15, 16, 17/05 > 20:00
The Kunstenfestivaldesarts & KVS are presenting the work of Lemi Ponifasio and his MAU company. The Samoan theatre-maker and choreographer builds his works from the backgrounds of his performers, who originate from a variety of islands in the Pacific Ocean. He weaves their stories with philosopher Giorgio Agamben's ideas on the relationship between citizen and state and with elements from Shakespeare's Tempest. A parable of the tentacles of power, this theatre work unhesitatingly exposes the desperate state of colonised Oceania. A Maori activist tells of a past that has never been dealt with. His oratory takes us back to the late 18th century, when the British Captain Cook made a voyage of discovery to the islands of the South Pacific. In Tempest II as in previous works, Lemi Ponifasio is creating a new theatrical idiom that vividly conveys the living cultures of the Pacific. His work is physical, minimal and cntemporary. His dance world is inhabited by humans, birds, gods, chants, animals, ancestors, songs and ceremonies, and is governed by a recognition that we are all inseparably intertwined.
Concept, regie en decorsontwerp
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Creative New Zealand
Dance as a political act
Lemi Ponifasio and his MAU company
In March 2007 the authors travelled to New Zealand to see the latest creation of Lemi Ponifasio, who, with his MAU company, had been invited to the KVS in December 2006 with Requiem. This choreographer-director has his roots in Samoa in the South Pacific but is based in Auckland.
Jan Goossens & Hildegard De Vuyst
Lemi Ponifasio's dancers belong to the 20 percent Maori, the original inhabitants of New Zealand, or to the 5 percent migrant communities from the South Pacific Islands. MAU's work is radically contemporary in its esthetics, but draws heavily on the traditions of the South Pacific peoples. Ponifasio wrests these traditions from their folkloric context after due consideration with his dancers, the bearers of that cultural heritage. He revitalises the past and connects it to the present. In a society which hasn't yet finished dealing with its colonial past, which wavers between the Commonwealth and the Pacific, this is a political act. In the performance of TEMPEST which we saw on our trip, Ponifasio goes one step further.
Tempest: the fight for (civil) rights
Against the background of Shakespeare's Tempest, which is notably about institutional injustice, he gives the stage to Tame Iti, famous in New Zealand as a controversial Maori activist (de in Nieuw-Zeeland wereldberoemde en controversiële Maori-activist). In an hour and a half, Tame Iti explains how the European New Zealanders attempted to eradicate his culture and language. Yet Tempest is not only the story of a cultural emancipation or the struggles of indigenous peoples. By beginning the representation with a one-minute-long silent shot of the Algerian Ahmed Zaoui, a former ISF militant who sought political asylum in New Zealand and was subsequently held for 5 years without any form of trial, Ponifasio expressly locates his Tempest against the current backdrop of the loss of civil rights. The War on Terror unleashed by Bush and Co. has created a climate in which Western governments have implemented a repressive legal framework which undermines basic civil rights. In passing, these laws have been misused to put radical domestic opponents behind bars. Ponifasio's analysis in Tempest draws heavily on the reflections of Giorgio Agamben, an Italian political philosopher. According to Agamben, a number of state measures should no longer be seen as exceptional, but will rather form the new 'normality' for relations with citizens. Electronic fingerprints, eye or scent scans, subcutaneous tatoos and other techniques developed for the 'dangerous class' of citizens are already being widely applied to citizens. "In recent years," says Agamben, "an attempt has been made to make means of control which had always rightly been considered inhuman and exceptional, acceptable as humane and normal dimensions of our lives."
'Terrorist' Tame Iti imprisoned
When we saw it performed in March 2007 in MAU's rehearsal space, a converted barn, Tempest revealed a remarkable foresight. Less than six months later, on 15 October 2007, Tame Iti was picked up with 16 other 'terrorist suspects' in a brutal police raid. What had they been up to? They had devoted themselves to social change, ecological reform, and the return of vital land to the Maori. The Maori have been treated wretchedly for hundreds of years and have lost all their lands. Their language was only officially recognized in the early nineties. Much remains to be done today, too: average Maori life expectancy and their level of employment are much lower than those of other New Zealanders. That the police and the judiciary were serious in their reprisals, is proven by the perfidious fact that the 2002 Suppression of Terrorism Act, voted directly after 9/11, was used indiscriminately and shamelessly (Dat het politie en gerecht menens was met hun afrekening bewijst het perfide feit dat hoogst uitzonderlijk en zonder gêne werd uitgepakt met de Suppression of Terrorism Act uit 2002, gestemd direct na 9/11). Maori activists had at once said that it would just be a matter of time before that law would be used against them. Because of that law, those arrested had been followed, filmed and wiretapped for months. Shortly after the raid, the New Zealand government rushed a Suppression of Terrorism Amendment Bill through parliament, which contains yet another reinforcement of the terrorism bill.
Within a month, all suspects were released on bail, including Tame Iti. The only charge which he could stand trial for this autumn concerns the illegal possession of weapons (guns and Molotov cocktails) on expeditions in 'the bush', at once renamed 'paramilitary training camps' by the police. The illegal possession of weapons was already punishable in New Zealand under the Fire Arms Act. No terrorism law was necessary for that purpose. The illegal possession of weapons in no way makes these people 'terrorists'.
This crisis shows that the political establishment in New Zealand has provided highly inadequate solutions to the problems of 25 percent of its population. But to admit that would be more difficult than to dump the Maori opponents in with internationally vilified terrorists.
Tame Iti at the Kunstenfestivaldesarts
In March of this year, however, Lemi Ponifasio presented a second version of his Tempest in Auckland. That Tame Iti will be able to leave the country to perform this Tempest II in Brussels and on other dates in Europe, is almost certain. But apparently his son is ready to take his place if necessary. His succession is guaranteed.
+ the symposium 'The loss of civil liberties'Back to top
Lemi Ponifasio was born in the village of Lano, Samoa. He is a High Chief of Samoa. He is a leader in the development of contemporary Pacific arts, dance and theatre. Ponifasio studied philosophy and politics at the University of Auckland in New Zealand, where he started to experiment with performance. He trained in ballet and contemporary dance before dedicating himself to the development of his own dance. A provocative and inspirational choreographer, his dance world is inhabited by humans, birds, gods, demi-gods, oratory, chants, animals and ancestors. His radical approach to contemporary performance exists in state of ceremony and in between the elements of dance, theatre, oratory and visual arts. Ponifasio founded MAU in 1995, naming it after the Samoan independence movement Mau. Mau means vision or revolution. Ponifasio travels throughout the Pacific region collaborating with master artists, musicians, orators, navigators, priests, architects and villages. He also presents his works in major international arts festivals such as the Venice Biennale, Holland Festival, Vienna Festival, Adelaide Festival and Theater Der Welt.Back to top