“This is the most beautiful thing I have ever done,” says Lemi Ponifasio about working with a 10-member cast of women. “As a director, you are just the little guy in the room trying to put together amazing people in some formation.” The result is far from a loose construction. Ponifasio’s Stones in Her Mouth has been described as wrathful, clairvoyant and powerfully sexual – but for the softly spoken director, its intention is to bring “the truth” out of the moment.
These enigmatic words from the founder of New Zealand-based dance theatre company MAU hint at the mood his work, which with its strict aesthetic, arresting images and powerful movement, breaks the frames of the conventional idea of Western theatre.
Stones in Her Mouth is a salient and almost ceremonial grouping of theatre, poetry, chant and music. It takes its title from the work of poet Roma Potiki, acknowledging the role of Maori women creators. For Maori, the first human was a woman – hineahuone – and for Ponifasio this production celebrates women. The female performers express their resilience against the oppressive power structures of racism, patriarchy and social and political change. Their storytelling is both personal and worldly. The women present their thoughts on relationships with men, society and the environment. Importantly, the cast does not have a background in ‘traditional’ Western theatre. Rather, they are each leaders in their communities with strong cultural traditions of dance, weaponry, language, performance.
When speaking with Ponifasio you get the sense he is tired of defining his production in any distinct way. This is not the point. For this chuckling choreographer – who feels language isn’t the ideal form of expression – it’s best to focus on the experience when it comes to theatre. “What is born at that moment is the whole point of theatre, otherwise I can just send you a video!”
Stones in Her Mouth is showing at Carriageworks from May 28 – 31.