Copper Promises | Victoria Hunt

Copper Promises | Victoria HuntLeft – Victoria Hunt. Photo – Heidrun Lohr

There is no single word to address the depth and complexities of Victoria Hunt’s work. Electrifying perhaps may do some justice: the work reverberates with personal narrative, political tensions and is technologically sophisticated.

Hunt is from Ngati Hinemihi, and can trace her whakapapa (geneaology) back to her ancestress Hinemihi, a woman of incredible strength and resilience. It is her name and spirit which continues to live on in the whare tipuna meeting house that is now located at Clandon Park, Surrey.

Hinemihi is not an it. She is she. And like Hunt who is Australian born, Hinemihi too has found herself on other people’s whenua (land). Transported in 1882 by Lord Onslow, a British governor-general who bought Hinemihi as a memeto of his time in Aotearoa (New Zealand), she is effectively a souvenir of the Antipodes. Copper Promises doesn’t require an audience to be familiar with the story of Hinemihi, the story is irrevocably entwined in the performance.

This hour long solo dance piece is composed of different vignettes that reflect Hunt’s decade long research and reconnecting, and segue effortlessly to chart a journey that began more than a hundred years ago. These poetic and highly specific sequences reflect the rupture experienced by those who were witnesses to the eruption of Mt. Tarawera in 1886, the geological and emotional tectonic shifts, the trauma and tragedy suffered by a people. But it also explores how bodies are suspended between earth and sky, the crushing weight of silence, a prophecy of inevitable disaster, the dilemma, a lamentation and ultimately the entwining two bodies, one story, one dance, one voice.

The lighting and soundscapes are vivid and with no set and a simple smock this is Hunt’s dance of life, a celebration of living cultures in spite of adverse conditions, colonial conditioning and physical displacement. This is a form of witnessing not just for her but for her ancestress and filters across multiple levels. Projections flit, electronic vibrations erupt; dislocations are juxtaposed against deep yearning and desire, chance encounters and the use of traditional dance, contemporary movement and invocations of the land, sky and spirit create a myriad of stunning images. The 3D projection is a visual delight and used carefully, embedded into the landscape rather than merely making a statement of technological virtuosity. The use of te reo Māori on stage is powerful, potent and absolutely necessary, whether or not the audience understand the literal meaning; the emotional response that is evoked transcends semantics. Hunt’s final moments are incredibly powerful as she asserts her identity, drawing the moko (tattoo) upon her chin.

Her methodology was one of immersion, listening, reacquainting and responding to the complexities of belonging, both for Hinemihi and for herself. The show’s flaws are minor, it is a tad long and some of the sequences are longer than they need to be; in addition some of the vignettes are far superior to their counterparts, and as result the latter tend to lag just a little too long. Also, while the work is an independent chronicling of personal and communities histories it is worth considering whether in an international context how far removed has the story become for those who may have little or no knowledge of Hinemihi and her journey. The technology, as mentioned before, is one of the highlights of the show but the balance between the performer and what should be the supporting visuals and soundscapes seems to teeter on a rather precarious scale becoming consumed, at times, by the spectacle than the story. 

It may seem a somewhat abstract claim, but Hunt’s work reverberates with aroha (love) for Hinemihi. She is a highly skilled performer and has given much time and space to let the work breathe and evolve, and it will surely continue to do so.

Origins – Festival of First Nations
Copper Promises: Hinemihi Haka
Victoria Hunt

Venue: The Place, Dukes Road, London WC1
Dates: 25, 26 October, 2013
Tickets: £15 – £12

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