Review: The Beautiful Ones offers welcome addition to modern Maori art

By Janet McAllister

The stylish nightclub musical feels like a long, dreamy music video.
The stylish nightclub musical feels like a long, dreamy music video.

This successful, uber-stylish nightclub musical from Wellington's Tawata Productions feels like a dreamy album-length live music video - and the audience is invited to step into it and dance.

The hybrid show is less interested in narrative tension (there is none) than in presenting a vision of youthful Maori pride that is specifically urban and contemporary.

This is particularly exciting because high profile Maori theatre (with some exceptions, such as the recent Shot Bro) usually focuses on historic and/or rural metanarratives. So writer and director Hone Kouka's presentation here, of young people carrying their Maoritanga with them as a joyful source of strength and beauty, offers a welcome addition to the canon's existing important themes.

It is perhaps significant that Kouka has chosen to do this in collaboration with dancers, musicians, fashionistas and visual artists " their artforms have celebrated histories of presenting images of contemporary Maori cultural confidence.

Teokotai Paitai's choreography " which emphasises the dancers' impressive body control through contrasting staccato and legato movements" seamlessly includes elements inspired by kapa haka actions (only one solo seems understated). Kowhaiwhai and tukutuku patterns are dynamically presented within Johnson Witehira's projections, and echoed by a balcony in Wai Mihinui and Ebony Tiopira-Waaka's set.

Costume designer (and fashion stylist) Sopheak Seng puts wonderful baritone Sharn Te Pou into a piupiu-evoking half-kilt. Other edgy costumes match faux fur and feathers with crop tops and tight yoga pants, while kimonos emphasise the power of the grown-ups. Exquisitely-voiced Ria Hall charismatically presides as a fairy godmother archetype, while Scotty Cotter's nightclub impresario provides a slightly darker frisson although, even in a thumbnail sketch story, his sub-plot seems a little undercooked. The beats, mostly produced by K*Saba, cocoon the show nicely, and Hall's catchy Love Will Lead Us Home anthem deserves to be an instant hit.

The Beautiful Ones will appeal to the young ones, as well as to us old theatre stalwarts. Pleasingly, student tickets are only $20. Ataahua.

What: The Beautiful Ones

When: To November 26

Where: Lower NZI, Aotea Centre

- NZ Herald

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