Matariki for Tamariki

matariki-tamariki-auckland-live-1133x628px.jpg

Filling the Bruce Mason Centre with joy, laughter, and intrigue, Matariki for Tamariki presents the stories and celebrations behind our Matariki Stars. Presented by The New Zealand Dance Company, consisting of some of the top contemporary dancers in the country, whose grace on stage is always stunning and whose technique, flow, and lines admirable, choreographer Sean MacDonald has created a beautiful piece aimed at both educating and entertaining our tamariki. A sophisticated approach, amidst plenty of laughter (from both children and adults) as dancers pop in and out of their comedic roles, at times, the content does feel a little over one’s head.

Entertaining us all before the show, in a series of rhythm, coordination and comedy bits, the entire audience are particularly responsive to the charm and wit of Carl Tolentino. A smart move to get the kids engaged and invested with the performer before jumping into the show. The showcase of the NZDC youth workshop at the beginning was a treat, engrossing us with a piece they had workshopped that week along with the company and faculty. An amazing opportunity for youth to be able to perform alongside such professionals.

Designer Rona Ngahuia Osborne equips the performance in a fun and playful way, with set and props mostly made out of cardboard and coloured with paints, and props given larger than life details. Simple, yet effective. Sound design by Alistair Deverick mixes sounds with dialogued text to help convey the images and story of Matariki, at times the soundtrack fading into the background, allowing the driving force of the dance to take focus.

While the section on Tāwhirimātea (god of the winds), with exaggerated eyes turning into confetti, executed by dancer Eddie Elliott, was clear, the following are less so, feeling under-explored with less depth and clarity. Still engaged by beautiful choreography and dancers, I found myself and the tamariki becoming restless. Perhaps a one-hour show with no interval is a bit much for some. Fortunately, the comedic sections scattered throughout did bring them back, though perhaps some of the teachings of Matariki lost, and while I was had a beautifully designed program, outlining the ides and story in greater detail, the children did not.

An interactive butterfly screen in the foyer had many engaged and joining in, and the tamariki that still had energy could be found dancing around after the show. With plenty of smiles all round, I’d say that makes the show a success. Most contemporary dance is seen as an abstract art form that only a few get, which has a handful of truth, but how often do we get to see professional dancers and dance companies creating works for our young? Take your kids, nieces, nephews, cousins and join in the world of dance and all it can offer. Matariki for Tamariki is a chance for them to get involved in the arts, and there are still three shows left for them to do at the Mangere Arts Centre this weekend.

Maui (Pacific Dance Festival)

Maui.jpg

Maui is a dance, music, and physical theatre work that has many elements woven together to tell the story of the Pacific legend. Each element has its own chance in the spotlight, allowing us to view the demigod in his many versions. Portrayed in this story as a normal man, how he loved, persisted, celebrated, and his heroism of fishing up the Island.

A live band sits downstage left playing smooth tones as we take our seats. Tony O’Rourke and Gibson Harris are our musicians for the night, mixing live music in with a soundtrack of cultural, modern, instrumental, and hip-hop beats, the music driving the style of movement and forcing us into the emotions of each section. This is also fuelled by the use of recorded dialogue and projections. The projector reminds us of the images we already know of Maui in a traditional, cultural way, but also depicts the hero as if he were alive today with the use of cityscapes and modern environments.

Before saying anything further about the content, I’d like to celebrate the performers. Everyone performed with conviction and energy, seamlessly jumping into different styles and energies, from contemporary, hip-hop, krump, cultural, and song. I loved that there were many body types and sizes represented. No one looked out of place and I commend the ensemble for dancing their hearts out. I felt their passion and love for what they do, and thank them for sharing it with us.

Hadleigh Pouesi and Christopher Ofanoa’s clever choreography showcased the versatilities of their dancers and talents as choreographers. Highlights included the ensemble acting as waves, a simple but effective movement that was symbolic. The “heated lava”, translated into a krump set was vibrant and energetic. An extremely powerful haka and waiata both performed with truth and gusto. And the contemporary solo from Chris Ofanoa displayed grace, strength, and connected flow. I thoroughly enjoyed watching this number. The whole show was highly entertaining and engaging, and I was left both satisfied and uplifted.

I believe there is much-needed space for productions and companies such as this one. Hadleigh is the Director of Freshmans Dance Crew and Maui, and by using both professionals, students, and crew dancers, he has created a community, bridging the gap between the elite professionals and community dance. I look forward to seeing how this company grows and excels on and beyond this platform.

We can all find similarities in these stories and ourselves, it’s a reminder that we are all Maui, we all possess the same attributes, and if we put them to use, we can also be legends standing together as proudly as Pacific Island people.

Moana Showcase & Triple Bill (Pacific Dance Festival)

1283902-567401-34.jpg

The Pacific Dance Festival programmed two similar shows, Moana Showcase and Triple Bill, that allowed Pacific Island artists, choreographers, and performers to showcase their works at the Mangere Arts Centre. Moana Showcase presented six separate works, while Triple Bill (the title suggesting three performances) consisted of four separate works and three different video performances. It was a shame that one of the works and the videos performed in Triple Bill weren’t acknowledged in the programme. I wanted to know more about them, who the dancers were, who created them, and any possible themes and ideas behind them. Although they were given a platform to present works, they were not recognised by the festival and trying to find information was difficult. It’s a shame to those who spent time on their craft and presented works that did not get recognition. A festival that showcases cultural works is important, but wouldn’t it be nice to have the same platforms as everyone else? 

