Pacific Dance Festival 2021
Faces of Nature
Director: Aloalii Tapu
Choreography and Performance: Faith Schuster, Jahra Wasasala, Joshua Faleatua, Ooshcon Masseurs, Tavai Fa’asavalu and Aloalii Tapu
Set Design: Tori Manley-Tapu
Lighting Design: Jo Kilgour
Sound Design: Eden Mulholland
at Mangere Arts Centre, Auckland
From 11 Jun 2021 to 12 Jun 2021
Reviewed by Lyne Pringle, 13 Jun 2021
Faces of Nature, a work from Ta’alili arts group led by Aloalii Tapu and Tori-Manley Tapu, brings a pulse of something vital to a youthful and diverse audience at the Mangere Arts Centre.
More ritual laboratory than performance, with consummate dance artists and students from Manurewa College, the work is bold, inventive and provocative.
Long, very long, rambling hero/antihero solos are interspersed with chorus action. The artists take the convoluted road home to explore their ideas, as if the bodies are chewing, cogitating, investigating – scientists of the corporeal, psychonauts of the emotional, shamans of the body-based political, krumping Kiwi cyborgs.
The superb chorus are an organic crew of individuals who witness, place, move and react in an alive soup of intrigue. Less humans interacting, more insect like – a ruckus in the ant hill. Moments of despair, displacement, agony, gags, humour – flickers of joy, fleeting smiles and always camaraderie. One becomes all – all becomes one – duality drops away.
Yet who is leading who, soloist or chorus? Roles are reversed when a blindfolded and staggering Joshua Faleatua is protected and guided by the group. The quiet dignity of these guardians drills into the hearts of the audience, as Faleatua searches for a gravitational stability and release from uncertainty in a cypher circle of boneless despondency.
Faith Schuster emerges, quirky, precise, upright, an antidote, delighting in her capacity to ripple and express with startling jumps.
Jahra Wasasala prowls, the two women circle, clasp the other’s neck, whirl then explore the malleableness of negative space.
An hilarious and highly physical monologue – all in Samoan – by Tavai Fa’asavalu is a torrent of trickster energy. Cool moves, a story about too many rooms in a house, something about a giraffe, coffee, weights, a scooter and a prayer for a departed mother, a helicopter and flying over the land. The audience is enthralled, gets all the jokes and laughs uproariously, while his ponytail waggles and he rolls like a crazed ninja across the stage.
‘I love you’ mouthed by Ooshcon Masseurs’s signals the start of his solo. This declaration morphs into a decayed and self-manipulating convulsion which commands the space with power. His body turning in on itself to contaminate reflexes through compelling self-sabotage. Eventually his ‘face of nature’ implores skyward, arms outstretched a signal for a group section to flourish from this invocation.
The vibrant crew pass compulsions to each other. They speak a curious and opaque body language that unites them in common purpose. Air becomes electric, as magic is conjured and refreshingly it is difficult to name the kind of movement being birthed. A foot stamps into the earth, unleashing a reverberation which travels through the body to pop in the chest, arms hang by the side until the impulse courses into defiant arm gestures. It is a new mode of communication.
Jahra Wasasala takes the centre whilst the chorus sit slumped with branches, leaves wilting, in a circle around her. She glitches as the seams of her self-definition start to unravel. Her rebellious highly articulate body explodes into an astounding distortion of flayed limbs and contorted postures. Her movement is riveting, her capacity to move in and out of the floor with ease, exceptional.
Branches are threshed, leaves fall, doors open and Aloalii Tapu, director of the performance, crawls in, exhausted and defeated. A deployed parachute, still strapped to his back and dragging behind. A startling image. Saved by the chute but falling into what world? Why the necessity to jump from a great height in the first place? Many questions evoked by this extraordinary work. He is rescued, unclipped and carried by the chorus. The disparate threads start to weave together.
Tavai Fa’asavalu, in a rigid paper suit, is lubricated by the chorus, who pin prick balloons filled with water that cascades over him. He starts to move and the paper disintegrates like wet sushi seaweed leaving him free to move in a sinuous wide ranging siva of great beauty.
The genius of the work is the constant rupturing. When ideas become a recognisable trope, they are turned over, underpinned and dissolved in the most surprising way. The watcher is not allowed to settle but must constantly question what is in view.
Tapu allows events to ripen, he is in no hurry, creating his own version of space and time allowing the eye of the watcher to sharpen. He has curated his collaborators carefully for their choreographic input. Happenings are placed carefully as are pieces of set by Tori Manley-Tapu, three figures like sculpted rock sit totem-like on the stage throughout. Lighting design is by Jo Kilgour and compelling sound design by Eden Mulholland.
This world is a shifting prism of interlocking components, where despair, unease, loneliness are constantly dispersed and massaged into gentle support by the chorus and combined effort of exceptional soloists.
In the curtain call, the soloist and creator are in the back row behind the chorus – this says a lot about the intentions of the director, his collaborators and the creative leadership being offered.
[I bring a Palangi perspective to this performance. I am in a minority in this audience, the text is in Samoan, I pick up some meaning. All around me people laugh at jokes I don’t understand – the tables are turned in a work that delves into ‘the turmoils and triumphs of living in a Euro-centric country’. I feel unsettled – it’s good. This is my reading of the work.]