Wahine Toa - Pacific Dance Festival 2016
16 June 2016, Mangere Arts Centre, Auckland
Reviewed by Dr. Marianne Schultz
The second of three programmes in the inaugural Pacific Dance Festival showcases the work of four female contemporary dance artists. The works on offer reflect diverse Pacific cultures and speak to various experiences of ‘Pacificness’ for women in present day Aotearoa. Most importantly, identity is central to all these works, though how that identity is expressed through movement is individual to each artist.
The evening opens with Julia Mage'au Gray’s Wearing My Map. As the lights come up the audience is confronted with the topless and tattooed backs of three women facing the back of the stage. Gray enters and silently moves across the back of the space, dressed in a black robe/gown. Her movements are hypnotising, inviting viewers into a world where tradition and contemporary life clash. Gray carries a roll of yellow tape with the word ‘Caution’ printed on it, which she uses to wrap around the middles topless figure. Against the mixture of island song and classical music, and a film of central city Auckland, Gray explores her culture and the effects upon it from outside of Papua New Guinea.
The Call, a duet by Niki Upoko follows Gray’s work. Two dancers, Upoko and Natalie Toevai, are dressed like colourful birds, with rings of feathers circling their hips. The use of song, in this instance from the Cook Islands, infuses the work with a feelings of languor and place; Upoko’s undulating movement of hips and hands conjure ancient corporeal storytelling.
Blood/d/runk, by Jahra Wasasala, the longest work of the evening, is a combination of ritual, voice, and spoken word interwoven with movement. Wasasala, dressed in cream-coloured satin is encased by a chorus of black clad females who both support and reject. Brutal, visceral and innovative, Blood/d/runk demands that the audience participate in acknowledging the history of Pacific women and their mother/Earth connection.
The final work of the programme, Burnt Skin, by Katerina Fatupaito, presents the most intricate choreography of the evening. The flour-covered floor provides a startling platform for the three bodies marked with black lines (Riki Nofo’akifolau, Metusela Toss, Antonio Malachi). As the lifts, rolls, and feats of daring strength increase in intensity and speed, the work culminates in an intriguing intermingling of bodies.
The director of Pacific Dance New Zealand, Iosefa Enari, and his team are to be commended for pulling together three separate programmes over 6 days. Audiences in Auckland, the city with the world’s largest population of Polynesian peoples, should be grateful for his ongoing commitment to nurturing a new generation of New Zealand choreographers of Pacific ancestry. The works in Wahine Toa provide a window into twenty-first century life for women in the South Pacific who chose dance, song, words and gestures to convey their own Pacific identities.