ngai Tahu choreographer Louise Potiki Bryant, made in collaboration with taonga puoro authority Richard Nunns and composer Paddy Free, with lighting design by Hans Van Leewen. Richard Nunns will accompany Louise live in her performances.
The Tumutumu is a Taonga Puoro, a percussion instrument, which can be made from various types of stone including pounamu, but can also be made from other materials such as wood. The tumutumu is very much a southern instrument, used particularly in whare wananga (houses of learning) to accompany intoned learnings. Potiki-Bryant’s Tumutumu takes inspiration from Louise’s relationship with a particular tumutumu made from Pohutukawa wood found on the west coast, and integrates her unique performance style, dance vocabulary and innovative video projection, with an original soundscape by Paddy Free and Richard Nunns.
TUMUTUMU was made with the support of Creative New Zealand and The Ngai Tahu Fund. This premiere season of TUMUTUMU is supported by The Dunedin City Council, and the Puaka Matariki Festival 2012.
1. Karanga :Entrance and the beginning
2 Te Kore ki te Po - Letting Go - Part 1 Division and Disruption in order for Creation to occur
3 Ipurangi / Birth - Ipurangi - the source of all sound
4. Becoming - Creation of identity, and collection of memories
5. Dying -Letting go of the old
6. Transforming - Whakaahua - Moving to take on new forms
7. Shedding - Shedding layers of perception
8. Letting Go - Part 2 Marking identity, placing memories, and letting them go
9. Rebirth Return to the beginning
The sound of breath and stone
Review by Jesse Quaid 16th Oct 2013
There is something primeval in the percussive sound of the tumutumu. At times hollow, at times achingly clear, the sound of stone on stone, on wood, on bone seems to strip back the tissue of civilization we wrap ourselves in. Despite the technology implicit in the projected film and the electronic beats of Paddy Free’s soundscape, Tumutumu seems to exist more in the world of nature and myth than the here and now. Both the symmetry of the space as we enter, and the ritualistic way Louise Potiki Bryant arranges and rearranges the space add to this feeling of disconnection and unreality. Despite occasional moments of humanity and bursts of virtuosic movement the work remains contemplative, beautiful, and withdrawn.
As we enter there is a line of stones laid out on the floor. An egg-shaped projection of people on a stony beach floats at the back of the stage, before giving way to water flowing hypnotically across an olive-green riverbed. A body emerges from shadow to roll slowly down stage, engulfing then passing each stone. From this embryonic beginning Tumutumu unfolds in a series of vignettes. Each section is a stage in an overarching journey of becoming, delineated by the shifting arrangement of stones. In its fluctuations between slow, extended moments and space-filling movement, the structure of the work echoes the river imagery from the video design; restless water surrounding smooth stone.
The combination of atmospheric music and live percussion is a constant presence as it weaves around and through the performance. At times it seems to drive the movement, sometimes it provides a more subtle support. Most evocative are the moments when the dance and sound share in a delicately balanced conversation. The tones of the various tumutumu ripple out into the space like a complex and endlessly bewitching commentary.
It is the virtuosic passages which engender a fading of attention. As the piece progresses, the movement becomes white noise, the meaning not always clear and the duration extended past the point where watching Potiki Bryant’s bonelessly fluid precision is fascinating in and of itself. Perhaps there are nuances here that I am missing; much of the work seems to be an internal conversation. It is instead a few embodied images which resonate the most. A tattered death perched awkwardly with bone covering its face; the projected image of a woman’s head rising slowly from water, holding our gaze; Potiki Bryant emerging from the black of her costume with tremors running through her limbs, or curving a pair of rib bones around her body like wings. These brief moments, like the sound of Richard Nunn’s percussion, reverberate in the space long after the dancer has retreated back along the line of stones into the shadow.
This piece is beautifully constructed and performed, with the percussion and soundscape coiling easily through and around the interleaved projection and movement. It is almost hypnotic in its cadences and elemental in nature, yet there is a lack of connection which leaves me feeling uncertain as it ends. I would like to see it again, perhaps shortened or condensed, with all the implicit symbolism intensified and pushed further against the limits of meaning.
