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Copper Promises

Photo by Heidrun Löhr

Performance Space presents COPPER PROMISES: HINEMIHI HAKA in Bay 20 CARRIAGEWORKS, Redfern. Victoria Hunt after nearly a decade of research and preparation presented COPPER PROMISES: HINEMIHI HAKA at Carriageworks under the auspices of the Performance Space season of curated works for DIMENSION CROSSING last week in Bay 20. This performance, this work, was truly remarkable. Truly, unforgettable. An artist transubstantiated into the living spirit of her ancestry. An artist’s body transmuted into a traditional Maori meetinghouse, no, amazingly it was – Victoria Hunt, the spiritual female ancestor Hinemihi and the house itself – all three present – a holy trinity.

Hinemihi Bird; ears, feet and body parts, sprouting feathers from underside of feet; inside the body is forming quills which grow to the surface, playful, mysterious, curious. Inside, my torso catches the flight of a small bird, around the ribs, collar, pelvis; smack feather soles. Drawn to the memory of calling; confusion; insanity; disintegration; entrance through the aural, canopy of birdsong. There is a constant physical reminder of the hugeness of the mountain and the sky above. A heroic walk out, supporting the delicate load of brittle bones, walking away from the blizzard. Body abandoned by spirit. Lifting out of bones , flesh and skin like streams of smoke, floating into the atmosphere. a husk remains. becomes a person lost and searching for loved ones. Thick ash and mud cling to you, drawing you down. Being urged by unknown forces towards Te Arai. Become a protective mother with children buried in crushing weight. The most awful sound of silence ….

Victoria Hunt is an Australian artist of part Maori descent. Ms Hunt was grew up here, in Australia, and only six years ago visited New Zealand for the first time to meet her whanau (family). From the program:

THE BACKSTORY. I speak, the house speaks. I dance, the house dances. Victoria Hunt is from Ngati Hinemihi, a sub-tribe of Tuhourangi, Te Arawa. Hinemihi is one of Victoria’s female ancestors – embodied in a traditional Maori meetinghouse. A meetinghouse is the community space on a Marae Atea (tribal land). It is a tapu (sacred) place where people gather for the important rituals in life. Where the core business is relationships. Where they are laid out in death. Where the living ritually engage with the dead who in turn provide guidance for the living.

Interpolated from an interview between Victoria Hunt (VH) and Fiona Winning (FW) recorded elsewhere in the program:

VH: [in the century before last] Chief Aporo Te Wharekaniwha of the sub-tribe Ngati Hinemihi commissioned the old carver Wero Taroi and his apprentice Tene Wairere to build Hinemihi. Both carvers existed at a time of explosive eclecticism and competing narratives.

FW: Hinemihi is a whare tipuna meetinghouse. So the architecture of the house is the body of Hinemihi.

VH: She’s the architectural depiction of the body of an ancestor. She has 26 carvings that give a cosmological explanation for whakapapa, tribal history and concepts. She represents the spirit of the people, the spirit of the dead. The Poutokomanawa is the heart post that separates earth and sky. The Tuaha is the backbone. The Heke rafters are her ribs. The Pou inside the back wall is the symbolic Arai portal servicing the journey of the spirits. The Pare which is the carved door lintel around the entrance, is a threshold… into Hinenuitepo, where you move from the noa or profane into the tapu or sacred. All houses are designed to fulfill these cultural practices. waiting with potential to be ritually enacted.

…In the early hours of June 10th (1886), the mountains of Wahanga, Ruawahia and Tarawera split apart. Devastating! The most cataclysmic event in the tribes existence.Our scared mountain blew up! The ancestral bones in the caves turned to ash and scattered across the country…. …..

FW: So what happened to Hinemihi?

VH: I’ve been told parts of her were looted.Three of the outside carvings were removed by relic hunters. Including the pare or lintel carving.

FW: And that’s resurfaced after years of being lost on the black market and is now in an auction house in Paris.

VH: She’s been cut on both sides to fit as a mantelpiece for a fireplace surround….. …. The pare represents her pelvis….. (Three million for the Goddess of Death; three million for a carved house lintel; three million for my pelvis; looted, sold on the black market, caught in a separation … a frozen marriage. REPATRIATE).

FW: And the rest of Hinemihi is in an English country garden.

