Delivering the tension of unnoticeable change

Posted on Wednesday, January 28th, 2009

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Artistic director and choreographer Lemi Ponifasio founded MAU in 1995. MAU is an ensemble of artists taking its name from the non-violent Samoan independence movement Mau, meaning testimony or revolution. Mau offered sustained resistance to colonisation, first by the Germans, then Britain and New Zealand. The work of MAU reflects this keen social perspective, an awareness of history and a critical eye on our own times. Ponifasio collaborates with contemporary and traditional artists, refugees, and marae and Pacific Island communities reviving local-oriented arts, thought and narratives that have been silenced or excluded. In Ponifasio¹s words, “It is a dance or theatre that is mau, truly contemporary, that deals with the life as we experience it, a theatre of where we find ourselves planning our future”.

With bold vision and without ingratiation to western aesthetics or South Pacific clichés, Ponifasio’s minimalist choreography and staging radically reassesses the divisions between disciplines of dance, theatre, ceremony, visual arts and daily life. His often-controversial stage world is inhabited by humans, birds, gods, demi gods, oratory, chants, animals, ancestors, stone and song. The work challenges theatrical parameters of time and space; the searing imagery is enacted by a talented and dedicated ensemble of highly disciplined, cultivated artists from across the Pacific region, their movements, reduced and sacral in space of light and shadow.

Lighting designer, Helen Todd has worked with Ponifasio since 1993 and here she discusses her part in two recent productions: Tempest and Requiem.

“With Tempest, I began with imagining shadows and black spaces as this work deals with disappearing people, individuals and cultures. I wanted stark and arresting contrasts, and I wanted to make the spaces appear and disappear seamlessly and magically, just as it happens in the political realities we are dealing with in our world today.

The work Requiem requires a sacred space, for ceremony and remembrance. It requires an edge of darkness that inspires prayer, or reflection on inflicted loss of life. I try to define territorial zones that shift us, hovering between reverence and fear, where humans and even angels should tread only tenderly.

In both these works I have chosen to use the Selecon 575W MSR Zoomspot fitted with the Pacific Dowser mechanical dimmer which we take with us when we tour. I rely on the subtle and minutely accurate dimming action of these dowsers in order to engage the audience without drawing attention to what they are seeing, but rather the tension of unnoticeable change. The hot-strike lamps allow me to focus and check plotting without losing precious time, and of course interchangeable lenses are perfect if you care for absolute accuracy in your plot. For touring I am delighted to find that increasingly these beautiful instruments are available in Europe and of course in the US.”

MAU tours internationally appearing at venues and festivals which include the Lincoln Center NYC, Vienna Festival, Kunstenfestivaldesarts, Holland Festival, Venice Biennale, London International Theatre Festival, Theatre Der Welt, Adelaide Festival and the Prague Quadrennial.

“angel” photo from Tempest courtesy of Lemi Ponifasio

All Requiem photography by Richard Termine.

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