Manawa Whenua

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20 October, Blyth, HBAF18
By Gill Duncan

The world.

Its big blue image, taken from space, is projected onto the back wall above.

Below, the stage area has a centered arrangement of large boxes, some lit within.

A drone of close low notes oscillates loud enough to fill the venue’s volume as audience trickle in. It grumbles at us, we could be underwater.

The space is acoustically and spatially generous and neutral until Isabelle begins to play her own engaging musical arrangements and song, and thirteen young people populate the stage to share what they have created, “this is their voice”.

It’s experimental and starts self-consciously. The audience is made to feel it is being looked at; “this race needs to wake up…the solution is learning to love…we could do this as one,” pause, “united.”

The dialogue is sometimes cliché, sometimes lost against the amplified music but the messages get through; the earnestness, hope and clear intention for solutions come across.

Using dance that is natural and untrained, perhaps built from spontaneous movement, these youthful ‘theatre creatives’ portray many scenarios: people and the world conversing; individuals being choked and unable to breathe who are then revived to repeat asphyxiation; people being weighed down to the point of collapse.

I was impressed with their use of stage, their shape making, effective shadow play and clever imagery. They demonstrated stage awareness of each other, often within fast-paced action, that worked really well. Placement of the light boxes, using them as platforms to alter heights, gave variety.

The singing was touching. Unpolished, sweetly unschooled, the individual voices brought their messages to us wrapped as musical gifts. One was sung first in Maori and then translated in song: “My Language is my strength, an ornament of grace.” Genuine offerings.

And the audience showed its appreciation and respect by allowing the continuum, as indicated by the players movement, without interruption.

I particularly enjoyed the recital and visual interplay of Harry Baker’s poem, “Paper People” and the space given for each member of the troupe to give a core personnel statement and expand it.

This performance was a dream of many, filtered through theatrical learning into an aspirational whole like A Spring of Fragrant Water.

The awareness demonstrated by the material, and the talent displayed, give hope on many levels, not just for the world of theatre.

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