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This theatre company wants you to care about Pacific deforestation

Feb 24, 2016 Theatre

Visual storytelling turns the spotlight on the impact of deforestation in the Pacific.

This article was first published in the March 2016 issue of Metro.


Nina Nawalowalo is schlepping a faux forest across Wellington when Metro calls to talk about Marama, her latest visual theatre work.

Marama is to premiere at the Auckland Arts Festival but right now, Nawalowalo is hauling the production’s jungle-like stage set to Massey University’s city campus, where rehearsals are about to begin.

Performed by acclaimed theatre company The Conch and directed by Nawalowalo, Marama employs dance, waiata, chanting, puppetry and ritual to explore the impact of deforestation on Pacific Island communities, something its creator witnessed while establishing a women’s theatre company in the Solomon Islands.

“Being in Honiara for two years got me into thinking more politically, about how I could create a piece of work that’s very relevant,” says Nawalowalo. “That’s how the gold of the piece came.”

The lesser-known ripples of deforestation, such as local women being drafted into sex work at illegal logging camps, are also examined by the cast of five Maori, Melanesian, Micronesian and Polynesian women, who perform in the traditional costumes of their homelands.

“This is a collaborative work based on lived experience, not a replica of someone else’s experience,” says Nawalowalo. “It’s really interesting to bring these women together from different places, from villages close to the jungle, and make those connections for an audience.

“We are showing them a whole world and what it really means to a community when you strip that away.”

Topical, certainly, but isn’t a wordless performance about illegal logging and exploitation a bit of a tough sell?

Topical, certainly, but isn’t a wordless performance about illegal logging and exploitation a bit of a tough sell?

“It’s not ramming it down people’s throats,” Nawalowalo says. “It’s a visual feast with a political slant. That violence on the land is violence on the people, really, and we do that by showing the beauty and preciousness of it all.”

As Marama unfolds, the lush tangle of the set, designed by NZ Ballet regular Nicole Cosgrove, is pared back, while music by composer Gareth Farr builds, weaving songs and rhythms from across the region into a classical score.

More than anything, says Nawalowalo, Marama offers festivalgoers a potent sense of the wider Pacific region. “I want them to take away what connects us to ourselves — so much is to do with the land, the sea, the forest, the environments. I want audiences to see into these worlds, the beauty of these women and their cultures and what we’re doing to ourselves. The uniqueness of what we have and what we can hold.”

Marama, Q Theatre, March 2-6.


Main image: John McDermott.


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