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PA Reviews: Opening Night by Brooke Pou

He mihi ki te hau kainga, Taranaki Whānui ki Te Upoko o Te Ika, tēnā koutou. 


For fourteen years The Performance Arcade has brought many mauhiriri to the various programmes it hosts along Ara Moana, the ocean pathway that is Wellington’s waterfront. The opening night of PA2024 activated this year's series of performances with the theme mātiro whakamaua / look beyond the horizon.


Opening night of The Performance Arcade, 21 Feb 2024, with Grace Duncan onstage. Image credit: Philip Merry.

In his opening speech, Director Sam Trubridge said that mātiro whakamua is not simply a prompt for the participating artists, but a challenge that the Arcade puts to itself. Trubridge mentioned the difficult times we are in with the genocide in Palestine and the attempted redefining of Te Tiriti. Looking at this year’s line-up of performers, it is heartening to see the effort the Arcade’s organisers put into empowering tangata whenua to put forward their visions of a decolonised future. Utilising mātiro whakamua as a guiding principle allows for further growth among all those at the Arcade—be they the organisers, artists, or audience.

Officially opening the Arcade, Mayor Tory Whanau’s kōrero centred the importance of the arts. She noted that her own koro was a theatre actor at Circa Theatre and articulated what she loves about this particular event for its excitement and diversity as that is “the lifeblood of Wellington.”

Mayor Tory Whanau opens The Performance Arcade 2024. Image credit: Philip Merry.

We begin with a performance by mana whenua. The Te Aro Pā Poets whakapapa to Ngāti Haumia, a hapū of Taranaki Iwi. Te Aro Pā takiwā includes the entire area of the Performance Arcade and all surrounding city areas now known as “Te Aro” and beyond. Debbie Broughton, Hana Buchanan and Rachel Buchanan are writers of poetry in English and toi kupu in Māori. Unfortunately, Rachel could not make it to opening night, though her brother Joe Buchanan kindly stood in for her. As uri of those who lived in Te Aro Pā, the poets acknowledged their tūpuna throughout their readings, commencing with a waiata that traces the travel of those tūpuna from Taranaki to Te Whanganui-a-Tara. From here, the three performers alternated their readings.


Debbie Broughton’s first piece, "If You Don't Like My Look Then Don't Look Then," encompasses the complexity of belonging to an iwi that has travelled, found a new tūrangawaewae and lost specific details surrounding their connection to their original location. It is clear to me that Broughton speaks for many when she says that “I don’t know where in Taranaki my ancestors came from / my mum doesn’t know where in Taranaki my ancestors came from / I wonder if my granddad knew where in Taranaki my ancestors came from.” This loss is felt deeply by many Māori. Broughton makes peace with this by cementing her place at Te Aro Pā: “but we know they were on the heke / from Taranaki to Te Aro Pā / and we know their names / we know their names / we know their names.”

Hana Buchanan similarly engages with past and present in her poem "Matairangi Ka Mua Ka Muri (for my friend Philip O’Leary 1970 – 2023)". The well-known whakataukī insists that we must look to the past to inform the future. Buchanan asks us to imagine decades “of walking forwards, forwards, forwards” and the “pure surprising bliss” that can be found in walking backwards. Referencing local taniwha and maunga, Buchanan first turns her back to the wind to take us on a haerenga around her whenua, before eventually embracing the future facing forward once again.

Hana Buchanan performing at The Performance Arcade 2024 opening. Image credit: Philip Merry.

Standing in for Rachel Buchanan, Joe Buchanan read from her opening poem at the annual Gordon H. Brown Lecture established by Te Herenga Waka Victoria University of Wellington and hosted by Te Whare Toi City Gallery. Rachel was approached by Professor Su Ballard to deliver the 2023 lecture, entitled "Rei—A Whānau History of Aotearoa Art." I attended this lecture and was impressed by Rachel’s Selina Tusitala Marsh-like delivery of the poem, which she joked is a summary of her book Te Motunui Epa. Her brother obligingly performed this poem and despite being a distinguished kaikōrero in his own right, I feel as though he’d agree with me when I say that his interpretation doesn’t compare to Rachel’s performance. Regardless, the themes of the poem came across well. Time is a spiral that we’re all living in.

Te Aro Pā Poets, Debbie Broughton, Hana Buchanan, and Joe Buchanan reading for Rachel Buchanan. Image credit: Philip Merry.

