A BODY GLEANED

As we enter the space to take our seats, I can make out four bodies arranged among large sculptures, adorned with string that is woven into patterns, nature, and cultural prints and cloths that open up portals into another realm of being. Blue light drapes over the stage as Lay the Mystic comes forth to address audiences with an acknowledgement of the tangatawhenua//First Peoples of the land we are gathered upon.

A Body Gleaned creates a dreamscape in which a multisensory experience is possible, speaking into the languages of movement, song, word, film and sculpture, with the themes and messages of the performance installation embedded in every element before us. The multiple mediums of delivery offer various pathways and lenses to experience and connect with the piece, which explores the construction of identity, (mis)interpretations of culture, foreignness, homeliness and the shaping and influencing of self via one’s surroundings.

A Body Gleaned unfolds to me as a series of offerings; as though we sit at the base of an altar, bearing witness to the collective – speaking with one another, their atua//gods and tipuna//ancestors. For each offering, only the artist who is sharing at that time is lit, leaving the rest of the performers in shadow, and allowing intimate exchanges between us, the witnessers and those who are performing. When in darkness I still feel the presence of the other performers, who hold space for one another. Often, when I look to them, it appears their eyes are closed; to me they seem to be dreaming. What lies behind the veil, what goes unseen, is just as intriguing to me;the lingering of ghosts, pasts and futures that hover in the periphery of our minds eye, translated into a literal space before us.

The voices of Lay the Mystic, Sioness, VeisiniaTonga, Kalala and Iki San grace our ears with waiata//song, korero//conversation or story and spoken word. Projections swirl across the screen at the back of the space – people and landscapes fracturing and recollecting in echo and reinforcement of the themes spoken, sung and moved into.

Lesieli Taufa and Iki San direct wairua//energy through the space as they perform Tau’olunga//Tongan dance, dressed in ta’ovala, calm and powerful in every action. Lay the Mystic delivers his words smoothly; rich and considered, speaking of(dis)connection, the (un)known, (mis)representation and(mis)interpretation, and making tangible the slippery, confusing terrain that is the modern Indigenous and diasporic experience.. Sioness pierces the space with raw, authentic clarity in their words and song, weaving in and out of English, Twi and Te Reo Maori to tell stories of connections to nananom//ancestors, to self, to land. Iki sings a breathtaking acoustic rendition of ‘I Am Ready for Love’ by India Arie, the purity and sweetness of his voice moving myself (and others) to tears. As the guitar plays and his voice resonates among us, I feel simultaneously at home as if nestled on the couch in any Island family’s lounge room, and also suspended in a dreamscape entirely separate from any reality I know.

This duality of welcome intimacy and the vast unknown sits with me throughout the entire work; the artists inviting us into a realm that is both familiar and unrecognisable. I think of the words spoken by Lay the Mystic, ‘Ancestors whisper themselves into my dreams in languages I don’t speak and if these are their lights that are meant to guide me home, why don’t I know their faces?’ and this dichotomy makes sense to me.

What is most evident and potent to me here, in the witnessing of A Body Gleaned, is that this stunning work was birthed and cultivated among family; a rare and specific beauty of collaboration – one that breathes life into my understanding of community, and that carries collective purpose at its core.Much like the making up of an identity among the offerings and exchanges shared with those we choose to surround ourselves by.

Nga mihi nui whānau, he tenei mahi ataahua.

 

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