Alice Bain - The Guardian
Choreographer Lemi Ponifasio was on the remote Pacific island of Tarawa when he caught sight of seven frigate-birds, carrying videotape in their beaks that glinted like mirrors. This was the inspiration for his Birds with Skymirrors, a multi-layered work that focuses on the subject of oceanic pollution and climate change. There is film footage (a pelican in distress), sounds (collaged from drips, chants, shouts, moon-landing recordings and the exhalation of breath), and an ingenious, shafting light design. It all adds up to a passionate cry for – and from – a beautiful wilderness.
A high chief of Samoa, Ponifasio is clearly a choreographer with political concerns. Tempest (one of his older works and also part of the admirably strong festival dance programme this year) references 9/11, America and Iraq. With Skymirrors, he fills an (interval-free) hour and a half with rippling torsos, hands that beat like wings, and feet that somehow glide bodies around the stage. It can be slow, but then a screech will shake you up, as a cluster of men, heads wriggling like baby birds, change the pace from sleep-walking to frenzy. When the dancers arrange themselves in a row, bend over and writhe their backs, it's as if they've transformed into tragic oil-slicked creatures.
The images created in this 2009 work by MAU, Ponifasio's New Zealand-based company, are physically extraordinary and imaginatively charged, embracing a global view of the world and our place in it. Neither strictly dance nor theatre, these constellations of stylised action are taut with concentration and executed with astonishing precision by performers drawn from mostly non-dance and non-theatre backgrounds. Watching these mini-narratives unfold is like catching a field of sunflowers in the act of turning towards the sun.