Tame Iti’s poignant portrayal a surprise for some, but not by his own.

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(Review by Reviewed by Jill Sykes) THE choreographer Lemi Ponifasio, a high chief of Samoa, reflected on the post-September 11, 2001, world to create this piece for his company, MAU. He also drew on ideas from Shakespeare’s play of the same name and the Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben.

TempestCIn the program, he quotes Walter Benjamin on a Paul Klee painting, Angelus Novus, and prints a text he has written to support his Tuhoe community’s claim for liberty. You know this man has drawn on diverse sources and is to be taken seriously. Yet the elements he brings together are often alienating.

He accompanies large sections of the performance with the incessant barking of dogs, amplified screams and high-pitched electronic sound at headache-inducing intensity. Presumably they are there for the disturbing impact they achieve. A group of well-trained performers contain their skills to basic repetitious movements, often slow and built on plodding or scurrying. Stylistic influences are international, with links to Japan.

Tame Iti, a Maori activist well known for his full facial tattoo and who was arrested in 2007 on terrorism charges, delivers his vision of autonomy for his people. Elsewhere images of Algerian refugee Ahmed Zaoui, who was detained in New Zealand as a suspected terrorist, are projected on a screen.

The superb tattoo on the face and chest of the Maori activist Tame Iti was a surprise and a poignant underlining of the formal European suit he later wore to deliver his speech about freedom with the rhetorical flourish of his people – whose giant images looked over his shoulder.

Lighting was so low that I was grateful to be close to the stage – at least I could get the full effect of its subtle outlining of musculature and a magnificent tattoo. Even so, I was despairing of getting much more than annoyance out of this Tempest when the elements clicked into place. The giant slab of a building block that hangs over the stage has a textured surface which is suggestive of the dust that choked New York on that terrible day. Every shuffling step taken by the monkish figures stirs up a small cloud of dust”, said one reviewer.

The despondent angel with tiny battered wings and the deafening scream digs into your psyche. And the ordinary humanity of the synchronised monks is a welcome contrast to the confusing sense of ”big statements” hanging in the air – as is the gentleness of their chanting and hands striking their thighs in body percussion.

In the work Ponifasio uses theatre and oratory as well as dance to tell the story.

In the end, the rubble of destruction reflects far more than buildings in New York. It is a moving comment on many aspects of life in different parts of the world.

Tempest is the kind of performance you are only likely to see in a festival – thank you, Lindy Hume. It is an experience that you don’t forget – even if you are not in a hurry to repeat it.

Tempest: Without a Body is at the Everest Theatre, Seymour Centre, Sydney on Sunday.
For details go to www.sydneyfestival.org.au.

Background

First staged at the ViennaFestival in 2007, Tempest: without a body interweaves Shakespeares The Tempests themes of institutional injustice with the ideas of Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben. The presence on stage of M?ori activist Tame Iti adds ceremonial and political potency.

Part dance, part theatre, part oratory, Tempest grabs you by the throat with its authentic style and content.

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