The Metamorphosis Trail

Review by Rosheen Fitzgerald

Java Dance have a special place in the heart of the Arts Festival. Back of the Bus was once a festival staple and they’ve gained a reputation for innovation with their alimentary themed offerings such as Rise, Cheese and Chocolate. The latter was developed in conjunction with Hastings’ own La Petite Chocolat, whose former director, Joe Dobson takes a role in their current production. Lockdown prompted artistic director Sacha Copland to ponder the nature of essential workers and experiment with directing and developing work in isolation, in conjunction with local performers. Happily she’s been given the opportunity to bring it all together again to produce the joyful, riotous adventure that is the Metamorphosis Trail.

It’s a tale of toil and conflict, threat and triumph writ small and spread across the central stage of Heretaunga Street. With a high-vis clad Copland as our guide, a somewhat bemused and straggling bunch of festival-goers depart the safe confines of Arts Inc for the city streets. Hinekura in a hoodie is our herald, hopping up from a street side café to lead our way, a jaunty beat emitting from the boom box tucked in her armpit. Is she part of the show? Hard to say. This is a show that blurs the lines between audience and participant, performer and bystander. Over the next hour we are led up stairs and through alleyways, (carefully) over roads, around fountains, to the park and the pedestrian promenade, dancers and musicians interchanging roles and weaving around audience and passers by alike.

A surreal story is spun, in which our heroes, the cleaning crew, are attacked by the mess the rest of us leave behind, are cornered, injured and healed to reap vengeance and emerge to parade in a triumphant victory march to the oom-pah of Deco Bay brass band, culminating in whole group hoe down in which we all are performers and audience alike.

Copland is a master at subverting theatrical convention, drawing her subjects in with gentle humour and subtle devices. Participants are handed cleaning cloths and percussion instruments to wave down the street like a makeshift batucada. You can see self consciousness shake free, weight lift from shoulders with every bizarre twist and turn. There’s subversion too in the tension between the silliness of the premise and the deep passion and sensitivity with which it is depicted. Staccato cello, lilting violin, booming drums, gnarly guitar, from EIT musical students, dulcet choral music, from Hastings Girls’ High School’s Femmina Cappella, and breathtaking arias from the wonderful and renowned Mere Boynton lend gravitas and pathos to the work. The dancing too, Java’s company augmented by some students of our own dance giants, Sophie Follett and Champa Maciel, evokes a huge range from joy to despair to pain to heart melting tenderness. This is a piece that breaks down walls of class and convention to bring art and artistry right into the streets and to the people. It takes on the overarching kaupapa of this year’s festival, Tūtira Mai Nga Iwi, and proves that, in the words of Marshall McLuhan, there are no passengers on spaceship earth, only crew.

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