Freedom is Behind My Breath

27 October, the Blyth, HBAF18
By Megan Seawright

The sound of ocean, in and out, and Pereri Kings’ gentle guitar and voice dissolve all chatter.  Outside the window of the Blyth theatre, we see Eru Heke trying to get in: he listens, he draws in the air, he spies Manuel Solomon, and then suddenly aware of us, he darts away and arrives into the auditorium, backpack on, surveying us as he makes his way to the stage. The work has begun. Treasures are placed upon the stage in a circle: red note books, red string, a rabbit, red card, a red prism eye glass – all pieces of unfolding destiny. The constellation is drawn. A line with a half circle and three above; Hiwa-i-te-rangi – the granter of wishes in hope of realisation.

This is the gifted story of verbatim words of a girl, a mother and a girl, told by a man, a boy and a man.

For the duration of the work Pereri’s sounds hold space, a thread of unity by which to fold into the story McCarthy’s refined visual aesthetic maps. The Blyth building itself is harnessed into the performance. Solomon’s sensitive recitation of this story articulates hope even when there seems none and carries forth life’s desire. Wishes are planted across the stage through a spritely swirling and attentive wisp-like twirl by the ever present Hiwa-i-te-rangi (Heke), leaving us in moments of beauty.  As a constant, Solomon’s depicting of ‘our’ girl renders us still, we wish-gather and awhi her. Her moments of life are written into notebooks that are made into whare placed upon the strand of red string. A family constellation through time, trauma and reconciliation, of no home, of unsettled support and recognising how it really was for her mother.

Across time events are remembered – where children played, and parents separated, of black eyes and drugs, where a home was lost, and a mother became mentally unwell.  We resonate with the memory of hidden isolation and shame when things fall apart, “…going down-hill, it’s going down-hill…” into motels and homelessness. And a grandmother who took in the children, the experiences of mismatch, expressed through Solomon’s repetitive dance sequence of falling and repositioning the legs to sit up, to keep on, to keep on going, “…no one asked us what we wanted.” So silent it is when ‘freedom is behind my breath.’

This whanau of wahine is portrayed with such constant humility, we are simply left to bear grace and kindness.  All the while, strands of reconnection are surfacing, repositioning like stars across the sky. The girl follows the lines of her poetry and daughter; both pou of care and achievement. Addressing one’s heart can be the most difficult thing to do – to return.

Upon the stage petals have been gently falling like realisations.  A child’s voice tells it. There are stars in the sky, “… the stars are coming together, the ocean is coming to itself…. All the stars are coming together.” Family.

I cannot over-state the immense gentleness present in all Puti Lancaster’s creations. She conveys profound empathy for people and their stories, then forms this astutely, delicately into resonate theatre.  Words, dance and sounds have melted our senses while the closing waiata pulls at us “… patient is a virtue that leads to faith, don’t know why I keep on falling… I need to be grateful sometimes…”

Here’s a few things the audience said when invited to speak by Puti and Owen:

“Every moment (of this work) was welcoming.”

“I’m going to talk with my whanau, deep and real.”

The second performance of this work is on Sunday 28th October at 4pm at the Blyth Performing Arts Centre, Iona College.  Don’t miss out, I highly recommend you go.

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