Top Scoops

Book Reviews | Gordon Campbell | Scoop News | Wellington Scoop | Community Scoop | Search


Not The Promised Land

Reviewer: Max Rashbrooke

Talk about highs and lows: after the stunning success of the Lemi Ponifasio-created opening night work Chosen and Beloved, the same director presented us with a piece that, despite containing moments of real beauty, was wildly overambitious and poorly thought-out.

The programme notes for Jerusalem, which ranged widely but not very coherently over “dissolving binaries”, “the ambiguities of necessary incompleteness” and the idea of a “heterotopia”, were the first sign that something was awry. Jerusalem – as a city, and as an ideal – is obviously an attractive subject, dense with meaning. But it wasn’t clear what the performance was trying to add to our understanding of the place and its many interpretations.

The show was a series of largely individualised and disparate performances, most of them oriented around a thin white cage set in the stage’s centre. This potentially powerful object was seldom treated with reverence, being – apparently – casually crossed and recrossed by the performers; if it was supposed to symbolise something about boundaries, sacred spaces, enclosures and exclusions, it largely failed to do so.

None of this was helped by basic mistakes, such as projecting images onto the back wall of the theatre that could not be seen by people in the gallery. But much more serious was the apparent absence of any coherent organisation of the material.

Places like Jerusalem are important because they are sites of reverence for several cultures; they are also hotly disputed by those cultures; these two facts are not unrelated. Conflict and displacement are correspondingly at the heart of our idea of Jerusalem. But there was precious little sense of clashing ideals or engagement across differences, such was the isolation of most of the parts of the performance from each other.

Nor were the relationships between different elements and themes made clear. The piece opened with cries of ‘Wuhan be strong’, a highly contemporary note; but although Wuhan is a quarantined city, and China has a significant Muslim population that it is currently repressing, the direct connection with Jerusalem was not clear. Wuhan is not, as far as I know, a contested ideal in the same way as the Middle Eastern city.

The nature of much of the content was also unclear. The programme notes told us that the te Reo content, making up the majority of the show, was “braided” with the epic poem Concerto al-Quds by the Syrian writer Adonis. But how this braiding happened, and consequently what we were listening to at any given point, was extremely opaque.

The pacing of the show was consistently very slow: pretty much everything happened at walking pace. This may be deliberate, and characteristic of Ponifasio’s oeuvre, but it can surely work only if the audience is already highly engaged, which on this evening it was not. Instead the result was a sense of everything being deeply drawn out, even when it didn’t need to be, and the absence of any dynamic contrast, any build-up or release of energy.

That isn’t to say that there weren’t performances of real note. The male and female performers wielding respectively a rifle and a spanner were spectacularly good; it was almost impossible to take one’s eyes off them. Also very good was the long final section, in which a chalked-out square, suggestive of a quarantine zone, became the setting for a deeply unsettling ritual: a near-naked man, seeming to take water from a white washbasin, covered himself in black liquid, howled in anguish, and transformed his movements into something clearly simian.

Meanwhile, either side of him were two straight lines of flags, which could have stood for the way that national identities cordon-off and exclude, or – conversely – the powerlessness of the international community face-to-face with Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine. Finally it felt as if the performance was drawing on something both clear and distilled. It was a powerful moment, but one sadly unable to redeem the incoherence of what had gone before.

© Scoop Media

Top Scoops Headlines


Binoy Kampmark: Budget Cockups In The Time Of Coronavirus: Reporting Errors And Australia’s JobKeeper Scheme

Hell has, in its raging fires, ringside seats for those who like their spreadsheets. The seating, already peopled by those from human resources, white collar criminals and accountants, becomes toastier for those who make errors with those spreadsheets. ... More>>

The Dig - COVID-19: Just Recovery

The COVID-19 crisis is compelling us to kick-start investment in a regenerative and zero-carbon future. We were bold enough to act quickly to stop the virus - can we now chart a course for a just recovery? More>>

The Conversation: Are New Zealand's New COVID-19 Laws And Powers Really A Step Towards A Police State?

Reaction to the New Zealand government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and resultant lockdown has ranged from high praise to criticism that its actions were illegal and its management chaotic. More>>

Keith Rankin: Universal Versus Targeted Assistance, A Muddled Dichotomy

The Commentariat There is a regular commentariat who appear on places such as 'The Panel' on Radio New Zealand (4pm on weekdays), and on panels on television shows such as Newshub Nation (TV3, weekends) and Q+A (TV1, Mondays). Generally, these panellists ... More>>

Jelena Gligorijevic: (Un)lawful Lockdown And Government Accountability

As the Government begins to ease the lockdown, serious questions remain about the lawfulness of these extraordinary measures. Parliament’s Epidemic Response Committee has indicated it will issue summonses for the production of legal advice about the ... More>>

Caitlin Johnstone: Do You Consent To The New Cold War?

The world's worst Putin puppet is escalating tensions with Russia even further, with the Trump administration looking at withdrawal from more nuclear treaties in the near future. In addition to planning on withdrawing from the Open Skies Treaty ... More>>

Binoy Kampmark: Why Thinking Makes It So: Donald Trump’s Obamagate Fixation

The “gate” suffix has been wearing thin since the break-in scandal that gave it its birth. Since Watergate, virtually anything dubious and suggestive, and much more besides, is suffixed. Which brings us to the issue of President Donald Trump’s ... More>>

Gordon Campbell: On The Ethics (and Some Of The Economics) Of Lifting The Lockdown

As New Zealand passes the half-way mark towards moving out of Level Four lockdown, the trade-offs involved in life-after-lockdown are starting to come into view. All very well for National’s finance spokesperson Paul Goldsmith to claim that “The number one priority we have is to get out of the lockdown as soon as we can”…Yet as PM Jacinda Ardern pointed out a few days ago, any crude trade-off between public health and economic well-being would be a false choice... More>>

Binoy Kampmark: Brutal Choices: Anders Tegnell And Sweden’s Herd Immunity Goal

If the title of epidemiological czar were to be created, its first occupant would have to be Sweden’s Anders Tegnell. He has held sway in the face of sceptics and concern that his “herd immunity” approach to COVID-19 is a dangerous, and breathtakingly ... More>>

Gordon Campbell: On The Trans-Tasman Bubble, And The Future Of Airlines

As the epidemiologists keep on saying, a trans-Tasman bubble will require having in place beforehand a robust form of contact tracing, of tourists and locals alike - aided by some kind of phone app along the lines of Singapore’s TraceTogether ... More>>


  • PublicAddress
  • Pundit
  • Kiwiblog