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Reviewed by:
  • Moana: The Rising of the Sea directed by Peter Rockford Espiritu
  • Kara Miller
Moana: The Rising of the Sea. Multimedia dramatic performance. Written and produced by Vilsoni Hereniko; choreographed and directed by Peter Rockford Espiritu. World premiere 6 December 2013, Japan-Pacific ict Theatre, University of the South Pacific, Suva.

Presented to audiences at the Japan ict (information, communication, technology) Theatre at the University of the South Pacific (usp) in December 2013, in conjunction with the European Consortium for Pacific Studies (ecopas) conference “Restoring the Human to Climate Change,” the performance of Moana: The Rising of the Sea left me moved and with an intensely heightened sensitivity to the plight of Island communities in an age of climate change. Developed through the collaboration of Oceania Dance Theatre Artistic Director Peter Rockford Espiritu, usp Head of Performing Arts Igelese Ete, and Vilsoni Hereniko, former director of the usp Oceania Centre for Arts, Culture, and Pacific Studies and now professor at the University of Hawai‘i–Mānoa, this original performance combined innovative music, song, dance, and video projection [End Page 585] design to shake audiences out of their comfortable certainties regarding the place of climate in contemporary Pacific conversations.

A few days before the opening, I had the opportunity of observing a rehearsal. Behind the scenes a stage manager called, “Places please,” and performers scurried to their positions, waiting in the wings to transform into characters such as ocean, land, sky spirits, and Pacific Islanders. While the call “Places” before a show is a common backstage term, in the context of the ecopas conference it poetically evoked for me the deeply felt concerns in relation to place in the tragic crisis of relocation and loss of land, homes, and people to the rising sea levels in the Pacific.

The show opens with a monologue written by Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner and beautifully performed by Sinu Naulumatua. Her words—“Tell them we are papaya golden sunsets bleeding into glittering open sea. … Tell them what it’s like to see the entire ocean level with the land. … Tell them we see what is in our own backyard”—express the wrenching emotion of this pressing issue of survival for the cultures and lands of this region.

The curtains part to reveal a magnificent video projection montage, designed by Josefa Matailagi Jr, which takes the audience on a journey through celestial stars, looking back on Earth from space, zooming in on waves surging in the deep sea, and finally closing in on the shoreline, where the ocean laps the sand and trees gently extend over the water.

The performers quietly enter, silhouetted against this moving video backdrop. Dancers process, carrying a large roll of turquoise material that alternatively suggests an umbilical cord or the sea’s edge. The fabric unfolds and stretches expansively across the front of the entire stage while a spinning gobo (lighting instrument) casts undulating, crystalline reflections like light playing on water. Life seems to shimmer across the surface of what is clearly revealed to be a powerful water character. Yet, underneath its beauty, a threatening pulse and rhythmic current unfolds throughout the show. The cloth is continuously shaken, causing rippling waves that bring this symbolic ocean ever more to the awareness of the Islanders on stage, threatening the dangerous possibility of coastal flooding.

Hereniko’s evocative, empathetic production brings attention to a challenging issue that affects many Pacific Island nations and is ingeniously embedded in the performance’s structure. Primarily told in a dialogue between movement, projected image, and song, this poetic story embodies the ecological notion of unity. In our bodies, islands, ocean, sky, and planet, in our being, we are one body, interconnected.

Espiritu’s inventive and skillful staging features thirty experienced performers of the Oceania Dance Theatre and new, innovative choreography employing dance styles from Solomon Islands, Kiribati, Niue, Sāmoa, and Fiji and displaying fantastic costumes. Elements of ballet, modern, and aerial dance are woven throughout, all allowing the ocean to speak.

Expressing the continuity of past and present, Ete’s epic musical composition mixes the recorded sounds of [End Page 586] the Pasifika Voices Ensemble with live drumming and vocal singing. There is a sensuous...


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pp. 585-587
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