New Zealand dance and theatre company MAU visit 2014 Edinburgh International Festival with I AM

This article is from 2014

New Zealand contemporary dance and theatre company MAU return to 2014 Edinburgh International Festival with I AM

Choreographer Lemi Ponifasio on how Colin McCahon, Antonin Artaud and Heiner Müller influenced the creative process behind new show

Before returning to Edinburgh, Lemi Ponifasio tells Kelly Apter about the many influences behind his new work marking the dark legacy of war

‘Inspired by’ is a loose term for many creators, but when Samoan-born choreographer Lemi Ponifasio talks about his influences, it’s best not to expect a literal representation. Ponifasio’s New Zealand-based collective MAU was last seen at the Edinburgh International Festival in 2010, with Tempest: Without a Body and Birds with Skymirrors. Both pieces cited numerous influences, but ultimately Ponifasio’s deeply profound vision was the dominant force.

During the creation of his new work, I AM, he was drawn to New Zealand visual artist Colin McCahon, French playwright Antonin Artaud and German theatre director Heiner Müller, alongside traditional chants and prayers. But again, the end result may feature little evidence of this.

‘Colin McCahon had his own personal struggle with life, and with his god and society,’ says Ponifasio. ‘His work reflects that struggle and what it means to exist. So that’s one small element that makes up I AM. I’m also using Artaud’s To Have Done with the Judgement of God and Müller’s Hamletmachine. But I’m thinking not just about these works, but how the world is right now. How we normalise war as a means of foreign policy or of justifying democracy.’

Like many events in 2014, the International Festival has World War I woven through it. But although Ponifasio is acknowledging this, celebrating victory is far from his mind. ‘Thousands of people from this part of the world died in that war,’ he says. ‘And there’s a pride in New Zealand, because somehow they discovered their nationhood in that disaster, which is why we have Anzac Day and things like that. And my attitude is that we should not define ourselves by the history of our disasters, but instead by what we can hope and imagine for ourselves.’

MAU: I AM, Playhouse, Greenside Place, 0131 473 2000, 16 & 17 Aug, 8pm, £10–£32.


Dance piece which took its inspiration from Colin McCahon's painting Victory over Death 2.