Lemi Ponifasio

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Lemi Ponifasio is a Samoan choreographer and the founder and director of MAU, New Zealand's most prolific international contemporary dance and theatre company.[1] His works have been called genius, powerful, frightening, beautiful, inspirational, his critical eye on our times and fearless vision continuing to provoke both attention and controversy.[2]


Based in Auckland, New Zealand, MAU performs at major international theatres and festivals such as the Edinburgh International Festival, Theatre de la Ville Paris, the Holland Festival, the Venice Biennale and Vienna Festival.

"An ancestral imagined world made of earth and air, fire and water, inhabited by gods and men, underlies the visionary creations of one of the leading New Zealand directors, Lemi Ponifasio, who draws from the native cultures of the Pacific to create, like a shaman, new symbols that also speak of our present. In his shows, ceremonies, performance culture, dance and contemporary theatre blend and demonstrate a strong connotation of civil commitment. Ponifasio’s unique work is hard to define in conformity with the parameters of theatre and dance of the West. Seeing a show by the MAU group means wondering at a crepuscular dimension in which the human being is vulnerable and in which the body becomes a receptacle of spirits, animals, creatures of dust, of a primitive instinctive energy. Ponifasio’s shows have been defined “hypnotic, strongly scenographic, characterised by the strength of the images, with a powerful relationship between darkness, light and movement”. The originality of his language, which refers back to the ancestral value of dance, shunning folklore cliches, fashion and pop culture, ensure he is one of the world’s leading contemporary artists in the genre."[3]

Ponifasio's latest creation Birds With Skymirrors was presented at the Edinburgh International Festival 2010 and Theater Der Welt RUHR 2010.[4][5] Ponifasio also staged the MAUForum at the Charlottenburg Castle in Berlin 2010.[6] The MAUForum was established by Ponifasio in 2005 to explore new theatre forms for encounter between artists and community.

Tempest, a series of works responding to the escalation of state powers and unlawful detention in the post 9/11- world, was premiered in Vienna in June 2007 and has also been performed at such places as the Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank Centre London 2008, Theatre de la Ville Paris 2010 and Volksbühne Berlin 2010. Tempest is a work that concerns human rights and examines the philosophical works of Walter Benjamin and Giorgio Agamben.[7]

Tempest, an epic production, included Maori activist Tame Iti in the lead role. Before the London season, Iti was arrested by New Zealand police in Ruatoki on 15 October 2007 during the so-called anti-terror raids, and caused uncertainty for the MAU tour to London and Brussels in 2008. However, Ponifasio convinced the New Zealand High Court to allow the detained Maori activist to travel. Affidavits in support of MAU from international arts organizations had also been submitted as evidence to the High Court.[8] The incident got the notice of some British media.[9]

Requiem (2006) was commissioned by Artistic Director Peter Sellars for the New Crowned Hope Festival in Vienna, celebrating the 250th anniversary of Mozart. Requiem was also presented at KVS Royal Flemish Theatre Brussels 2006, ASB Theatre Auckland 2007, the Southbank Centre London 2007[10] and the Lincoln Center New York in 2008.

In 2003 Ponifasio toured the Pacific Region with his work Paradise (parts of the work were banned by the French Government in Tahiti). Paradise was also presented at the Venice Biennale and the Auckland Festival in 2003 and the Holland Festival and Theater der Welt in 2005. The world premiere of "Paradise" at the Auckland Festival was noted for the riotous participation of the audience through oratory, singing and chanting tributes from elders and young alike at the beginning and at the end of the performance, led prominently by the present Minister of Maori Affairs and the founder of the Maori Political Party, Dr Pita Sharples.[11]


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