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NGARO - Louise Potiki Bryant, Paddy Free & Rona Ngahuia Osborne
4 October 2017, Q Theatre, Auckland
Tempo Dance Festival 2017

Reviewed by Leah Maclean


(hidden, out of sight, lost) crawls over your skin, it seeps into your bones and you find yourself asking; am I present? Am I okay?

Opening the annual Tempo Dance Festival, Louise Potiki Bryant brought Ngaro to life with her irrefutable choreographic talent and multimedia flair. Through the perspective of a Māori woman, Ngaro is a daring and reflective look into the journey and isolation of mental illness. Potiki Bryant lays herself and her anxiety bare in this dynamic, new solo work, developed from her experience in New York under the 2014 Harriet Friedlander New York Residency. The piece is a collaborative, multidisciplinary work between Potiki Bryant (choreographer, performer, and visual artist), Paddy Free (music) and Rona Ngahuia Osborne (textile design).

The work opens with a lone figure (Potiki Bryant) positioned in front of a wall covered in brightly coloured post-it notes, a black kete over her head – a faceless, non-descript figure. In the background, projected onto five tapestries, is the footage of blurred, unassuming people passing by; with a soundscape of loud babbling voices, merging into white noise. Towards the front of the stage are piles of more post-it notes, which are eventually scattered across the stage in violent, frustration – too many ideas, too many things to do. This is the beginning of a poignant and accurate representation of over-stimulation and disconnect from our own consciousness.

Potiki Bryant's movement is not fluid, it is not pretty; it's jagged, erratic, it's like a glitch in a video game, and it sits superbly in the foundations of the work. Every moment is a well-considered one; the act of repetition is powerful and compulsive. I am particularly struck by the moments in which Potiki Bryant holds out her hands and uses her thumbs to stimulate the act of texting which grows more and more urgent. I think about sitting on the bus and seeing every second person glued to their phone, completely blind to the world around them, myself included, and I shiver.

The story of Ngaro is cleverly supported by Paddy Free's eclectic musical composition and Potiki Bryant's stunning visual projections. The projections steal the show adding a unique depth and texture to the work, Potiki Bryant's interactions with the tapestries are seamless, and sometimes it is difficult to tell what is real and what is not. I would love to see this work developed for an outdoor space, perhaps a dark alleyway – the intrigue would be far too difficult to resist. 

The final section culminates in a ritual rebirth – the conquering of anxieties and the darkness. This is a magical motif in which Potiki Bryant slowly emerges from a stark white tapestry – almost like a beautiful, mythical creature from the deep. Ngaro is a work that hits home on many different levels. The creatives have successfully created something that reminds us of the importance of starting conversations around the mental wellbeing of ourselves and our people.

See Theatreview Review (Sue Cheesman) 


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