Sunday, March 14, 2010

Back to Wellington

Some real treats at Womad on Saturday: a bit surprisingly, mostly from Islamic cultures, which for some reason I didn’t expect in New Zealand! Mariem Hassan, the Saharawi singer, whose music brings the plight of her colonised people to a wider audience. Amal Murkus, from Palestine – less need to tell the world what’s going on, but she makes the most wonderful emotional connection. Gochag Askarov from Azerbaijan – a high and powerful meditational voice, like Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. I’ve no experience at all of this area – and some of the conversations with my fellow international guests fill me with fear about the costs – but I do really want to bring music into the next Origins.

I flew back down to Wellington yesterday morning, but not before snatching a glimpse at New Plymouth’s contemporary art gallery: the Govett-Brewster. They’re showing some work by a Chinese artist called Zhang Peili, who works with video. Catapulted back into the world of the Trilogy. One piece, Actor’s Lines, is particularly resonant for me. It’s made by re-cutting a Maoist film from the early 60s. The original shows a party leader explaining to a younger man how patriotic love is superior to romantic love. Zhang’s version repeats shots and slows the scene, so that you start to see a gay sub-text. Remarkable.

Two performances in the Festival in Wellington. The first is called The Arrival, and is based on the picture book by Shaun Tan. Lots of puppetry and big visuals. The second piece is Taki Rua’s new creation, Mark Twain and Me in Maoriland. Maaka Pohatu, the gentle giant from Strange Resting Places, is in it, as is Aaron Cortesi, who came to London as their Stage Manager. The other Maori actor is Ngapaki Emery, who I saw in Vula at the Barbican. The play is based on Twain’s visit to Whanganui in 1895, and his remarks about a statue which commemorated Maori who had fought against their compatriots on the side of the colonisers. Twain condemned the statue, and sided with the rebellious Maori. The difficulty is that the play wants to explore the issue of being written about, inscribed, by the foreigner – but since Twain was sympathetic, it’s tricky to use him as a way in. The piece looks beautiful, and there are moments of magic: it’s at an early stage of development, and has a bit of a way to go! But then, that’s what these new approaches to making theatre are all about. We need to be able to experiment and to grow – and sometimes that happens in front of an audience.

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