Guests streamed up the dirt road and wound through trees and flowers to the site of the performance. The bleachers were almost full when we arrived.
Dancers and musicians rushed through their final preparations, and then the scene was set. If this place had a roof, they were about to blow it off.
This show was part of the Heiva festival, and we’re less than an hour from Pape’ete, Tahiti at a site that hummed with life as scores of dancers, actors, and musicians performed an original creation. Some of the scenes were based in old stories, but the impression I got had little to do with the narrative.
We were, again, given permission to be backstage, so Eric, Matt, and I ran in different directions between scenes, trying to grasp the essence of this event. I scribbled in my notebook, “big smiles backstage,” “bare feet,” “so much fun.”
It was our second day here as a team, and I could do little but let myself be taken away by the show. We watched as joy, pride, and skill transformed the forest into a theatre.
Dancers would run behind the bleachers for costume changes between these intricate scenes.
Every detail of adornment and storytelling was organized in make shift dressing rooms between the crowd and the trees.
I found it an unusual mix between casual and professional. It was easy to meet and interact with the performers, despite the focus their work clearly required.
The creative director of this performance, Jacky Briant, acknowledged the enormous team it took to create an event like this. It would only be performed a few times during the Heiva Festival.
The show left its mark on the site with dust and flowers left over once the crowd had dispersed. After colonization, many maraes were unused for a long time – many still are – and as an outsider I had a lot of learning to do.
The last sentence in my notebook simply reads: “These are not performance smiles.”