Chilling performance by wāhine and live orchestra to open NZ Festival of the Arts

By Jessica Tyson

The New Zealand Festival of the Arts is set to open tonight with a chilling performance Chosen and Beloved; a live orchestra by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra joined by MAU Wāhine.

The performance is curated by theatre, opera, dance and visual artist Lemi Ponifasio.

He says it’s a piece of music fuelled by his early creation as a dancer and choreographer and has taken on new meaning since the Christchurch terror attack on March 15, 2019.

“During this time together we seek new insights; through listening, through beauty, through sharing our visions, and through discovering and offering our different points of view," he says.

In 2013 Ponifasio established MAU Wāhine to focus on the Māori woman’s worldview through art, including the relationship with whānau, community, nature and the potency of female existence.

In the ceremony, the wāhine perform karanga and waiata, embracing “those who have gone before us, and prepar[ing] to welcome those who are about to join us,” says Ponifasio. 

Performer Ria Te Uira Paki, of Ngāti Tūwharetoa and Tūhoe says the purpose of the performance was to develop and deepen the imagination of the child and the mother of the family, death, the spiritual world, and the human world.

"Ko Io tērā, tōna timatatatanga, tōna mutunga. Engari, ka hoki mai anō, ka puāwai anō ana. Pērā tonu i te putiputi, ka mate, ka puāwai mai, ka mate, k puāwai mai."

"That is the beginning and the end. But when it comes back, it blooms just like a flower, and dies, it blooms and dies."

Ponifasio says Chosen and Beloved are words from the first line of Henryk Górecki’s Symphony of Sorrowful Songs.

“Together we strive to find clarity and to give form to the feelings we are experiencing on our increasingly fragmented and technologically saturated planet, he says.

“We acknowledge the difficulties of the past, share our sufferings and hopes, and with deep empathy begin to construct together the world we wish for ourselves, and for the new generation.”

The festival will run until March 15.

MAU Wāhine

The work of MAU Wāhine has been presented internationally including at Festival d’Avignon and Festival de Marseille, France; Theatre Der Welt, Germany; Luminato Festival, Canada; for the opening of the Lourve in Abu Dhabi; at Tjibaou Culture Centre in Noumea, and at Carriageworks, Sydney.

MAU Wāhine projects include Mausina Ceremony in Parliament Grounds for the 125th anniversary of women’s suffrage (2018), Standing In Time - premiered St Polten Austria (2017); Die Gabe Der Kinder - premiered Hamburg Germany (2017), Recompose - premiered at Herrenhausen Hanover, Germany (2016); Lagimoana (2015) for the Venice Biennale 56th Visual Arts Exhibition; and Stones in Her Mouth which premiered in Los Angeles (2013).