By Insider – Suzanne Peri-Chapman
I’ve just been to the World Premiere of Arohanui, The Greatest Love, in Wellington. Not to be missed – it has a short season in Wellington, then it moves on to Auckland.
As a genre, it has to be called Kapa Theatre, taking the power of Kapa Haka into a new dimension. Powerful is a word that immediately comes to mind during this performance – as you might expect it has the well-known strength of Maori cultural performance, but it has an unusual softness and tenderness in places, and a good dynamic range.
It is an epic story – of love, revenge, fear, misunderstanding, humour, war and death, yet it is not a heavy night in the theatre. It’s well-paced, funny, moving and thought-provoking.
When the performance began, the dialogue was in Maori language, which I don’t happen to understand. I thought I was in for a long night, but no… suddenly English language became part of the dialogue, and continued through out the performance – a blend of Maori and English, that was not forced, and allowed me to follow the story quite clearly without referring to programme notes.
No spoilers here…the story transcends any one culture, and in fact made me think about other situations occurring in our world right now. When one of the characters said “Revenge will kill us all”, I couldn’t help but think of various countries and groups engaged in tit-for-tat killings and battles right now. When the warlike character Mira, daughter of the chief, is being reprimanded for her desire to kill and take revenge, she cries “I don’t know any other way”. Made me think of Palestinian and Israeli children growing up around the Gaza strip today – do they know any other way?
And yet, there were moments of sheer enjoyment – a very funky Poi song and dance, some outright cougartown moments with one of the, er, larger warrior women, and the children performing were charming.
The soundtrack was a great blend of modern and traditional, and I’m sure I recognised a song of Hinewehi Mohi’s from her first Oceania album. Like every good piece of drama, there was a twist… I’m not telling you what, but just when you think everyone is going to live happily ever after… bam!
There was also a wonderful segment, after the first bows, which included a Maori language version of World in Union, a nod to Rugby which also happened to work well with the overall theme of the performance, and sounds gorgeous by the way, followed by Kapa Haka as we know and love it.
So, a big congratulations to the producers, Te Matatini, the directors, performers and the creative team that made it happen, and special thanks to the lovely people who helped fund it. I feel that Arohanui, the Greatest Love could have a life outside of New Zealand audiences, as it is unique yet accessible. Festivals will love it – visitors and locals shouldn’t miss it.