Le Freak. The title itself oozes with French sophistication, bravado and a complete reclamation of the once (and in some circles still very much so) derogatory term ‘freak’. But the etymology stretches from capricious and whimsical to indulgent, insolent and all the way back to its Scottish origins of bold and brave.
The origins of the word are particularly apt for this showing. It’s precisely what the team from Fine Fatale bring to their audiences in this workshop showing of Le Freak: some audacious and fresh re-tellings of stories that deserve to be centre stage.
The underlying narrative has so much potential.
Le Freak in some ways is similar to Brett Bailey’s Exhibit B (and yes, I just compared an Edinburgh International Festival production to a workshop development at TAPAC) but in some ways when it develops and stretches this will be a work that potentially will far exceed its highly controversial counterpart. Both works address the eroticisation and exoticising of the Noble Savage; the voyeurism of those (who whether they know it or not) have power and privilege to stare at half-naked bodies to consummate false ideology and disempowering fantasies.
The work has the potential to be revolutionary and although it still has a long way to go in developing its various narratives, they’re all there. The show begins by shining a ‘spotlight’ on certain moments, those deemed illicit, inappropriate, and inconsistent even with the demands of the status quo. From the stark monochromes of the opening scenes the colour bursts out with the performers sharing personal stories and moments, with both poignancy and generosity.
Creative Director Mario Faumui and producer Paul Fagamalo bring together an extraordinarily talented cast and Amanaki Prescott is an electrifying choreographer. With her team of sizzling dancers including Valentino Maliko, Maxine Kalolo, Misi Prescott, Khloe Lam Kam, Darren Tanuine, Raukawa Tuhura, Beni Morrison and Tekeepa Aria they light up the stage with their exuberance and talent.
The Samoan songs are well known and of the English hymns, ‘He loves us all’ combines just the right amount of genuine pathos and feeling. It is definitely one of the most well-composed scenes, visually as well as aurally with Tekeepa Aria giving an emotionally rich performance. Valentino Maliko also brings his singing talents to this production and the choral work of the group is beautiful. Amanaki Prescott’s Tongan Sipi Tau is also a very special moment, especially with the integrated use of the multi-media which worked to its best effect in this vignette.
But the work still has a long way to go.
Currently, the powerful premise of deconstructing and inverting the gaze just doesn’t reach its potential. There are too many different and undeveloped narratives competing simultaneously with each other, and this affects the overall vision of the work. Similarly, with the exception of a few scenes, the use of the multi-media does not blend in well with the overall aesthetic of the work and there are a few fundamentals of production that need to be fixed. The show inevitably transforms from a sexy and satirical commentary on religion, culture, family to a dance show (which you can’t complain about because the performers are fabulous) but creatives Faumui and his team are just at the beginning – they will set the trail ablaze. With a strong design dramaturgy and a re-focus on sustaining the key narratives, breaking them down, and then re-creating their ambitious and extravagant vision there is no stopping them.
I can see that in the future it won’t be just New Zealand stages who want Le Freak – when they’re ready it will be the international circuits at their beck and call. Go forth Le Freak. Tomorrow night is the last showing, make sure you see it.