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Saturday 11 April 2015

Review: Fine Fatale's Freak Show

Posted in: Performance
By Jay Bennie - 19th February 2015

Freak Show
Finale fatale dance company
Mangere Arts Centre, February 19 and 20
Part of the Auckland Pride Festival 2015

What a show! Fine Fatale's Freak Show, which opened tonight at the Mangere Arts Centre is a powerhouse of emotion, humanity, religious and social politics, and Samoan tradition choreographed with verve and performed with physicality and soul.

Exploring, predominantly in dance, the frankly dubious and constrained position of fa'afafine in Samoan society, five dancers and the impressive team behind them assert the right of fa'afafine to be themselves, unhindered by social or religious denigration.

A hell of a lot of brilliant performance is packed into 40 minutes. Standouts include a tear-inducing sequence in which a young fa'afafine woman finds her place in the light only to be circled by the hypocritical menace of religious intolerance. Her otherness is noted, examined, poked at, pushed around, slapped, punched, kicked and brutalised until she crawls away, broken, to die a lonely death. But in their moment of triumph her persecutors finally begin to realise the enormity of their actions and its effect on their own souls. In despair they surround and protect her lifeless body as her light is replaced by a Christian cross glowing down from above.

In one of the exceptionally conceived, performed and edited film segments a facile curator at a futuristic museum unveils a freakish oddity from the distant past, "a fa'a fa fine" who, she describes to the bewildered onlookers, "were hard workers, dedicated to family and wonderful entertainers... now lets go have a cup of tea." As the door closes behind them the exhibit opens her eyes.

Just one more description to whet your appetite, because you must, must go see the whole show for yourself. In a technical and choreographic tour de force a fa'afafine woman dances in traditional style and from her hand and body movements tapa cloth-like designs rise and slowly assemble themselves as if by magic on the screen behind her. Piece by piece she creates her own reality. She rushes forward to the audience, clasping the cloth around her and as she dances for us banknotes, often pressed on Samoan dancers as tokens of appreciation, shower down.

Experiences, both real and allegorical, of being fa'afafine are presented in Freak Show as being a misfit in a society blighted by religious censoriousness and otherness. But it is also presented as a sensibility that will survive, that will assert itself, acknowledging its pre-colonial traditions, somehow learning to deal with its uncomfortable place in today's Samoan society and eventually triumphing in the freedom and diversity of a newly-enlightened rebirth of fa'a Samoa.

Urban, traditional, mythical, progressive, challenging and driven, Freak Show has emerged as magnificently as Black Faggot did two years ago.

Whatever your own culture, this is a must see, a must experience. Which means you have to be there tomorrow (Friday) night as Freak Show's inexcusably short season is only two nights long.

- Jay Bennie

Jay Bennie - 19th February 2015

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