Copyright © in the review belongs to the reviewer
A rich assembly of multiple modes of transmission
Review by Paul Young 15th Oct 2013
Louise Pōtiki Bryant is a Ngai Tahu choreographer, visual artist and founding member of Atamira dance company, a collective of practitioners which has over time become a preeminent presence in Contemporary Maori dance. Pōtiki Bryant herself is a weaver of live performance, installation and technology and her works are often a rich assembly of multiple modes of transmission: this work is no exception. Tumutumu displays live dance movement, object installation, live sound, an electronic soundscore and projection of film both live and animated. It is densely packed with visual and aural stimulus.
A Tumutumu is a percussion instrument with specific relevance to southern Māori, and both Pōtiki Bryant and musician Richard Nunns play various examples live on stage. Nunns, a giant of contemporary New Zealand music and a master of Taonga Pūoro, is positioned in the front left corner with an impressive array of Tumutumu at his disposal. There are bones, stones and sticks both cultured and raw, and they are placed precisely and reverentially on two tables. I would prefer to see Nunns on the stage. His percussive contribution blends so seamlessly into Paddy Free’s sound score that having to look to the side to check which sounds are being created live creates an unwelcome split focus. Free’s electronic contribution works best at its most subtle allowing the percussion to shine. A musical dialogue between Richard Nunns and Pōtiki Bryant both using the Tumutumu is a high point of interest for me as at is relational and relevant to the subject.
Two of Pōtiki Bryant’s personal trademarks are striking visual imagery and transformation of her physical performance state. In her previous solo work Aoraki (Mount Cook) for example, the movement vocabulary is influenced by the characteristics of kea, and there are examples of such characterisation in this work. I give them names as they appear; the advancing paua, wiri skin shedder, futuristic kapa haka, ancient spirit in new shoes, moon-bride, blood-bride and bone wielding witch. Each apparition is striking, yet some beg for agency, while others stay overly long without yielding further information than the initial image. A row of stones lying on the floor are reminiscent of a Ralph Hotere installation or maybe the bones of a whale laying on the beach, and this arrangement is adapted for various effect throughout the sections of the work.
Pōtiki Bryant exhibits a unique movement lexicon within the genre of Māori contemporary dance, a genre as heavily reliant on modern dance traditions as it is on things Māori. Recognisable traditional elements, wiri, takahia and pūkana, appear seamlessly integrated within Pōtiki Bryant’s gestural darting folding style of movement, as well as just a hint of yoga. This vocabulary, aside from the character work, is the predominant mode of action and we the audience are rarely directly engaged with. The world of this solo is very much inside the fourth wall. There is also frequent use of a forward hanging motif, which shows off Pōtiki Bryant’s superiorly long hamstrings and obedient hip flexors.
The egg shaped cyclorama/screen is used for projection throughout the work, often foregrounding important characters, images or scenes and sometimes providing a textured backdrop for the action. Pōtiki Bryant is an accomplished digital/film artist and there is innovation evident in the pulsating and evolving animations, which float like disembodied Tā moko in the space.
A particularly resonant image is the projection of a woman with a beautiful moko slowly emerging from a river to look at us intently, inviting us to look back at her, which we do. It highlights the space between in which Pōtiki Bryant becomes an intermedial figure between the real world and projected image. I feel that is a figurative symmetry at play but this is one of the few moments where I feel as though I am observing a interpretable visual metaphor : I often struggle to divine her intention.
Tumutumu is a polished, energetic and substantial piece of work but it neither seems very far removed from previous solos by the same choreographer, nor does it really venture into territory that we might not expect. My suggestion is that with a little editing and a little more generosity towards the viewer (based on the assumption that there may well be codes or symbology embedded within the work that would elucidate us if we were privy to them) the themes that Tumutumu addresses might be more efficiently exposed to the mutual benefit of the audience and also the artist.
Copyright © in the review belongs to the reviewer
A powerful fusion of a masterful combination of indigenous material and international forms
Review by Jonathan W. Marshall 25th Jun 2012
Tumutumu is a multimedia dance work from Louise Potiki Bryant which uses the tumutumu, or Māori found percussion instrument, as a conceptual starting point.
Somewhat disingenuously promoted as a “premiere,” Bryant has been working on different incarnations of this project for over a year, and, indeed, the scenographic and dramaturgical structure which she employs here has been a signature of her solo work ever since Aoraki (2007).
