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Arts Festival Review: Aarero Stone

Aarero Stone

Reviewed by Lyndon Hood

Aarero Stone - Two Solos in a Performance Landscape
4 - 8 March
Soundings Theatre, Te Papa

Aarero Stone - as its full title suggests, puts two very different performers in an intriguing space. The first is Carol Brown, an expat New Zealander whose London-based company, Carol Brown Dances, has toured around the world. Charles Koroneho is a Maori performer and artist with a CV covering dance, visual arts, cultural study and eductation. The space is created by Wellington-based designer Dorita Hannah.

The first component of that space is the theatre itself - there are no wing curtains and the lights and ladders backstage are visible. To the audience's left, a slab of something black and reflective seems to be set into the stage, extending slightly upwards and out from the stage front. Further back, to the right a raised platform covered with stones intersects with another rectangle of reflective darkness. Behind, a wall more reminicent of the 'concrete slab' school of architecture, above, a mirror reflecting the stage floor - not immediately obvious because at first there is only (where I sat) darkness to reflect. Most of the empty stage floor is marked out in a grid with small white crosses.

Lighting (designed by Vanda Karolczak) emphasises the shapes of the performers; keeps, except rarely, the face and full appearance of these forms in darkness; lets the secrets of the space lie until they are ready to be revealed.

There is a hole in the back wall, like sconce or display case - it is there that Carol Brown's solo begins. On her side, facing the audience, floating or struggling slowly as if trapped in the fabric of the stone.

After this, on video, she is submerged in water, then on stage, with the help of a red scarf and and wind, burning. Guided by the markings on the floor, she begins to step from image to image - arranging her costume and stepping smoothly into movement suggestive, perhaps, with the red silk as a headscarf, of Eastern European mourning. Or another change, another image - some deity, stone-still and aloof. These images shift slowy into a contiuous dance, spinning like a folk dance and more and more refined and graceful. The contrast is abrupt when the next sequence begins, with its rapid, isolated and unnatural movements.

She takes up a rock and moves with it - a series of experiments in carrying its weight (cradled in her arms, on her head, as her head ... ) finishes with the revelation - for me at least - that the dark block further from the audience (where she had previously abandoned her red scarf) is not in fact stone but water. With the wet fabric wrapped around it, the stone bleeds. Brown dances in the water, turning or shift as she either stands or lies, her movements reflected in the mirror above.

If Brown's piece arose from the feminine and the European, Koroneho reflects on New Zealand and Maoriness. Koroneho does not display nearly same physical precision or contrasts of movement as Brown - this is in part due to the more theatrical nature of his performance and the more tangible stage images he uses.

And that is reflected in the sound score. In Brown's piece, composer Russells Scoones sampled natural sounds and speech into rhythmns and soundscapes or to reinforce some of the symbols Brown invoked. Koroneho's sound score contains extended recordings of actual events which - especially towards the end of the piece, do give you a fairly clear sense of his subject matter.

Koroneho takes the stage from Brown like the shaman of some strange cargo cult. A white stripe along the centre of his head and face, a long, hornlike stick lodged in his hair, dressed in a pleated skirt and coat, a fan tucked in his belt, he works through the whole space ringing a set off bells and blowing a skull-decorate whistle.

The programme suggests that Koroneho's solo is titled 'Cultistic Misfit'. It invokes images of Maoridom both real and cliched, modern and historical, stimulating relection on cultural prejudices.

As an action song plays, he smoothly alternates between the roles of the men and the women.

Past assumptions of a dying culture - or those who did their best to kill it - seem to be reflected in a slow curling-up, like a dying beetle. This movement also lifts the skirt and bare a feathery posing pouch to the audience.

The sound of an ANZAC day memorial. After following the drill commands with his own rifle, he slowly bring the end of the weapon to his mouth, and blows it as a mournful horn.

This seems to stir a new vigour - the energy flows through into certainly the most approachable sequence of the evening. It is an extended adaptation of the Gollum/Smeagol argument-with-himself for The Lord of the Rings: "They've taken our treaty! And we wants it!" Placing Maori in this context of a useful who cannot ultimately be trusted - one who "the fat one" suspects of planning rebellion, puts a sting in the entertainment, quesitoning mainstream perceptions.

Throughout the solo Koroneho has placed objects at the front of the stage - the whistle, bells and fan, a flower, the gun ... like the challenge in a traditional welcome, then as in a memorial to the dead. Finally, he briefly presents food as in an offer to share - while a hokey song about cutting down flagpoles and treaties plays, he is eating commercial fast food out of a flax kete.

The Maori word Aarero means tongue - the full title, putting its Maori beside its English, might be understood as speaking stones or land, or invoke live speech turned to cold rock. Brown was inspired by old stories from around the world of people turned to stone, exploring the reflections those have now - we were shown the reflections more than the stories. The changes in Koroneho's piece seemed to driven both on the memory of those long dead and of the one who are represented in New Zealand's stone memorials.

If the two solos, and the way the space gave itself to performance, shared something except this memory of death, it was surprise. Each new development was unpredictable; each rarely continued as it was for very long. The contrasts within and between the two solos were many.

After they took their controlled bows, the performers left the space in opposite directions - Brown stepping onto her toes, Koroneho his heels.

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NZ Arts Festival: Aarero Stone
The Lumiere Reader: Carol Brown on Aarero Stone
Scoop Full Coverage: Festival 06

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