While the Te Aro Pā Poets focus on spiral time, the SaVĀge K’lub introduce us to the Vā. Their performance began with tāonga pūoro as several figures emerged from various directions surrounding the audience. A thrumming soundscape melded with live recitations from members of the K’lub as they moved around us, advancing and retreating in strong and sure movements. Adorned in earthy toned outerwear (with windbreakers underneath to stay warm, I later found out) their performance recognised tūpuna, time, space, and whenua. Of course, the K’lub’s Founder Rosanna Raymond and Chief Instigator of Pōneke SaVĀge K'lub Suzanne Tamaki were central to this performance, as was Raymond’s son Salvador Brown, who has been a part of his mother's performances since he was in her womb. However, I was most excited by the new faces in the group.

Te KuraHuia Arikirangi Te Ao Ahoroa o te Pō performs in The SaVĀge K'lub at the opening night of The Performance Arcade 2024. Image credit: Philip Merry.

Following a tuakana-teina model, the leaders have welcomed into the group young artists including Pounamu Ruawhe and Khilia Pahulu. This is Ruawhe’s first performance with the K’lub and Pahulu’s second. As such, each brought their own energies and interpretations to the show. As Lana Lopesi writes in Pacific Arts Aotearoa, “the Samoan proverb "So’o le fau i le fau," meaning "Join the hibiscus fibre to fibre," speaks to the strength that is possible through coming together. When the hibiscus fibres are combined, they become stronger than they could possibly be if left on their own.”[1] The power of the SaVĀge K’lub has always been its fearless diversity and I believe it is because of this that they are so durable as an entity. With guidance from Raymond and Tamaki, the K’lub will keep growing and, much like the theme of mātiro whakamua, look beyond the success they have now to continually strive for more. There is strength in numbers, but it's what they do with those numbers that matters. Tonight, each member had a role to play and did so with the kind of effortless appearance that can only come from deep understanding and kotahitanga.

Raymond’s arrival in black regalia with a band of kawakawa leaves around her head and tokotoko in hand marked her as the kaiarataki of the K’lub. The settling of the soundtrack signalled a shift in the performance. From here, members of the public entered the VĀnishing Room—a container lit in green and divided into two sections for those quickly entering and exiting the space and those who chose to sit and enjoy some kava. Every morning after opening night, K’lub members have hosted manuhiri for ngahere-themed high tea.


Reb Fountain’s performance adds a completely different element to the Arcade. From 10pm—11pm, Fountain and her band brought their best to the stage. It was a blissfully calm night in which they performed a good number of tracks including Beastie, Lacuna, Samson, Hawks & Doves, Psyche, and Don’t You Know Who I Am.

Reb Fountain at The Performance Arcade 2024. Image credit: Philip Merry

Seamlessly transitioning from one song to the next, Fountain’s light personality (pointing out Bella the dog, her favourite audience member, to the rest of us) and dark lyrics (there are too many to choose from) somehow sit well with one another. Fountain’s captive audience were the typical kiwi kind: subdued but appreciative, not up and dancing but tapping their feet away and swaying in place. For the most part, Fountain’s style of performance followed suit. Her assured demeanour and hypnotic delivery lulled us into a sense of safety. The most marked difference between Fountain’s album version and live performance was Don’t You Know Who I Am. The song was reconstructed from a repetitive, curious question into an angry demand, particularly in the last verse. In the lead up to the lines “Death in your pockets and a bird unsung / This is the star of progress” her band pulled back, but after Fountain had unleashed the lyrics onto us, everyone onstage increased their intensity. Harder hits to the drums, stronger strums on the guitar and fiercer vocals resulted in a brilliant cacophony that ended their set.

Looking beyond Performance Arcade 2024, I hope to see performing arts in Te Whanganui-a-Tara flourish. If we are to have an exciting future in the arts, we must "love the arts, support the arts, back the arts" as Mayor Tory Whanau says. The Arcade does so by platforming artists like the Te Aro Pā Poets, the SaVĀge K’lub and Reb Fountain every year.

Closing of The Performance Arcade opening night, 2024. Image credit: Philip Merry.


[1] Lana Lopesi. Pacific Arts Aotearoa: The Powerful and Dynamic Legacy of Pacific Arts in Aotearoa, as Told by the Artists Themselves. Penguin, 2023: 410.

Brooke Pou (Ngāpuhi, Ngāi Te Rangi) is a writer and curator based in Te Whanganui-a-Tara. She is currently Curator at Enjoy Contemporary Art Space and working towards a Master's degree at Waipapa Taumata Rau University of Auckland, focusing on wāhine Māori and Moana curators, artists, artwork and exhibitions.


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