VOU – Vanua, Tamata, Bure
VOU means ‘new’ but it should also mean brave. Brave in a way that not many artists living in Fiji are. Brave enough to push us out of our comfort zones and question some of society’s sacred cows. Brave to ask us to think – to think about things we might prefer not to think about, things that we normally try to pretend aren’t real or didn’t happen. Brave to make connections that we would sometimes rather not see. Brave enough to present a point of view without feeling they have to represent every point of view. Brave enough to be selective, perhaps even to be biased, in order to make a statement, to get us to question.
Dark, stark, bleak and beautiful. This wasn’t hibiscus flowers, bula smiles and masi – the ready clichés we so often see in dance in Fiji were refreshingly absent. The costumes were simple, minimalistic, designed not to draw attention away from the dancers and the dance itself. The dancers were gritty and uncompromising, expressing raw power, at times almost ugly in their intensity. There were moments of exquisite beauty as well, the vision of squeezing hands stacked above a tanoa will stay with me, perhaps even haunt me.
A tanoa featuring in a contemporary dance piece in Fiji cannot go unmentioned. #potent symbolism #sacred cows #brave. This was no mere prop or cameo role, at times I felt the tanoa overshadowed the dancers, was bigger than the dance itself – a reflection of the symbolic space the tanoa has in Fijian culture. At times I cringed. Other times I found myself lost in wonder at the sheer audacity and quietly applauding the challenge to not be afraid of a question – a thoughtful, carefully worded question.
Amidst the seriousness of this dance there was also humour. Few, if any, places in the world incorporate humour into the serious the way Fiji does and to see this reflected on the stage gave a sense of authenticity. A sense of dancers and choreographers not trying to be anyone else, comfortable, even proud of who and what they are and eschewing imitation in order to speak with their own voice in their own way.
There were a few moments where I felt the intensity dropped and my mind wandered away from the stage. These moments often coincided with times that I lost sense of a narrative thread and found myself wondering how what was happening on stage connected with what had come before. The intensity and narrative always returned but I was left with the feeling that a more condensed version could have taken me on the same journey and kept me immersed for the duration. This perhaps made the difference for me between good and great. A line that VOU now consistently and deservedly walk.=
VOU means new and they continue to live up to the name with this ground-breaking new dance. A dance that they will probably receive criticism for, given that a number of people left the theatre during the performance. However, it is not a piece that should be judged in isolation but rather seen as part of an ongoing journey they are on as a dance company, as choreographers, as dancers, as Pacific Islanders and as Fijians. It is a journey I hope they continue to share with us for I find they have much of worth to say.
Derek Cleland July 2015
Derek Cleland is a Suva-based performance poet, arts administrator and heritage professional. In the past he has run his own arts and heritage management business, as well as working for the Department of Culture and Heritage (Fiji), National Trust of Fiji and at the Oceania Centre at the University of the South Pacific. Derek has been a member of the Pacific Arts Alliance since 2008 and worked with a variety of artists and arts organisations throughout the region. He is a great believer in the power of cross-art-form collaborations and has worked on performances and exhibitions with musicians, dancers and visual artists. He regularly performs around Suva and will be releasing a CD of his poetry later this year. Website: http;//poemetry.net