Rarotonga is an eternity ring – and I’m not just referring to the fact that there is only a single road on the island with no traffic lights, but it is a space that can hold, like a butterfly balancing on the tip of your tongue, an delicate yet unforgettable experience.
The heat as you get off the plane was just the start, but the purpose for this trip was not a holiday. We, my collaborator and friend, NiaVal Ngaro, were here to work: to create an exhibition that stretched the limits of what people would expect to see at arts event housed in a very traditional space.
NiaVal is a glass sculptor, I am a stage director but in the hum of conversations held late at night in parked cars and stolen moments between dropping the children off; a plan emerged to create something different, to explore, enrich and enlarge conceptions of how we make art and but also how we receive it.
So it started.
Working with three beautiful young cook Island girls, all professional dancers in their own right, we created a space to lead, with bodies, to the original score that was made in Auckland. Together, we created, as per usual in a very short amount of time, a work that spoke to the past but evocatively, curiously to the present and future.
Yes, contemporary dance, yet drawing upon the heritage of centuries of innate wisdom and practice. Slicing, as finely as possible, a narrative that speaks to the present moment. It was only short, ten minutes in fact, but the amount of rehearsal initially surprised and then justified the results.
But it wasn’t just a dance. It wasn’t just a bunch of taro sculptures. And it certainly wasn’t the fact that we brought a taro patch into the gallery. It was the cramping muscles, as we worked in the glare of headlights scooping earth into buckets (with permission of course) that’s stand out. It was the beers that we had with the taro growers as they sat in overalls at plastic tables looking at the sun go down on their plants. It was the endless meetings that we drove round and round and round the island – meeting everyone from the Ministry of Agriculture to the members from the House of Ariki to teachers, carvers, dancers, the list continued. It was going to the school for the end of year prize-giving, it was feeding ‘our girls’ ice cream, falling asleep at Cousin Isaac’s house and riding on the back of a scooter with a taro plant in one hand and supplies in the other – literally not holding on to anything that drew in strands that move the work into a deeply sensory based space that cumulatively, and consistently builds.
Directing and choreographing come second to when you are collaborating, visioning and envisioning – there was a moment when I did think, yes, wow, I’m working as a choreographer but that moment melted again in the immediacy of finding rehearsal space, walking into fields and getting lost, running on island time and sampling endless amount of sweet, savoury taro: golden, purple, creamy, mellow, we are de facto taro connoisseurs.
“I’m old fashioned, I like my culture intact but what I saw on Wednesday night at NiaVal Ngaro’s exhibition at Bergmann was provocative, intimidating in fact…The music, the story of the taro, and especially Dione Joseph’s choreography – it created a controversial work and people need to see it.”
I reflect upon these thoughts and think, how fortunate we are, to still live in a world, where even if what we see before us is strange and fraught – we simply can’t tear ourselves away.