Dancing between two shores

Janice McEwen

(From top left) Sohlange Casimiro-Gil, Vanessa Gordon, Monique Moffat, Katherine Whitfield, Helen Whitfield, Cherrelle Chan, Vavine

(From top left) Sohlange Casimiro-Gil, Vanessa Gordon, Monique Moffat, Katherine Whitfield, Helen Whitfield, Cherrelle Chan, Vavine

Long ago the temptress Vavine tricked the mighty hunter Alule into revealing all his dances and abandoning all his costumes to her. From these dances sprang the rich culture of the Mekeo people of Papua New Guinea.

The Pacific Island performance group Sunameke created a contemporary dance, Vavine, around this narrative and performed it recently to packed houses at Browns Mart Theatre in Darwin. Sunameke’s director and principal choreographer, Julia Gray, used the production to explore how cultures shift and change over time. How these changes have played out in her own life and the lives of others caught “between 2 shores”, is one of the major narrative strands of this multi-faceted production.

For some of the dancers in Sunameke this was their first performance in a theatre. Others have much wider experience. Together they produced a performance that resonated strongly with the multicultural Darwin audience. For many in Darwin, especially those from the South Pacific and Asia Pacific regions, dance is a key cultural activity practiced with respect for each dance’s particular essence and reason for existence.

In this performance a hypnotic voice-over narration echoed and re-iterated fragments of the Vavine story, interwoven with contemporary text from the distinguished Pacific poet Teresia Teaiwa. Drama and melancholy were added through a soundtrack comprising mostly traditional island guitar and ukulele music, but also including some original tracks from Airileke Ingram of the Drum Drum group. The narrator’s voice added a heightened significance to the dance and immersed the audience in the power that emanates from myth.

The dramatic tension was alleviated by more light-hearted episodes such as a group of young girls sweeping the stage with straw brooms and competing to grate coconut for the prize of a Cherry Ripe. There was humour too in the raw energy of Teaiwa’s text: “This is just the husk of the coconut, baby—wait till you reach the shell!”

Darwin has as many as 50 cultural dance groups who maintain their culture and traditions through performance. The particular significance of Vavine has been the creation of a contemporary performance based on traditional dance movement. This process both questions and reaffirms the relevance of dance traditions in the changing post-colonial space “between 2 shores.”

Sunameke, Vavine, director Julia Gray, performers Yola Gray, Richard Broughton, Darrin McNally, Julia Quinn, text written and spoken by Teresia Teaiwa, choreographers Julia Gray, Yola Gray, Pamela Cameron, Richard Broughton, Vanessa Gordon, lighting and design Elka Kerkhofs, Neil McKnight, Browns Mart Theatre, Darwin, Feb13-14

RealTime issue #60 April-May 2004 pg. 44

© Janice McEwen; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 April 2004