Ecology in Fifths
Review by Rosheen Fitzgerald
There’s a tension in the New Zealand psyche between the Pākehā drive to possess the land and the concept of tūrangawaewae that is at the core of Te Ao Māori. On a square of green and pleasant earth, close enough to touch, set in the round, this centuries old conflict is brought alive, rendered in the tearing of toes through soil, writ large on the stage in visceral sweat and toil.
Ecology in Fifths is an intensely moving, gripping piece of dance that marries heartfelt intention with consummate skill; thoughtful devices with expertly executed technique; to produce a show that wrestles with the guts, wrenches the heart and addles the brain. Based on a near-century old account of sheep farming at Tutira, the brain child of Sam Trubridge has been germinating for nigh on a decade before it has finally borne fruit. What has been produced is ripe for the plucking, a sensual feast that brings the sight, smell and touch of the paddock onto the podium. In these dancers’ hands mother earth is both lover and foe, to be conquered and embraced, with strength and sensitivity. Against a backdrop of ambient noise and stark lighting, bodies are used as tools of communication. Passion, despair, determination and adoration emanate from the dancers as they convey man’s desperate struggle to become the master of nature.
This is a piece that layers upon layers upon layers. At it’s most basic, the choreography and technique are a marvel to behold. Peeled back, it is a stark assessment of our relationship to the whenua, deeply rooted in time and place. The universal truth is this. To be in the presence of this work is a privilege. Each of us that bear witness will carry clods of it with us into the world, like the grass and earth that cling to the dancers’ flesh, planting seeds in memory, to bloom afresh.