The Bruce Mason Centre is a venue in which I’ve both performed and seen many, many shows, yet none of those experiences compare or compete to Masina Returning Home by Touch Compass Dance Company. There's something magical about being in a theatre so big, being a part of a crowd, both an individual and collective, as we watch performers tell their stories. Something comforting about coming to familiar places and the joy of experiencing something new. Today, I was humbled to sit with and audience and watch performers from Touch Compass Dance Company tell their story of the "fafine toeaina" Masina, returning home to Samoa. Through songs, music, dance, words, sign, and multi-sensory props, Masina’s voyage home is one of exploration and discovery that is truly accessible theatre.
Touch Compass’ objective is to bring the experience of theatre to all, and while the story itself is important, it's not the main point of this show. It doesn't rely on complicated dramas or tensions to hooked or engage its audience, rather, it is simply a story of coming back home, home to our souls and surroundings, a journey that has been a personal discovery for performer Lusi Faiva, who plays Masina. The magic, and success, is in how each section of the story is performed and then cemented when the performers make personal connections. The first 10 minutes is a journey from the foyer, down the elevator, and to side-stage, where we are welcomed by the beautifully calm performer Katrina George and the multi-talented musician, Sam Jones, as he plays jazzy tunes on the clarinet and saxophone. George takes her time to invite each member of the audience personally into the theatre and to their seat, positioned on stage, close with the performers. It's not the traditional way in which we witness a show, but it is also completely necessary in this case. As I take my seat, I'm joined by seven audience members with profound and multiple learning disabilities and their carers and whanau members.
Watching Faiva, George, and Jones weave together songs, music, dialogue and sign, is like nothing I've seen before. It's all happening, and you're already a part of the show. George, who plays Sina, a young Samoan woman on a journey of discovery, sings with power but also an understanding that her luscious melodies can calm and beckon you. I could listen to her voice all day.
Supporting Faiva is, Veronica Maitre, who carefully guides each child through the different sensory aspects. I relished the feeling of rain and icefall in my hands as a storm passed, the taste of the sea as it crashed and sprayed into my mouth, the feeling of sand and shells between my fingers, vibrations of the drums upon arrival, and the stars of the night sky as they danced around my face. These elements were created and performed for us individually by using a block of ice and grating it above our hands to feel the cold, a small spray bottle filled with saltwater and sprayed onto our tongues, bowls of shells and sand, the chance to play a small handheld drum and glass jars filled with white fairy lights that where controlled by the performers, and I found such joy seeing each audience member experience the same thing. To hear their delight, and see one boy completely engaged, unable to take his eyes off the performance. This is theatre, but not as we know it. The way the lights shine and disappears, how the sounds echo around the theatre, the way the set glows. It's a right to be able to experience shows, so why should it be any different for people who have disabilities? This show may not be designed specifically for me, but I thoroughly enjoyed it, seeing the beauty and worth that a show like this brings to people.
Touch Compass Dance Company’s vision is "To shift perceptions, empower participants, and inspire audiences." They "work creatively with world-class choreographers and directors to collaborate with disabled and non-disabled performers to draw out narratives that challenge perceptions about what performance is and who can do it." Director Laughton Kora has opened a space and allowed Faiva, a founding member of Touch Compass, to explore her and George’s Samoan heritage and perform to a community that she is a part of, and I hope the company can continue to create such theatre works and performances for all. It is a reminder of the important of theatre and the experiences it can give us, and for that I thank them. May that they find their market, and spread the word to allow others to experience the magic of these shows.