The Contours of Heaven

4 October, Arts Inc. Heretaunga 
Hawke's Bay Arts Festival 2017
By Nadia Kersel

We’re reciprocating something that isn’t seen with the eyes – reciprocating wairua.

These words, spoken through one of the youthful characters embodied by Ana Chaya Scotney, envelopes us in the kaupapa for tonight’s performance of The Contours of Heaven.  Having said that, there is so much that is given for the audience to experience with their eyes, and ears as well.  With little more than an existing stairway, a mixing pedal and a mic, Scotney enlivens her characters precisely through song, beatbox, dialogue and dance.  There’s not even a costume to speak of.  The eyes feast, not on flashy lights and frills, but on movement, melody and stunning thespian art.  The concept, direction and acting of the piece is simply beautiful in its own right.

The Contours of Heaven is beyond my humble attempts at definition.  I think to myself – “this is not playing, it is real, and feels almost in real time.  But this is art”.  Art, because it frames and gives visceral form to what is real.  It is an artistic study – like pencil sketches made incarnate. Indeed, every contour is well placed and striking on the seemingly plain background.

The dialogue is drawn from the actual words of our rangatahi, right here in Heretaunga.  Through this one-person performance, and the courage of their own youth, the characters define their environment, relationships, social and cultural divides as well as their hopes – actually, all of ours, collectively.  I felt a sense a satisfaction, almost like seeing my own teenage self expressing herself,  being seen, heard and valued.  This feels  intimate, it is moving to hear and see our rangatahi in this way; to be taught by them, reflected by them and in the presence of their open-heartedness.

Complex concepts, emotions and definitions are expressed succinctly through dance and song to outstanding clarity.  The anthropologist in me can almost see the interview transcripts writing themselves in the gesture, breath, body language and gaze.  Our rangatahi, their profound feelings and thoughts, easily provide a solid foundation which supports the rhythmic aspects of the act to be discovered and expressed.  So solid in fact that at one point, when the railway crossing bells ring and a train passes, I mistake this as part of the act.  So taken was I by the performance, that it made complete sense for a train to conspire to pass at precisely 7:37 just to embellish that one moment in the act. I realise then that, true to the kaupapa of this performance, and indeed to kaupapa Māori, the wairua reciprocation is complete.  I am not the only one struck by tears at this.

When the act reached completion, Puti Lancaster and Marama Beamish joined Ana Chaya Scotney in front of the audience.  They too are moved, perhaps sensing how deeply their kaupapa and mahi had landed within us.  The audience is encouraged to actively reflect with one another on our experience of the show. The thoughtfulness of that gesture, setting aside space and time for connection brings some of us to let more tears flow.  Someone asked me if I liked the performance.  My answer was “I loved it!”.  After a moment I added “actually, I think it loved me”.

The Contours of Heaven will be performed again as part of the Hawke’s Bay Arts Festival on Thursday 5 October at Toimairangi, Hastings, and on Sunday 8 October, Gaiety Theatre, Wairoa
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