Poetry is the enemy of theatre.
When someone talks about a stage production being poetic, what’s normally meant is that there’s not much structure, momentum or development. It might drift from one scene to another, presenting beautiful moments along the way, but not add up to much in the end.
Yep, that’s the problem with this dance-theatre work by Nina Nawalowalo’s company The Conch.
Marama’s dreamily abstract combination of movement, traditional costume, and sound leaves no doubt that we’re in the Pacific but for long stretches it doesn’t offer much more than a game of metaphor-spotting. “Oh, so that’s a tree, now we’re underwater, that’s a bird,” I pondered, as one sequence of movement by the cast of eight languorously succeeded another.
What’s evoked is an idyll of oneness in which the natural world is identified with the women who make up the cast, drawn from Solomon Islands, Kiribati, Samoa, Fiji and Aotearoa. The rather torpid pace is eventually interrupted by the sound of chainsaws heralding the deforestation which stands for Western exploitation of the Pacific. Clearly a very bad thing.
Mmm. Doesn’t that message sound a bit familiar? I’m sure I encountered it in the movie Avatar. And that’s the problem here – the sense that what’s being presented as profound is in fact not only obvious, but actually something of a cliché.
Well, if Marama is superficial, it does have gorgeous surfaces.
Shafts of light stab through the smoky haze which envelops the stage, and cushioned by Gareth Farr’s many-layered soundtrack, what one sees is constantly diverting. At times spectacular, even. Appealing costuming and inventive use of props by a very committed cast mean that there’s always something interesting to look at.
It will attract a wide audience (and one imagines a future life on the international festival circuit), and many at the opening night were in rapt attendance.
My advice? Go to look, go to listen, go to feel, but don’t go to think.