In many of her works, Bryant begins from a prone position located within a circle slightly to the back of the space, a curve of stones or other objects surrounding her on the ground and acting to defining the key centre from which the material emerges. Bryant devises video-projections (in this case in collaboration with electrodub musician Paddy Free of Pitch Black), which are angled from the roof towards two points: one the grounded circle from which she arises, and the other an oval-shaped screen against the back wall. The shape of the latter, resting against a black background, gives something of a sense of the images coming towards the audience from out of the darkness, as well as lending the videographic material a historicist feeling. Like magic lantern displays or some early twentieth century ethnographic and Pictorialist photography, Bryant’s imagery often has a cool grey or muted, bluish tone. The films are not black and white, but approach such an aesthetic in shading, and so take on an otherworldly sheen suggestive of the influence of pre-settlement forces and myth which swims out of the shadows towards one in the present.
While Free largely eschews here the rigid metronymic pacing of much dance-floor electronica music, or even the full dub effect of steely echoes which shoot away and then shudder back towards the ear for infinity, most of the aural palette is the same as that of Pitch Black. Stabs of electronic glitch and clicks rest within sharp vocal elements and some chanted choral work (largely provided by Te Ata). The restrained use of sound approaches but avoids some of the more dubious so-called Tribal and New Age material. One never has the sense of an attempt to recapture or evoke a utopian spiritual environment within this musical material. Free instead applies a light touch with respect to his abstract soundscapes, and only emphasises material in the more beat-based sections.
It is however the addition of Richard Nunns’ exquisitely judged percussion, mouth-music and Māori whistles that renders this acoustic mix superlative. For over 20 years, Nunns has been pioneering the research and promotion of indigenous Māori instruments. While much of the repertoire for these artefacts remains speculative, the actual sounds and textures of these instruments have been recovered through the work of Nunns and others.
Although Nunns plays several of his own prized tumutumu during the performance (these percussion instruments may be made of weathered wood, pounamu, granite and indeed almost any material), Nunns’ contribution to the piece also evokes the work of John Cage or Karlheinz Stockhausen as much as it does pre-settlement Māori aesthetics. The very particular, highly mediated, and texturally rich and subtle sounds which placing the microphone close to these instruments serves to define the qualities of the music here, folding Nunns’ contribution deeply into the larger soundscape crafted by Free.
In addition to the sharp attack and rapid decay of pounamu strikes, or the irregular clatter of wood, it is the use of the mouth itself as the principal resonating chamber and site at which some contributions of music and sound are shaped which is most striking in Nunns’ performance. Something as simple as a group of short, flexible wooden and bone rods (rōria) become evocative, shifting sonic devices when wedded to his body and then spread into a larger, abstract acoustic space via amplification. This is the sound of cheek married to that of wood, the sound of stone blended with that of breath, all of which lies in a plane close to the audience, whilst another, more expansive acoustic space filled by Free’s material opens out behind and around it.
All of which brings one to Bryant herself. At several points Bryant also plays a tumutumu of sorts, a hand or pudenda shaped triangle of grasping, smoothed wood which she holds far out from herself, standing in profile, the arm which holds the wood running horizontal from her chest, whilst a great arc of powerfully measured yet gentle force flows out and through the other arm as it curves about her head and brings a thin strand of wood onto the tumutumu itself. Bryant’s playing is relatively undistinguished, her sketches of material largely serving to link the performance and the choreography into the acoustic installation which surrounds and supports it. As with Nunns, the tumutumu is figured as a corporeal form, Bryant at times slowly processing through the space with this hand-like structure curled about her bowed head, or gently covering her sex.
After rising from her initial starting position on the floor, Bryant charges energetically through a large amount of choreographic material. These forms and trajectories marry elements of Māori dance and ritual (the tremulous wiri of the hands, the flared eyes of pukana, the intermittent adoption of a face-on, wide-legged stance, drawing the upper body down into a grounded position, etc) with a generalised Euro-American contemporary palette. Whilst Bryant’s movement at times comes close to a pantomimic echoing of specific emotions, characters and actions, on the whole the choreography is resolutely abstract. Forces and bodies are what is represented here, not stories or specific mythical or historical beings.
Bryant’s fluid redirection of inertia and weight typically coils and spins around and within the body in a way at odds with Martha-Graham-like approaches to Expressionism and dance theatre. This is significant as Graham’s more overtly narrative approach to dance has been a major influence on contemporary indigenous dance internationally, including Atamira in New Zealand (with whom Bryant frequently choreographs) as well as Bangara Dance Theatre in Australia. If Bryant’s work is to be classified as dance theatre, it is nearly as close to today’s European forms of Belgium and Flanders, as it is to Graham and Graham’s heirs.
