Te Whaea National Dance and Drama Centre, 11 Hutchison Rd, Newtown, Wellington

14/02/2008 - 17/02/2008

NZ Fringe Festival 2008

Production Details

VULA: From BATS via Te Whaea to The Barbican and Beyond

Ground breaking New Zealand Theatre work Vula from director Nina Nawalowalo, which took the Sydney Opera house by storm in 2007, is back in Wellington for a Fringe Festival season before embarking on an extensive tour to Europe including a six city tour of Holland and a 10 night season at London’s Barbican Theatre as part of their prestigious BITE programme.

The season at The Barbican, described by The Times as "the worlds top arts centre", is part of a programme which includes companies such as The Ninagawa Company, Fabulous Beast Dance Theatre, the Maly Drama Theatre of St Petersburg, Ronnie Burkett’s Theatre of Marionettes, Cheek by Jowl and Peter Brook‘s Theatre des Bouffes du Nord is a huge achievement for a production which began life with practically no budget at BATS Theatre in 2002.

Nina Nawalowalo, recipient of the 2007 Creative New Zealand Pacifica Excellence and Innovation Award is thrilled to realise a life time goal to take Pacific Island theatre back to Europe. It has been a steady journey of six years hard work to achieve this, taking the work through a constant process of refinement and national and international touring.

Nawalowalo and The Conch are proud to represent the wealth of Pacific and New Zealand performing arts on the world stage.
The show features original cast member Fiona Collins (Awhi Tapu, Frangipani Perfume and award winning My Pennina) whose creative input and stunning performance has been a bedrock of the show  since it’s  creation.  The show also features the wonderful Kasaya Manulevu and new comer Nora Aati  (Mapaki, My name is Gary Cooper). For the first time the show will incorporate a Mâori performer in the shape of Toi Whakaari graduate and former Mai Time presenter Ngapaki (Marama) Emery. Responding to a challenge laid down by a Kaumatua from Sydney’s Campbell town Mâori community that a Pacific show from Aotearoa should have its indigenous culture incorporated Nawalowalo is excited by having Ngapaki on board.

"The time is right to take this next step with the work and we are very lucky to have Ngapaki on board," says Nawalowalo. "Setting a Mâori woman performer in a Pacific context is a deep recognition of the powerful web of connections that weave us together as Pacific Island people."

Vula (Fijian for ‘moon’) is performed on a stage flooded with water, combines magic and illusion with traditional song and dance to create a captivating piece of Pacific Island visual theatre. Vula explores the sensual and spiritual relationship between Pacific Island women and the sea – a space where the worlds of the natural, mythological and everyday coexist. Under the power of the moon and swayed by the constant motion of the tide, Vula takes the audience on a journey through a Pacific day and night. The performers move and dance over, in, and through the water, creating image upon sensual image while moving from intense spirituality to uproarious comedy.

‘Nawalowalo is the master of the hypnotic image.’ THE HERALD, AUCKLAND

‘Nothing short of awesome… a must see.’ THE DOMINION POST, WELLINGTON

13-17 February, 7.30pm
Te Whaea Theatre, 11 Hutchison St, Newtown
Bookings: Ticket Direct 0800 4 TICKET or
Cost: $20/15/14  


Fiona Collins
Kasaya Manulevu

Ngapaki Emery
Nora Aati

Puppeteer:  Salesi Le'ota

Assistant:  Nathan  McKendry

Lighting Operator:  Nick Janiurek
Sound Operator:  Derek Simpson
Associate Director:  Tom McCrory
Producer:  Derek Simpson
Matai:Cultural Advisor  Lani Tupu Snr
Cultural Choreography: Fiona Collins
Accounts manager:  Sarah Nawalowalo
Publicist:  Brianne Kerr 

With thanks to the original cast; Tausili Mose, Susanna Lei'ataua

1 hr 10 mins, no interval

Exhilarating beauty

Review by Helen Sims 17th Feb 2008

Vula is one of the most visually stunning theatre experiences I have ever had. The show, which explores the relationship between Pacific Island women and water, is performed by four women and an off-stage puppeteer, on a stage flooded with water. This gives rise for multiple opportunities to cast reflections and shadows of the performers and the various items they manipulate on the water and to use movement to disturb its surface. The effect of the performance, lighting design and sound design together left me with only one word to describe the show: beautiful.

Vula is unofficially divided into two halves. In the first half the ocean, with its myriad forms of life, is depicted. The performers move silently through the water, drenching themselves. Fans and other traditional items are used as puppets to represent plant and fish life. At one moment a shoal of flowers appears to swim across the stage. Gareth Farr’s amazing, Chapman Tripp award winning sound design more than compensates for the lack of speech in the performance, in addition to the evocative dance and mime of the performers. After a downpour of rain, the human interaction with the sea is documented. The four performers (Fiona Collins, Kasaya Manulevu, Ngapaki Emery and Nora Ata) talk, sing and dance together as they interact with the water. Most of this occurs in either Fijian or Samoan, but those audience members unfamiliar with the languages can grasp enough of the sense of their speech to understand there are moments of joy intermingled with grief and hardship being played out. They are lit beautifully by Stephen Blackburn’s lighting design – also an award winner.