VH: Lord Onslow, the British Governor of New Zealand bought Hinemihi as a memento of his time there and took her to his Clandon Park mansion in Surrey. She was his ‘souvenir’ from his time in the Antipodes…. …. She’s now in the care and control of the UK National Trust with the rest of Onslow’s estate. A spirit house in the grounds of an English country garden.The Nagti Hinemihi tribe, Ngati Ranana UK and the Trust are currently trying to recognise each other.

FW: ….. I notice in all the Trust’s descriptions, Hinemihi used to be described as a house, a work of art, an inanimate object. But they’ve updated their language in the last couple of years to call Hinemihi ‘she’.

VH: To acknowledge that to us, she’s living, imbued with tribal memory and spiritual strength … a physical pathway to another world.

Back to the Backstory: Victoria has created COPPER PROMISES: HINEMIHI HAKA after a decade of embodied research across three countries. She’s traveled from Brisbane to Auckland, Rotorua to Minto and Sydney to Surrey -collecting video imagery, recording sound and interviews and making a series of short dance works. She’s written, danced and dreamt this material and now has shaped it into a work that merges feeling and gesture as they echo across landscape and through time: “Very early in this process, my Uncle Wally told me my ambition to dance Hinemihi was actually bringing her back. I feel that’s what I’m doing. Bringing Hinemihi back” (Victoria Hunt).

Ms Hunt has been a familiar figure, particularly in the work of Tess De Quincey with De Quincey Co. where BodyWeather, a form of Butoh training, is utilised as the centre of the dance practice. Here in this work COPPER PROMISES, Ms Hunt subsumes that knowledge and means of expression in an intense 55 minute series of sequences to explore and express the intense research of her direct heritage. This work, this performance seems to catapult Ms Hunt into an inspiration of creativity and magnificent possession. I have never seen Ms Hunt better.

The near ten year preparation of this work is shown in a compacted and intense act. The eloquence of every moment compels the audience to attend with unflinching awe. Tremendous risks of detailed, minute, but, deeply meaningful expression, challenges the audience to dare look away – some moments of longueur are set as a test in one incredible extended sequence, but such is the artist’s knowing commitment that one does not. This work, in experience, is not just the dancer’s achievement, for Ms Hunt has seemed to inspire all of the artists involved, and they, as empathetic and passionate collaborators, have honed the presentation of this wonder with the most compelling and supportive detailed contribution.

The Lighting Design by Clytie Smith (with fergos by, David Ferguson) often interacts as a fellow dancer and suggests a duet of enormous intimacy. Add the provocative and stunning Video Design of the floor projections and spinning disc (dripping with metaphorical power), by Chris Wilson, and the most intense and apt Sound Design by James Brown, to support, and, like the lighting design join Ms Hunt as an emotional partner – the slow exquisite pressure of the build of the quake explosion was deafeningly cathartic. The silence following shattering – The integration of all these artist’s work was astounding and brilliant. Never to be forgotten the last coup de theatre gesture. The distillation of a shared catharsis and given to us, indelibly, to share and be held forever.

COPPER PROMISES: HINEMIHI HAKA is a work that reveals the laser like focus of learning and the engaging of emotional history into a political power of unforgettable urgency. Personal, societal, cultural, historical and, hence, political traits of what it takes to be a journeyman in the complicated  patterns of living. We are alive in the present, with a past and a future. These aspects of time, all weigh us down, and yet inspire us as well. Ms Hunt in this work deals with all of this. The time spent in arriving at this expression of a life and its search for truths enhances the quality and veracity of all the artists commitment. Fiona Winning, the producer, and guide to Victoria Hunt should be applauded for encouraging the persistent patience needed for the work to grow to maturity.

May COPPER PROMISES: HINEMIHI HAKA acquire a long history of its own. I speak, the house speaks. I dance, the house dances. Performance Space with this work and Yumi Umiumare’s EnTrance last month seem to be resurrected. Welcome back, I say.

1 replies to “Copper Promises”

  1. Australian theatre's most distinguished voice!!!!!!!!! Thank you Kevin Jackson for your reviews' conceptual overarching intelligence!!! Cross-cultural, cross-media, cross-referencing embracing irrevrance and traditional knowledge, cross referencing American theatre, British theatre, Asian theatre, performance art, European theatre. Cross-generational to boot!! Great breadth. x Ira

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