The video with crafted masked dancer intrigued me. Filmed at night around small cliff rocks, dry white sand, with effective lighting of the surrounding environment. I did not know its reference yet I enjoyed it for what it was.

Some performances shone brightly for their initiative, engagement and artistic beauty, while others fell short of their own written expectations. Stolen Stories performed in Moana Showcase had engaging projections and a beautifully detailed write-up, but the physical follow-through feeling like an afterthought. Distant and un-ironed. 

Two different self-discovery pieces, Our Shadows and Resurrect Me, from students in their third year at the New Zealand School of Dance created beautiful shapes with solid technique. While neither’s choreography showed huge variety, the use of motifs connected us to their journeys in a caring way. Our Shadows’ light design was effective with its yellow wash and dark blue downwards lights, though I missed some dialogue at the beginning due to the under music being too loud. Trip performed in Triple Bill felt like watching a video clip. A mostly polished performance, with strong female presence and cleverly edited video projection. However, I didn’t quite grasp what the four dancers were portraying. “Me Vs the World? Or me vs me?” as displayed in their write up suggest ideas of exploration and discovery, but seemed to lack the follow through in finer details.

pacificdance-banner7-cmp.jpg

Fonua from Moana Showcase jumped us into life as the music and lights blared, making me want to join the dancers on stage. Sometimes it's nice to remember that dance can just be fun and vibrant. I enjoyed being in ‘their world’ and watching their energy take over the stage. The dancers from Charged also had immense energy, although, performed in a calmer way, the group of third-year students also from the New Zealand School of Dance displayed their athleticism and grace in an intricately choreographed piece by Cheyanne Teka. Fresh dancers that are definitely going to make a mark on the New Zealand dance scene very soon.

A creative concept delivered from Melville Place performed in Triple Bill, I couldn’t understand the dialogue that was performed towards the end of the piece, so it was handy that I could find the spoken words written in the programme. An air of feral creatures highlighted by an exuberant soundtrack of animal sounds and roars. For me, the dances didn’t seem connected the whole way through and prolonged thoughts didn’t feel explored completely. At times I felt uncomfortable, but I wasn’t aware of why. The first unmentioned piece from Triple Bill reminded me of Queen’s famous Bohemian Rhapsody album cover, with the four dancers creating the powerful iconic image at the beginning and end. I like the musicality of the choreography and movement, great music and lighting choices that enhanced the strength of the work. 

The stand out performance over the two nights was definitely Lalo from Moana Showcase. Watching eight beautiful, technical, strong male dancers express the themes of forgiveness from a Samoan perspective was magnificent. Where have these dancers been hiding? Ankaramy Fepuleai created symbolic, dynamic choreography performed with such presence that it commanded the whole theatre. The male dancer with two black straps around his wrists had another level of X-factor. I enjoyed watching him move in and out of the floor and was drawn to his movements no matter where he was on the stage. From start to finish, I was mesmerised by this piece. 

A special mention to A’fekfek by Rako. Emily Marie, Iane Tavo, and Samuela Taukave, who were the artists in residence from Fiji, participating in workshops and a part of the Festival showcasing their work. I hope their time here allowed the company to grow, learn, share, and connect with other Pacific cultures and companies. And that this platform within and outside of this festival continues to grow for artists, choreographers, and performers to showcase, create, and explore their works.

Kapu Akari (Pacific Dance Festival)

1291650-567421-14.jpg

The audience enters and awaiting our arrival are 10 performers in a meditative state, dressed in white, high-waisted, long skirts and neutral turtle necks. Stage right, mustard cloths tied together are hanging from the ceiling and reaching the floor into a kava bowl. The audience, respectfully, wait for the piece to begin. I’m transfixed listening to the slow, idling sounds that pulse from the speakers. I’m aware of everyone in this space, not saying a word, breathing and listening to what’s happening around us. It doesn’t feel awkward, it feels like now is the only time and I’m in the right place. A beautiful start to the show. The music changes gear as the house lights transition and suddenly we are watching a woman move.

The first section of the piece seems to take a while to get somewhere, with each cast member repeating a slight variation of the gestural choreography. Swiping away from themselves with their hands and making sound through their teeth. The transition to reveal a man centre stage was surprising and very well executed. The lights change red and we are able to see some bigger movements and sequences begin. The lighting throughout the show was seamless and effective, often throwing our attention to specific lines and shapes. Like the single sectioned squares created on the floor, I enjoyed how this was used to help represent the idea of death to us. The soundtrack was dynamic, mixing vocal sections, soundscape, cultural rhythms, and uplifting beats. I didn’t find my attention wavering too many times, I was engaged, however, I wasn’t immersed in the world of the piece. I was aware that I was watching people on stage move. I feel the use of voice in different sections aided in this idea. Yes, we were watching stories be told through movement but they also had a voice to tell these stories too, it was a nice detail.

