One of the things I missed while living in Copenhagen, was the Edinburgh Festival and its fantastic opportunity to see a wide range of theatre and performances. Having an international festival on my doorstep, is something I am glad to have once again in the biannual NZ Festival. It is so nice to see a diverse range of artists and their works, with a chance to try out new things.
And so it was with great interest that I set out on Wednesday to see “Stones In Her Mouth”, a piece choreographed by the Samoan, Lemi Ponifasio, and performed by his theatre company MAU (who are based in Auckland). His work is forceful and dramatic work, often using themes of power and the voice of the unheard and unnoticed, and has been performed all over the world (including Edinburgh in 2010).
Stones In Her Mouth (Photo from here)
The piece I saw was for a group of ten Māori women who sang, danced and moved, using a mixture of traditional and modern movements, drawing in fact on the tradition of Māori women as writers of poetry and chant. The title of the piece is from a book of poems by Roma Potiki.
There are three key aspects of this work that struck me – the voices, the lighting and the movement. The singing and chanting was quite breathtaking: the women had fantastic voices that were both powerful and lyrical.
For me, the key to the overall feel of the piece was the lighting. A lot of the time, the stage was in darkness, with only segments lit up to highlight certain elements such as faces and hands. Sometimes this created strange shapes – try to imagine a group of women with their heads tilted back and the light shining only on their throats.
The movement and dancing was a mixture of many traditional elements, such as the use of the poi, a sort of weighted ball on a string that is part of traditional Maori dancing, which featured several times, much to the delight of the audience. Due to the lighting, at times the women, all dressed in black, seemed to float across the stage. In fact, mention should also be made of the costumes – seemingly simple long black tunics over long black skirts, but with pockets at the back to hold poi and in one amazing moment, red dust, that the dancer threw over the stage.