Although someone remarked to me afterwards that he would have enjoyed the show more if he had been able to follow a story, I felt exhilarated by being freed of following a conventional Western-style narrative. Instead I was able to watch the exploration of a concept. My perception was not bound to any series of events or deciphering narrative questions – I was free to engage with the visual and aural aspects in a far less limited way.

An amazing moment occurred when an audience member got up to dance in reply to the performers, who looked surprised then delighted. This woman’s engagement had obviously gone beyond mere entertainment. This was reflected in turn by the standing ovation the performance received at its conclusion.

Vula has had time to perfect itself, being performed in its current form for about three years in many venues, including the Sydney Opera House last year. However, it still feels like a show inspired by deeply personal emotions and exploration, and thus retains depth and freshness. The Fringe Festival was privileged to have a show of this quality as part of Fringe 2008. If it tours again in New Zealand after returning from Europe I would urge anyone to see it. I’ll be eagerly awaiting the next Conch production in development, Masi.

Originally published in The Lumière Reader.


Make a comment

A sensuous massage of senses and the imagination

Review by John Smythe 15th Feb 2008

[This blends and updates reviews I wrote for the National Business Review of the original Dance Your Socks Off Festival season at BATS (27 September 2002) and then the first Te Whaea season(31 October 2003). Between and since, Vula has played – with some variations in casting – in Taupo, Auckland, Guam Mocronesia, Pelau Micronesia, Christchurch, the Sydney Opera House and the Vuka Vuka Festival in Fiji. Now it is off on an extensive tour to Europe including a six city tour of Holland and a 10 night season at London’s Barbican Theatre, as part of their prestigious BITE programme. Click on ‘Vula’ above for more details.]

Memories of Fijian women in lagoon water, wading, washing, fishing and singing, is the inspiration for this mesmerising 80 miniutes of visual theatre. Stories told by Pacific Island women and the mythology that infuses their world are also reflected in Vula (Fijian for moon).

The creative ensemble assembled by director Nina Nawalowalo (from Fiji) to develop this extraordinary performance piece comprises four Polynesian actresses from Samoa (2), Fiji and Aotearoa/ NZ, a Tongan pupeteer, Pakeha Kiwi composer and lighting designer, and a Greek set designer.

Tolis Papazoglou covers the stage with a shallow black reflecting pool and curtains it behind with strips of black plastic. With minimal and specifically directed lighting – designed by Stephen Blackburn – this allows a range of visual images to be isolated and reflected. The principle is similar to black velvet painting but in this case the result is anything but kitsch.

Gareth Farr’s original music evokes a warm, humming timelessness where even breathing is a long slow sigh that elevates the spirit to languid flight.

Separately and together, Fiona Collins, Ngapaki Emery, Nora Aati and Kasaya Manulevu glide and float from darkness to light, creating memorable images. A kava bowl is ceremonially wiped, delicate hands waft in light … A lush mass of hair caresses water, becomes one with its own reflection, contracting then stretching; creating gentle surface ripples as a golden neck and curving back bathe in the light … With a sense of yearning and a promise of pleasures to bestow, a woman beckons the vast and distant ocean – or is it us she’s drawing in?

Crimson hibiscus flowers float in space and on the water. Two long thin rods are vibrated contrapuntally to create the illusion of a swimming fish. Flax-woven fans (ili) and baskets, and a reed broom (salu), role-play more underwater creatures. A tiny out-rigger vaka brings us back to the surface.

Three huge conch shells define the shore on which a woman stands. As large triangular vaka sails wipe across her, first one way then another, a flower, a hat, a fan, a dress and finally two more companions embellish the tableau. The sensuality of it all could prove soporific were it not for the mysteriously compelling nature of the images and their magical presentation.

A tropical downpour brings new energy and some delightful humour into the experience. The poetic gives way to the classically prosaic in a song and chatter-filled ‘washday at the lagoon’ sequence, yet the beauty of it all remains …

Had it not felt so authentic and compelling, I might have been moved to point out – 20-odd minutes in – that just because it’s slow, that doesn’t make it art. But any culture shock in Vula‘s initially languid pace is for us to deal with, just as it is when we travel to Pacific islands. Besides, Vula does lighten up with pace and humour, to enhance its entertainment value.

Infusing it all is a sense of yearning, which we may interpret as a desire to never wake from this paradise or to escape its limits for the excitement of life beyond.

To prove how personal each response can be, one Samoan man of my acquaintance (witnessing its first season) was especially impressed by the power implicit in the way these women claimed their space and their right to dramatise their own experience in their own way. Another friend (Pakeha woman), seeing it this year for the first time, felt immersed in a deep awareness of how water connects us all, connects the whole human world.

Distinctively of women, by women, Vula is a show for anyone inclined to journey into Pacific Island timelessness and treat themselves to a sensuous massage of their senses and imagination. Some may want a more dynamic pacing but if you let it wash over you and submit to its ambience, you’ll be surprised how many vivid images you’ll take away for further savouring.  


Make a comment

Wellingon City Council
Aotearoa Gaming Trust
Creative NZ
Auckland City Council