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Written and Directed by Hone Kouke
Produced by Tawata Productions
Movement by Dolina Wehipeihana & Hone Kouka
Design by K*Saba, Tama Waipara, Johnson Witehira, Wai Mihinui, Jaimee Warda, Sopheak Seng, Laurie Dean
A hyperreal digital love story.
the beautiful ones is a story of young love. A promise Hana made to Ihia – a promise to return. Will she return? Will love triumph over temptation? the beautiful ones bursts from the late night sheen of a city club. Beautiful bodies & vital vocals. Defiant dance moves and the meaning of love.
the beautiful ones features a dance floor for the audience to share the vibe.
From the company that brought you I, George Nepia, Sunset Road and TŪ.
Based in Wellington, New Zealand, Tawata Productions is a Maori and Cook Islands performance and film company.
Specialising in the development and production of new work, Tawata blurs the lines between text, movement, film and music, presenting a diverse performance experience from Aotearoa to the world beyond.
Our work includes the sweeping epic TU; multiple award winning I, GEORGE NEPIA, the Cook Islands drama SUNSET ROAD, the Sri Lankan Tamil solo THE MOURNING AFTER and the Khmer NEANG NEAK’S LEGACY.
Tawata are currently developing the feature film PUAWAI’S FLOWERS, a co-production with Sabertooth Film. PUAWAI’S FLOWERS weaves magic realism and comedy.
Tawata Productions has performed in national and international festivals throughout New Zealand, Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, the South Pacific, and the Hawai’ian Islands.
|FORMIDABLE TALENT IN SEARCH OF A THEME-RICH STORY|
Reviewed by John Smythe, 28 June 2015
It was being “a fully paid up member of the 90s dance party scene” as a student in Amsterdam that inspired playwright and director Hone Kouka to oversee the creation of this “hyper real digital love story”. Relocated to present-day Poneke / Wellington, if we take the visuals literally, the beautiful ones also has a mythical feel to it: a world presided over by demi-gods.
A formidable line-up of talent, described in publicity as “a creative collision”, has brought it to the stage: choreographer Dolina Wehipeihana; costume designer Sopheak Seng; AV designer Johnson Witehira; music executive producer K*Saba with music composers Tama Waipara, Hone Hurihanganui and Sharn Te Pou; lighting designer Laurie Dean; set designer Wai Mihinui.
A blank wall, supporting a balcony, becomes the screen for an array of back-projections, be they relatively realistic streetscapes, abstract shapes in the dance party sequences, a favourite Courtenay Place takeaway outlet for groovers with the munchies, or silhouetted live action.
The music ranges from pumping hip-hop through powerful pop to poignant waiata. The dancing is a pleasing blend of hip-hop and contemporary, very well executed as far as it goes but they don’t bust out the truly spectacular moves – although impressive falling and tossing sequences exemplify how much the dancers trust each other. Dance is mostly used to express present feelings and to offer escape from them as the story progresses.
The story. It’s simple. Ihaia (Manuel Solomon) is bereft because his girlfriend Hana (Awhimai Fraser) has been banished for theft and his dawn-to-sunset dancing has not brought her back to him, although it seems she promised it would. He tries to lose himself in the dance party scene at a venue presided over by twin brothers: focused and serious Mr Sir (Tanemahuta Gray) and less disciplined cocaine snorter Sir Sir (Nathan Gray) who is Ihaia’s father and concerned for his son’s happiness, despite his brother’s intransigence.
Also advocating for Ihaia is his perpetually angry and authoritarian aunty, The Lady (Kali Kopae). She is especially abusive to her husband, The Lord (Scotty Cotter). As with the creatives listed above, these six lead performers are also highly talented, which shows in their dancing and singing at least – including a show-stopping song from Kopae and a sublime acapella waiata from Fraser.
The titular dance party devotees are Vaine (Te hau Winitana), Sachin (Sandip Dosanjh), Lil Paulina (Paige Shand), Juju (Braedyn Togi), Ardie (Sharn Te Pou) and Kotiro (Vanessa Immink) who stage manages them, given this is the sort of dance party scene where people book spots to display their latest moves. And Kotiro holds a candle for Ihaia.
Was Hana wrongly accused? Will she return? If not, will Ihaia redirect his affection to Kotiro? Are we destined for a happy ending or with this conform to its theatrical tīpuna (Romeo and Juliet springs to mind) and prove a tragedy? These are the questions which give the show some semblance of dramatic structure. Such details as what was stolen from whom and why are ignored.
The minimal dialogue is often poetic and emblematic. Rather than talk about it the solution to everything is dance it off, or sing. Fair enough I suppose, in principle, except here it reduces the action to expressions of states of being, of feeling, and without the benefits of the mood-enhancing or mind-altering substances one might have taken at an actual dance party, it’s not as rewarding for an audience as it might have been.
Sure there’s an opportunity to get up and join in the dancing – to a hard-to-hear song from Ardie – and the performers are really into it throughout but I can’t help feeling so much attention has been paid to the music, singing, dancing and digital imagery that the vestigial story has been left as an unfulfilled outline.
Posturing, preening, toking, snorting, selfies and cool dance moves all add visual texture to the show’s fabric. An interesting AV sequence juxtaposes pre-colonisation images with those of ‘progress’. But what are the embedded and binding themes in the story these elements are there to expose, amplify and enrich?
The characters are ciphers. While their circumstances change, the only one to mature or otherwise evolve as a person is Kotiro, in a brief moment that does engage audience empathy. There is no onstage catharsis for the protagonists and antagonists. The one revelation that adds weft to the warp of the weave, so to speak, is simply stated as a fact with no whys or wherefores, no retribution or forgiveness. And it has no effect on the subsequent action, presumably because it is kept secret from those who should know but we don’t know why. Then the resolution, as staged, is singularly undramatic.
Because the script fails to explore the flaws and foibles of human and/or demigod behaviour in a way that engages our empathy, at a ‘that-could-have-been-me’ or ‘what-would-I-have-done?’ level, the beautiful ones fall a long way short of its dramatic potential.
We know Hone Kouka is a highly accomplished playwright, that the lead performers can bring heft, depth and delight to the characters they play, that this has been at least two years in development with a work-in-progress showing last Matariki … The resources (20 in the creative and production teams; 12 onstage performers) and support (at local and national levels) brought to the project have been considerable. What’s missing from the list is a dramaturg.
Somewhere along the line the much-needed challenge to give the story substance, meaning and resonance has either not been laid down or not been taken up. Despite the voluble enthusiasm of a highly supportive opening night audience, it needs to be.
Warning: Contains Big Beats & Dance Music.