This article titled “New Zealand festival: ‘guided by the stars’, Aotearoa remembers its voyaging past” was written by Eleanor Ainge Roy, for theguardian.com on Thursday 1st March 2018 08.16 Asia/Kolkata
It is sunset in New Zealand’s capital city of Wellington and the waterfront is sardined with 20,000 bodies, gazes fixed on the horizon as a fleet of waka cuts towards the shore on one of the final nights of summer.
“We’ve been guided by the stars … it doesn’t matter what way we travelled here, we all belong, we’re all part of one big canoe,” says the master navigator Hoturoa Barclay-Kerr.
Waka are the traditional Māori canoes that originated from the Pacific Islands, the vessels that carried the first settlers to Aotearoa’s shores.
Sleek, long and sitting low in the water, waka hold a special place in the New Zealand imagination, as iconic as Mount Cook in the South Island and as sacred as Mount Taranaki in the North.
New Zealand’s well-established population of wide trees such as tōtara, rimu and kauri meant local Māori could build waka far larger than their Polynesian counterparts and for more varied uses that were demanded by their geographically diverse new home.
There were separate waka for coastal and inland waterways: large, carved waka taua used by warriors for war parties; and smaller, simpler vessels known as waka tētē for fishing or transporting goods and people.
On the opening night of the New Zealand festival, 1,000 people have gathered on Wellington’s Taranaki wharf to welcome the fleet with a gargantuan haka. Some of the waka have travelled from as far as Samoa, paying homage to the great navigator and explorer Kupe who, according to tribal narratives, was the first Polynesian to discover New Zealand after chasing an octopus all the way to Cook Strait.
Two hundred-and-fifty choir singers pierce the cooling night air as the waka slices through the smooth, teal water, beating their oars in time to a musical score by Warren Maxwell (of Trinity Roots and Fat Freddy’s Drop fame), who describes his work as a “Bowie galactic trip”. It features rolling drum beats, tui bird calls, pristine waiata (traditional Māori folk songs) and the clear, deep-sea voices of the choir.
The creative director of A Waka Odyssey, Anna Marbrook, says the gathering is “unprecedented” and celebrates the diverse makeup of modern New Zealand and the 3,000-year history of Pacific voyagers.
“When you look up you know where you are. When you know where you are, you know who you are,” sings the choir.
“He waka eke noa – we are all onboard the same waka,” replies the voyagers.
The Piano – The Royal New Zealand Ballet
Inspired by Jane Campion’s award-winning 1993 feature film, the Royal New Zealand Ballet’s brave interpretation of this dark tale of colonial isolation and desire on New Zealand’s savage west coast is a modern and chilling production that is dividing audiences.
The stage is dominated by two huge screens which capture New Zealand’s barely tamed landscapes: the roiling Pacific ocean, the cloistered interior rainforests and the grey beach, where a piano sits, waiting to be played.
The best scenes occur when the stage is empty except for the instrument and the swaying bush, beset by native bird calls. Mute Ada McGrath courts her piano while George Baines courts her; the brilliance of a mute lead character in a dance production gives their growing love affair added poignancy.
This is a sexy, disturbing and moving tale that somehow brings the desperation of New Zealand’s isolation and dark underbelly into the refined world of an afternoon ballet.
The Select (The Sun Also Rises), Opera House, Wellington
This three-hour theatrical adaption of Ernest Hemingway’s first novel captures the hopeless debauchery of a group of expat literary types in 1920s Paris and Spain.
They’re pretentious and drunk and always in love – and this should be a fun premise if, after three hours, some depth is revealed. But unlike the novel, which has a strongly melancholic undertone, the play remains a cold and glittery jewel of one-liners and slapstick gags.
“The company is interested in un-performing things; novels are supposed to be a weird, intimate relationship between the reader and the writer so translating that to the stage is awkward and that’s what we’re interested in,” actor Mike Iveson (who plays protagonist Jake Barnes so well) told Stuff.
“We don’t want to just do an adaptation.”
The play makes me miss the novel, and not in a good way. Hemingway is easy to make fun of these days, but his best deserves better than a giggle and an endless party.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010