In Nu'u, a new dance work by Freshman's Dance Crew crafted from personal experiences, a bittersweet urban love story explores the impact of opportunities which beckon young Pacific people to New Zealand.
Though a carefully crafted hybrid of siva Samoa, haka, street dance and contemporary dance, plus some rugby warmup routines, Nu'u tells the story of an Apia high school rugby star who is recruited to play for Counties Manukau. With the support of his village, he leaves home to play in New Zealand, leaving behind his disconsolate girlfriend.
The action is crisp and the pace is steady, morphing easily between groups of three or four to six or 12, with some standout solos and duets. Occasional lighting fades and blackouts mark the passing of time and changes of location.
The accompanying soundscape includes homegrown Maori and Pacific pop rock, soul and some cultural anthems plus live music from side stage. With references to rock video, action songs, and the musical, the music supports the flow of the dancing and at crucial moments intensifies the changing moods as we meet the key characters and follow the arc of the story.
The modest rugby hero (Byron Faaui) is much admired by everyone and is definitely a local leader. He is much loved by his girlfriend (Chantelle Huch), and the impact of his great opportunity is also explored from her viewpoint. Her impassioned solo of vulnerability and anger is a highlight of the hour-long work, both choreographically and in performance terms.
A sidebar story follows the New Zealand rugby scout (Chris Ofonoa), who explores his own Samoan heritage while on his recruiting trip. He makes enormous efforts to be accepted by the locals, and there's a richly iconic scene where he mans up in an attempt to match the locals in triple pace siva tau.
All credit to director Hadleigh Pouesi for this combination of dynamic storytelling and polished dancing which is fast becoming a trademark for Freshmans.
What: Nu'u by Freshmans Dance Crew, Mangere Arts Centre 17 June 2017, Pacific Dance Festival 2017
Reviewer: Raewyn Whyte