Apirana Taylor's finely crafted re-telling of Kupe's heroic adventures shines a light on the theatrical storytelling traditions which grew and flourished in Aotearoa and the islands of the Pacific from ancient times.
With a season taking in 10 community venues across nine nights, the show also provides a timely reminder that live theatre doesn't have to be confined to flash inner-city theatres. Tola Newbery's vocal prowess and graceful athleticism combine to create a riveting performance which embodies the soaring ambition of a demi-god who dreamed of greatness.
Taylor's script has woven together strands from an intricate tangle of oral traditions and the Kupe who appears before us is a complex, ambiguous figure - a strong-willed, fiercely arrogant warrior who is capable of ruthlessly betraying friends and is often haughty in his treatment of family members.
The richly poetic language shines as Kupe traverses Aotearoa, embedding himself into the landscape and "bleeding his whakapapa" into the new land. An equally impressive vocabulary of gesture and dance movement gives voice to the creatures of the natural world as Teokotai Paitai's sharp choreography brings the essence of various birds and sea-creatures into the story.
Murray Lynch's assured direction utilises the simplest of means to conjure up the vast sweep of the mythological story. As Kupe chases down an elusive and always threatening antagonist, a long-sleeved hoodie creates the whip-like snap of octopus arms – much to the delight and amusement of children in the audience.
In a similar fashion, simple sound effects are woven into the performance with the cascading pebbles of a makeshift rain-stick evoking the sound of the sea, while the rhythmic tapping of two stones etches the contours of ta moko and a bone flute captures the music of birdsong.
What: Auckland Arts Festival - Ka Tito Au
Where & When: Reweti Marae & various venues to March 24
Reviewed by: Paul Simei-Barton