As with many indigenous dancers, the motif of land and of one’s corporeal and spiritual union with it, serves as a recurrent theme in Tumutumu. Bernadette Wallong, who helped define contemporary Australian indigenous dance through her early work with Bangara, has spoken of creating the equivalent of a series of ballet-like exercises at the raised barre, but which moves the level of this barre down to that of the earth itself. Bryant’s work also moves the body into complex, often highly athletic and inter-twined positions parallel to the ground. One leg arches forward to place the foot by the shoulder, whilst the arms fold up beside the trunk, sprung and ready to push the body back into the air into some of the rapid leaping gestures which sometimes occur in Māori performance.
Indeed, Bryant’s approach has something in common with butoh dancer Min Tanaka’s idea of “dancing the place.” Bryant’s projected dances in particular sometimes act to replace the live body to repeat the choreography, but here acted out within a stream or across a series of uneven, roughly textured rocks and boulders. Bryant’s low, spider-like frame seems to caress these edifices, yet it is not a simple celebration of land and site. The person dancing this body never seems fully in control of her own motivations. Like the Māori warrior whose spirit bursts forth in pukana, this is the body as a nexus between that outside the individual and that within, where possession (including something of its more terrifying and frankly non-human potential) seems hinted at. Bryant is captured, spun and exploded, even as she rolls these powers and forces back through one arm, across the chest, and around into the ground again.
Having established an enormously rich and resonant dramaturgical environment through video, sound spatialisation, music, and a shifting palette of bodily action, Bryant does however essentially exhaust the specifically formal elements of her choreographic journey rather quickly. After the high energy action of the first ten minutes or so, what follows is largely the same collection of positions, in some cases re-shuffled and re-presented in a different order, but in the main, recast principally through the dynamics of the performance itself (speed, energy, nuance) and through the addition of different scenographic and acoustic material. The sound is arguably much more diverse than the movement itself, and this may be why Bryant’s work has often been described as installation rather than choreography per se. It is the larger mise en scène and framing which generates much of the dramaturgical progression, and not the movement itself.
Bryant recasts herself in different costumes, notably a black, diaphanous ensemble at the commencement, then a grey, shining, almost watery or wet looking dress in the video sections, and then a light shift topped with a striking red flax weave about her throat (Bryant performed in a flame red dress in the 2011 version of Tumutumu). Bryant’s use of the tumutumu punctuates things, and a protracted section where abstracted, digital forms reminiscent of Māori carvings, moko, or possibly fine rib bones on a string, are projected whilst the music takes on a particularly insistent rhythm and Bryant’s own body reacts according to the use of the off-beat as in funk. Such is the main progression of the work overall.
The total impression is of an almost elemental body, moving from the rocks with which Bryant interacts at the beginning, holding an oval of pounamu before her face and clacking the stones into each other in little, jagged exclamations, before the footage of Bryant performing beside and in a stream, and then rich reds which arise from within the design and which are suggestive of fire. At one point Bryant sidles on stage to emerge from out of a diaphanous wrap, and the wide spatialisation of the music — contrasting as it does so strongly with the extremely proximate-sounding amplified material from Nunns and Te Ata — suggests something of an ethereal realm of air and sky.
However one interprets this performance, Tumutumu is well structured to support such readings, whilst nevertheless not being contained or confined to them. Shapes, sounds and kinaesthetic feelings dominate above narrative.
Overall, I am not entirely convinced that the amount of choreographic material at Bryant’s disposal fully supports the degree of re-versioning which the audience is proffered with here. If one confined this piece to movement alone, one could actually shorten it by more than half — though one would also loose a very welcome opportunity to re-perceive this material being re-executed in many subtly different ways and dynamics. On the whole, Bryant, Nunns and Free more than sustain the length allotted to them, although this structure of the pieces as a series of repeated variations on a theme does still betray the origins of Tumutumu as a short solo piece study which has since been progressively thickened out, reworked and embroidered.
That said, if one views Tumutumu as an detailed and extended sketch, it is a superlative work: a masterful combination of indigenous material and international forms to produce a new and powerful fusion. Here is hoping Bryant and Nunns have an opportunity to tour it further.
Copyright © in the review belongs to the reviewer