And the earth shifted beneath my feet

And The Earth Shifted Beneath My Feet

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Hawke's Bay Arts Festival /
The Human Project /
White Night / Albert Square / Festival Garden /
By Rosheen FitzGerald 

There’s a strange juxtaposition to the migrant experience. It is at once unifying — statistically, most of us have come from somewhere, after all — and deeply lonely. No two journeys are the same. Along the way choices are made. What do we preserve? What do we let go? How do we span the gap between what was and what will be, all the while navigating the business of survival in the moment?

The Human Project is well versed in wrestling with big questions, rendering enquiry in the physical — poetry in motion. Producer, Champa Maciel speaks to the depth of research conducted by the trio of local dancers into their own stories in the development of this piece. But her words are almost redundant, the piece brings to life the adage, show don’t tell. Every gesture, every facial expression drips with raw feeling, meaning bursting forth from bodies, gripping the audience in their thrall.

Not that the process isn’t fascinating in its own right. The atmospheric soundtrack was composed by Maciel herself — a blend of foley sounds — crashing waves, muted folk songs, the laughter of children; passages of classical instruments; rhythmical beats; voice-overs, including Maya Angelou and Maciel’s own mother; all innovatively retrofitted to the choreography. The mahi that has gone into the creation of this piece reaps dividends — both in the eye of the beholder, and in their hearts and souls.

The piece is ostensibly split in three, each dancer taking centre stage for a time, but such is the skill of the choreography that transitions happen as if by magic. The ensemble moves as one, a single breathing entity; motion rippling from one to the other like waves flowing through the ocean. Tension is expertly held in taught forms as the full range of emotion is explored and expressed.

Sophie Follet is our first soloist — Tamāhine o the Whenua, Daughter of the Land. It’s not so much a solo as a duet with the earth. Gravity is her lover as she tenderly communes with earth and sky with immense sensitivity. All the while a disembodied voice speaks down to the migrant experience in the finest of received pronunciation.

Next, is Liefdes Lament — Dutch lovers’ sad song. Pippi Jane contrasts static and flow, flopping as if on the puppet strings of destiny. There’s a controlled creepiness to her motion, as she rents at her clothing with the depth of her feeling. It’s made all the stranger by the sounds of rhythmic toil and bubbling laughter.

Raiz, that’s Portuguese for root, is the final offering from Champa Maciel. Watching her move dredges up long forgotten rote learned lines from Yeatsbe the singing master of my soul. Consume my heart away; sick with desire and fastened to a dying animal. Her frenetic movements evoke a frantic need for freedom, to shake off the shackles of the past. Her fellow dancers take up Chekhov’s red sash that has lain across the front of the makeshift outdoor stage for the duration, binding her face, blinding her, erasing identity, even as she raises her hand in the gesture of a mirror to her sightless eyes. Her mother’s voice speaks with heart-shatteringly matter of factness about her harsh childhood in the favelas of São Paulo, while Maciel writhes out her heart pain. Her ear to the ground, she releases the epigenetic trauma into the ether, shot straight to the hearts of all that bear witness.

Woven around the solo pieces are moments of breathtaking tenderness, mutual support — physical, emotional, spiritual. Wiri hand movements embody the whenua these wahine have made their home. There is hand wringing, symbolising the daily grind of survival. Imaginary waves wash over faces, a cleansing flow, balm to their struggle. They end with a rhythmical samba, an explosion of joy — testament to the healing power of artistic expression. Permeating all is a deep sense of working through, of working out, of stretching back through their disparate but intertwined lineages to express the experiences of the past in order to pave the way for the limitless potential of the future.

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