A photo of a boy submerged beneath tranquil water hangs on the wall in the offices of theatre company Red Leap. Although the boy looks at home in the watery depths, his eyes are searching and pensive.
The boy is Dahnu Graham and, thanks to the photo taken in a West Auckland swimming pool, he has become the "poster child" for Red Leap's new work, Sea. The company's previous productions include the award-winning, internationally toured The Arrival, Paper Sky and Beyond the Blue.
Like those previous successes, Sea blends dance, imagery, puppetry, storytelling and song to immerse audiences in a magical world where reality and fiction are blurred. Its nine performers, including Graham, work together to portray a variety of sea creatures, seascapes and people.
Graham plays a young boy washed up on a drifting island and given a home by the mysterious people who live on it. Initially welcomed as an omen of plentiful times ahead, as he comes to know the people, the boy starts to fear for his life and the future of the sea.
Yes, says Graham and co-star Ella Becroft, it is a cautionary tale that aims to get audiences thinking about increasingly fragile ocean environments but, they add, it is also a beautiful production. "The ultimate goal has always been to create something really lovely," says Graham.
Sea started life around two years ago in a shed at the Corbans Estate Arts Centre when Red Leap founders Julie Nolan and Kate Parker gathered together a group of performers and told them they wanted to make a show about the sea. Regular workshops have been held during the two years since that initial meeting and, gradually, a core cast has emerged, as well as a story and characters.
"It's not as if we have spent a full two years making this show, but have come back to it after working on other projects," says Becroft. "It's certainly a challenge to create a show from scratch - with The Arrival we had a book as our jump-off point - but having had so much time means the ideas we all have start getting more and more exciting as we've pushed past the obvious.
"As well as finding the story, it's always a challenge to find a way to portray certain elements in a way that will move an audience."
Sea will be performed as part of Seaweek, the NZ Association for Environment Education's annual awareness week. Parker and Nolan say the show wasn't made specifically for Seaweek; rather its timing is just a "happy coincidence".
What: Sea, with Red Leap
Where and when: Maidment Theatre, March 6-9Dahnu Graham plays a young boy in Sea.