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  • Performing Aotearoa: New Zealand Theatre and Drama in an Age of Transition
  • Diana Looser
Performing Aotearoa: New Zealand Theatre and Drama in an Age of Transition. Edited by Marc Maufort and David O’Donnell. Dramaturgies, no. 22. Brussels: PIE Peter Lang, 2007; pp. 463. $52.95 paper.

As the first full-length volume to deal exclusively with recent drama and theatre in Aotearoa (the officially recognized and most widely accepted Māori name for New Zealand), Performing Aotearoa, edited by Marc Maufort and David O’Donnell, represents a productive development in the documentation and critical visibility of a dynamic yet marginalized aspect of English-language theatre production. Featuring nineteen essays on drama, dance, performance art, cultural exhibitions, dramaturgy, actor training, and television production, as well as a series of interviews with prominent New Zealand theatre practitioners, this collection attempts both to assess the current state of the field and to make a bold statement about the profile of New Zealand theatre practice and scholarship for an international readership.

The majority of these contributions deal with theatre produced in the last forty years (the “Age of Transition” of the title), a period characterized by a proliferation of dramatic voices and theatrical vocabularies that represent New Zealand’s changing national identity, occasioned by increased indigenous (Māori) representation, a diversifying ethnic population, and the country’s developing regional and global orientations. Maufort introduces the collection with the claim that “[a]t the dawn of the twenty-first century, New Zealand identity evades the rigid imperialistic, exclusively Pākehā [European New Zealander] discourses of the past to extend into a fruitful hybridization of different races, classes, and genders” (13). Most of the essays do not, however, subscribe to the narrative of oppressive hegemony ceding to celebratory multiculturalism that Maufort’s statement seems to imply; instead, they offer a more nuanced picture of New Zealand society that attends to the complexities and contradictions of various identities and their intricate relationship to the national imaginary.

Performing Aotearoa includes no formal divisions to guide readers unfamiliar with New Zealand theatre, but its content is arranged logically, with essays and interviews grouped into a series of thematically linked sections. The first—and most eclectic—section features three essays centered around “theatrical issues” (14), from Christopher Balme’s account of the early twentieth-century construction of a “Pan-Polynesian” cultural identity at the 1906–07 New Zealand International Exhibition, to Murray Edmond’s examination of the direct influence of Grotowski and Lecoq on a legacy of “autonomous theatre” in New Zealand and Bronwyn Tweddle’s discussion of integrated body- and voice-training methodologies at the New Zealand Drama School. The following section deals with dramatic literature since the 1960s, with a strong focus on Pākehā playwrights. These wide-ranging essays demonstrate how playwrights of the past generation have consistently questioned the meaning of Pākehā identity in New Zealand and have put pressure on dominant Pākehā cultural norms, offering a useful illustration of the class, ethnic, and gender variations within the larger Pākehā construct.

Particular strengths of the collection are the sections on Māori, Pacific Island, and Asian theatre. The essays and interviews about Māori theatre register many of the developments in indigenous theatre practice since its emergence in the 1970s as part of a broader Renaissance of Māori culture and language. The contributions here provide insights into the literary and dramaturgical strategies of preeminent Māori playwrights Briar Grace-Smith and Hone Kouka; trace the aesthetic and political strategies of the Atamira Dance Collective; and include Hone Kouka’s own critical assessment of the state of contemporary Māori theatre. Of special interest is the rediscovery of pre-contact Māori performance [End Page 143] forms by Te Ahukaramū Charles Royal and his use of them as a model for the future development of indigenous theatre and performing arts. Detailed interviews with Grace-Smith and prominent actordirector Rangimoana Taylor round out this section, providing useful contextual material for international readers.

The group of essays on Pacific Island and Asian voices in New Zealand theatre is a valuable and timely assessment of theatrical developments of the past fifteen years that...


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