Graham Reid | | 3 min read
Although not without its problems – uneven pacing and a curious lack of necessary theatrical conflict between some key characters – this energetic production gets by on youthful vigour, terrific songs, exceptionally athletic dance and flashes of wit which neatly undercut the serious surface.
Writer/director Kouka of Wellington's Tawata Productions says the genesis of the production came when he was studying in Amsterdam and was part of the Nineties danceclub scene. Ideas came from the characters he encountered . . . and early on there are suggestions (never fully developed) about the decadence of the lifestyle and the price some pay.
By positioning the story with performers/actors of Aotearoa – some passages in te reo but easily comprehensible to non-speakers – he gets to more fully explore the connections of whanau (albeit the family of the dancers in the club) and the pull of home.
Opening with a welcome which is part Shakespearean scene-setting (this theatre is our world, kind of thing) and part secular karakia, The Beautiful Ones dives immediately into a world of vibrant colour (excellent use of lighting and moving graphics on the minimalist set) and exciting dance.
As a story and production, The Beautiful Ones is located on the axes of a play, a dance event and a nightclub concert in which the enthusiastic young cast are performers in a club owned by The Lord (played by Scotty Cotter with haughty superiority and a heart behind his chic, emotionally distant exterior).
One of the parallel plot threads is that he is going to hand over the club to one of the young crew Juju (Braedyn Togi) because he has tired of the life. Or perhaps, as he says, the life has tired of him.
At his side is The Lady (Ria Hall), a successful singer in Europe and other distant whenua who misses the warmth of whanau. That said, she too is going to depart, and is looking for other singer-dancers to join her.
Then there is a third (and fourth) plot: that of the lovers Hana and Ihia (Manarangi Mua and Tia Maipi) in a will they/won't they scenario . . . slightly complicated by Kotiro (the terrific Mapihi Kelland whose timing was note-perfect and expressions could change in a blink) who also harbours feelings for Ihia.
This is a lot of plot to cram into a little over an hour, and it shows when many ideas raised are not fully developed.
That will they/won't they goes largely unexplored despite another dancer – the lithe Bianca Hyslop as Lil Pauline – who's had a fling thing with Ihia which could have derailed matters.
That – passed lightly over -- and other seemingly complex emotional matters are all resolved so quickly you wonder if they were ever an issue at all.
But what propels this is the power of the dance and songs. The dancers adopt and adapt moves from Michael Jackson, pop-locking, breakdance, Parris Goebel's joint-abusing calisthenics and much more. (Even a smidgen of sensual tango at one point).
It makes for a joyous portray of a dance club and within minutes each of the eight emerges as an individual.
Then there are the songs which are aided by backing tapes: Ria Hall returns to the theatre and soars on her new composition Love Will Lead Us Home (to be released next week) and Tama Waipara's Pyramids, and the discovery of the night is Sharn Te Pou (as Ardie) whose soulful numbers are breath-holding showstoppers. The “incidental” dance music by K*Saba is bold, effective and often compelling. That audience members got up when invited was testament to their power.
At these times The Beautiful Ones – its title taken from the Prince track perhaps? – is at its most effective.
On opening night some of the lines were declaimed rather than spoken from within character and there were a couple of glitches . . . but these will be resolved.
Note also, the seating arrangement in the small space means some sitting at tables near the back will doubtless have their sightlines compromised. A tip: book early and get near the front.
Tawata Productions and Hone Kouka have given voice and space to a collective of fine young but maturing talent, and even if this is uneven in places you could not deny the collision of dance and vocal talent on that small stage which they command.
The Beautiful Ones, Lower NZI Theatre, Aotea Centre Auckland until November 26. For times and bookings see here. Student prices available too.