Jennifer Shennan - Dom Post
This production is a sombre witness to contemporary realities in the island nation of Kiribati. It makes for profoundly dark, deliberately uncomfortable, hugely impressive theatre.
A colossal diagonal beam dissects the stage. From dark shadows on either side, cautious performers emerge into pockets of light, holding sculptural poses, moving minimally, as an excerpt of Douglas Lilburn's Soundscape with Lake and River is introduced. Later music includes Richard Nunns playing taonga puoro.
Helen Todd's dramatic lighting allows Lemi Ponifasio's choreographic concept its measured pace, unfolding slowly. One I-Kiribati man alternates with one Maori woman in sustained solo passages suggesting creation. Five more men and two more women will soon swell the numbers.
Movements sourced from I-Kiribati men's traditional dances include the distinctive foot scuttling that propels them both forward and backward at lightning speed. Toes are lifted up from the flat foot, in a kind of echo to the tremoring fingers from outstretched arms. In silhouette these become the wingtip feathers of a frigate bird as it navigates its way around the Pacific.
I-Kiribati have modelled their dances on the movements of these giant acrobatic birds. They do not swim, however, so it is excruciating to see a repeated film sequence of one trapped and dying in heavy oil spillage on the sea. Of course we do not have to travel to remote oceans to witness that tragedy.
Over and over we see the dance sequences, and it is Ponifasio's achievement to show how ancient thought and reflection of environment shapes the meaning, discipline and power of movements in a Pacific dance culture.
A final sequence slowly fills the stage with rising dust (from the phosphate mining that destroyed Banaba-Ocean Island perhaps?) The performers are phenomenal, yet are not identified or backgrounded. If even one of them was from Banaba, that brings everything rather closer to home since we covered our land with their superphosphate.
Think Fonterra, and the vast agricultural wealth that allows us to afford arts festivals.