While I could follow and appreciate some aspects and ideas of Kapu Akari and its multitude of cultural meanings and representations (tradition, rituals, Created from), I found there were too many different thoughts to be able to follow cohesively. Each progressing section seemed to explore something different, but I wasn’t able to really connect with it, other than to appreciate the pleasing aesthetics that were created and being displayed. Maybe that is my own naivety or maybe this is because I wasn’t convinced by each performer. Unfortunately, in pockets, the performers seemed to lack the strength to finish movements convincingly. Two performers did stand out for me though and I am unable to identify them from the programme. I use my description as, the young female dancer with two Dutch braids and a fringe, and the young male performer. Both had something extra that my eye was drawn to; crisp in their movements and fluid when necessary. In particular, the young male’s solo, while the women sat watching at his feet, was lovely to experience. I look forward to seeing where this dancer goes next. I also enjoyed the two women who performed a Cook Island dance before being derobed.

I understand how many hours go into making a work like this. Endless, endless hours. But I’m hesitant to say that this was a brilliant show. I did enjoy watching it, but I wasn’t wowed, nor could I find an overall X-factor quality. Yet I would happily attend another showing of Kapu Akari, to see if and how the ideas and processes may change.

Leeches (Pacific Dance Festival)

Aloalii Tapu & Friends

Aloalii Tapu & Friends

The ASB Waterfront theatre foyer is bustling with audience members greeting and embracing each other. I see many performers from both the dance community and other arts communities that have come to support the headlining show of the Pacific Dance Festival. It feels a step in a new direction that a collaborative dance work, under the direction of Aloalii Tapu, has the opportunity to present work at this level. They are not yet an established company, but these professionals have more stories and performances to gift. We usually only see dance in venues such as the ASB Waterfront from established well toured companies and bigger productions. They hold opportunities for bigger audience numbers and bigger production values that can lift a performance in a way that smaller venues can’t. Not to say other venues are inferior, they still hold an important place, but it’s nice to be able to support new choreographers and performers coming through that may not have had the chance to showcase on this level.

There is a new wave of NZ performers shining, their followers, who are evident from the audience, play a huge part in creating and changing our new idols. As recognised in the show, the use of technology has made everything more accessible. Easier to get to know a person, easier to connect, easier to follow in their journeys, and easier to idolise many achievements in people’s lives. We will always have the ones that have come before us, the ones we will always acknowledge for their service to dance, but like anything, things must keep moving forward and new idols, stars, whatever you want to call them, are being created, and we see you.

The show starts with a single dull white light upstage right that shines down as bodies are carried and perfectly placed on stage. They wear hoodies with something on the back of the hood - but from my seat I wasn’t able to find the relevance, as I couldn’t see the pictures. Phrases of movement are repeated and we see a full circle at the end when the same choreography is performed, this time without the hoodies and with broken speech cleverly “tongued” and slotted in by Jahra ‘Rager’ Wasasala. The spoken word and dialogue aspects gave some clearer and deeper meaning.

A minimal setting with paper floors made for some interesting moments, such as the duo between the Connor ‘Ooshcon’ Masseurs and Elijah Kennar, sans music, so we could hear how the feet and bodies moved across it - very therapeutic to see and hear. Kennar has a comical character, but moves to become the grounding base of the piece. His smallest movements often having the greatest effect on us. But then he jumps, turns, and is so expansive his connection is seamless. I forget how hard it is to actually perform some of those movements. The paper suit and water that is “popped” on him is truly stunning. The unravelling of one’s self or the falling apart of self, culture, society, regardless of the meaning behind it, was mesmerising. Another stand out section was the ensemble moving together, like a Greek chorus, saying “Screw you” for labelling us this way. It was strong, clean, and captivating.

Jo Kilgour’s lightning is designed beautifully and we hardly notice the changes of whites, dull blues, and warmer tones, and I enjoy the way the haze was caught in the beams of light. Sound design by Eden Mullholland plays anonymously in the background in a way that we are able focus on the movement happening before us. A soundscape feeling to the pieces but moments without music held my attention equally.

Tapu’s movement practice of “Lofty Release” seems to condense contemporary, hip-hop, and Pasifika styles all into one move. It’s detailed but has flow, technical but free, easy to watch and follow, but rather hard to do (yes, I attempted it in the privacy of my own room).

While some sections kept my attention and I could feel the energy shift between the dancers, there were small pockets where my attention wavered. It was great to see a supportive audience, and while I can’t critique as to how they should react, at times it may have taken away some of the moments for the performers.

The hard and amazing thing with dance is that everyone will come away with a slightly different version of what they saw. “Paper comes from trees and trees come from me, Tarnz”, plays upon the idea that everything comes from something else, and the stories they tell are passed down and in turn become something new again. A part of someone else’s life and DNA. Do the stories morphing or changing become a bad thing? This is the question that I was left with at the end of the show.

An enjoyable and highly professional performance, this is not just another contemporary show, and I look forward to seeing how both the movement practice and the careers of these performers and choreographers grow. They have more stories to tell us and I’ll be here ready when they do.