Transfigured Night and Talanoa MAU  — Curated by Lemi Ponifasio

Our festival opening night will be a unique opportunity for our audiences to discover the work of Lemi Ponifasio, New Zealand’s most internationally celebrated artist, designer, dancer and choreographer.

Lemi was born in Lano, Samoa and moved to New Zealand when he was 15 years old. While at high school in New Zealand he started to attend a series of workshops with the Maori Matua Tohunga master artist Irirangi Tiakiawa in Rotoiti.

In 1983 he was invited by the late Tama Huata, a central figure in the renaissance of the Māori performing arts, who founded the Kahurangi Dance Theatre and Te Wānanga Whare Tapere o Takitimu (the Takitimu Performing Arts School in Hastings), to work with him, performing in communities throughout New Zealand and in reservations in Canada.

He began his artistic career as an avant-garde experimental performer, staging his epic ten-year solo dance investigation Body in Crisis, primarily in non-theatrical and outdoor spaces all around the world. It was during that time, in 1991, when I met Lemi as he walked into my theatre (The Galaxy Theatre, in the Old Custom House in Auckland), upon his return from Japan.

We had an instant connection and he subsequently presented his first two works, Fish of the Day and Illumina at the Galaxy Theatre, marking the beginning of his company MAU and his collaboration with extraordinary lighting designer, Helen Todd.

It was obvious to all that New Zealand wasn’t ready then for his vision, but he went on to achieve international acclaim for his confrontational and provocative theatre pieces, fully-staged operas, dance, exhibitions, festivals and community forums working with communities and artists from all over the world … and in turn  becoming New Zealand’s most prolific dance and theatre company.

Ponifasio collaborates with people in all walks of life, working in schools, universities, in factories, villages, opera houses, castles, galleries, and stadiums reflecting a real moment in time as could only be expressed through his performers.

Lemi has been invited to perform at the Venice Biennale an unprecedented three times — for visual arts, dance and theatre. He has been the director of choice for the biggest theatrical production in Canadian history, the Luminato Festival’s revival of Apocalypsis, a two-part musical epic with more than a thousand performers and crew. He was also chosen by UNESCO to give the annual International Dance Day message in Paris for dancers around the world.

And it was here in Hastings in 1983 when Lemi first set foot in a theatre, The Hawke’s Bay Opera House, which he often credits as a pivotal moment in his career. So I am extremely delighted to see him return here for the first time since then, to create our opening night ceremonial performance piece for our sixth festival, with Transfigured Night. It will feature The Hawke’s Bay Orchestra  performing Arnold Schoenberg’s, ‘Transfigured Night’ conducted by the masterful José Aparicio, alongside his company MAU Wahine  and Ngatai Huata and whanau. Expect to be challenged; miss it at your own peril.

Later in the Festival Lemi will curate Talanoa Mau – What Now? A gathering at EIT’s Otātara Heights where artists, musicians, poets, thinkers, politicians, youth and culture makers from around the region and Aotearoa will come together in an outdoor setting for an afternoon,  to give voice to new and unheard ideas, to awaken passion and to look critically at what we may need now, and how the arts can help to successfully navigate the current situation in the world.

Talanoa is the Sāmoan word meaning to talk openly and it is an important methodology for resolving conflicts in many Pacific cultures. In this spirit, MAU enacts a stance of openness in which truth can emerge.

“Arts festivals can stimulate a nation’s culture,” says Lemi.

“Just as agriculture celebrates the planting and harvest, arts festivals enact the planting of new ideas and traditions, which, if tended, will grow into the cultures of the future.”

So I invite you all to come together and join us across our diverse cultures and experience something different, something for right here, right now.

See you there!

Pitsch Leiser, Festival Director

Transfigured Night: Toitoi Opera House, Monday, 12 October 7.30pm

Talanoa MAU:  EIT IDEAschool, Friday, 23 October, 1pm

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