WERK: A Percussion Adventure
Directed by Navi Fong
Dancers: Navi Fong, Rusi Kilibau, Andre Marseu, Rosie Weeks, Lina Suliana, Aidan Singh, Asena Volavola, Eddie Soro, Ella Carling
I love percussion. I love VOU. But when a dance group is going to do percussion you have to wonder if those amazing dancers can actually hold a beat, and if they can, can they do more than a basic rhythm? The answer is of course yes, VOU can! Not just one or two of them but all nine dancers who took the stage. Driving industrial rhythms created on walls, floor, basins, buckets, bodies, pots, pvc pipes and of course drums. Beaten out with drum sticks (obviously) but also with hands, feet, hammers and just about everything else, WERK was unconventional and yet another instalment establishing the creativity and artistic genius of director and choreographer Navi Fong. Mr Fong has developed a deserved reputation for thinking outside the box and not being afraid to experiment. WERK had me drawing parallels with some of the international dance groups that have had huge success with industrial percussive dance, the Australian group Tap Dogs for example, yet the connection, if it actually exists, was clearly one of inspiration rather than imitation.
WERK took us on a journey through an industrial construction site but also on a journey exploring the basics of movement and rhythm and how these can transform the mundane. Simple single beat starts became increasingly complex as more people joined in and movement was added to the mix. Peaks were held almost to the point of “too much” before swiftly transitioning into a new exploration of some other facet of movement and rhythm. There was meke and audience participation in the form of a taralala but so much more as well and every time I thought they had backed themselves into a corner with nowhere left to go and no new way to approach percussion, there would be a switch and we would be off on the next joyous experience.
WERK was fun, fun for the audience and clearly fun for the dancers. Large parts of the performance were improvised. It didn’t always work, drum sticks would swing at objects suddenly dancing in a different direction, either not connecting cleanly or missing altogether and the driving rhythms would falter or fall completely silent. But it is a testament to VOU’s belief in their dancers that they are willing to incorporate so much improv into a live performance and the majority of the time it worked, bringing a freshness, spontaneity and energy to the performance that would otherwise have been missing from a more heavily choreographed piece.
There were two standout dancers on the night. Eddie Soro, VOU Manager and senior dancer, is the man of a million faces and his facial expressiveness is a feature of his dancing. In WERK we got to see all of them. Eddie’s presence on the stage was, however, more than just his face, he provided a weight and solidity amongst a sea of flamboyance. Eddie effortlessly held centre stage when it was his turn to star, yet even when not in the spotlight he was always there, in the audience’s attention and contributing to the overall performance in a multitude of small yet significant ways – a team dancer who was always on. The second standout dancer was the baby of the VOU group, Rosie Weeks. With a stage presence way beyond her 16 years she owned that stage from the first moment she strutted out from the wings. Whether she was holding the centre of the drumming line, sashaying across the stage in transition or busting moves front and centre Rosie made it clear who was boss.
WERK may have been an experiment but it was one that worked!
Derek Cleland, December 2015
Derek Cleland is a Suva-based performance poet, arts administrator and heritage professional. He is currently the Digital Heritage Manager at First Fighter. 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. Website: http://poemetry.net