Auckland Arts Festival: Close Encounters: PAH - review

by Frances Morton / 11 March, 2015
“A horse, a pair of trousers and two pairs of boots.” That was the price tag of the gently sloping expanse of land William Hart purchased from Ngati Whatua in 1844 to build a farm atop a former pah. The Hillsborough property has since been a nunnery, orphanage, boarding school, emergency housing for homeless families and an art gallery.

In our property-obsessed city it’s apt that Close Encounters: PAH gives hard facts on the sale. The rest of its varied history is told in fragments and impressions through dance and music as you wind through and around the grand homestead. At times hard to grasp, at others thrumming with the energy of the past, it’s a charmingly ambitious local production on the festival programme.

Close Encounters: PAH is a site-specific work. It couldn’t happen anywhere else than right in that house, on that hill. The intimacy and immediacy of the setting evokes a strong sense of history that accompanies the audience on their hushed procession through the hour-long show. It begins leisurely with a glass of sweet lemonade on the lawn outside, handed to you by a young woman in a laced calico gown referencing the novice Sisters of Mercy who once lived there. These welcoming nuns serve as guides, leading the audience to their next close encounter.

At the house’s entrance we meet dancers Zahra Killeen-Chance, Kelly Nash, Emilia Rubio and Nancy Wijohn dressed in hoodies and floaty floral dresses – a mashup of the orphans arriving in the 40s and the families seeking refuge in the 80s. Each dancer has their distinct look and physicality that suggests the array of people who have stepped through these doors over the years. The dancers stomp and kick up their heavy boots in a chirpy urban folk dance played by Luca Manghi on flute, Andrew Uren on bass clarinet and Katherine Hebley on cello.

Composer Gillian Whitehead’s music is a standout feature of this production. It is both haunting and sprightly – a link between dance and art, past and present. Whitehead likes to have her music played beyond the constraints of the concert hall and there’s real pleasure in hearing the notes drift down the staircase or waft off the balcony. But there’s discomfort too. Sightlines are blocked, you have to stand for periods and as the sun goes down, a chill descends.

A brief break between the roving dances gives the audience a chance to wander through the gallery inspecting two exhibitions – a large show of paintings by Pakiri artist Star Gossage and a smaller exhibition of especially commissioned photographs by Solomon Mortimer. Gossage’s works of ethereal figures floating in dreamy colourscapes are a good thematic fit with the dance and music.

Mortimer’s photographs have a more satisfyingly direct relationship with the history of Pah Homestead. The arresting black and white portraits are of families affected by today’s housing crisis who have been helped by the Monte Cecelia Housing Trust, an organisation founded at Pah Homestead in 1982 and now based in Mangere. It’s a reminder that although now a stately art gallery the hardships that troubled these walls are still very much in the present.

Close Encounters: PAH, Pah Homestead, until March 15. aucklandfestival.co.nz

Latest

James Shaw: Capital gains tax key to fixing wealth gap
102456 2019-02-15 14:54:45Z Politics

James Shaw: Capital gains tax key to fixing wealth…

by RNZ

The week before a major tax report is released, Green Party co-leader James Shaw has again challenged his government partners to back the tax.

Read more
Jealousy, murder and lies: The killing of Arishma Chand
102448 2019-02-15 10:28:12Z Crime

Jealousy, murder and lies: The killing of Arishma…

by Anneke Smith

Arishma Chand was just 24 when she was murdered.

Read more
Top wine picks from Central Otago
102233 2019-02-15 00:00:00Z Wine

Top wine picks from Central Otago

by Michael Cooper

Tucked into small corners, Central Otago vineyards offer nuggets worth digging for. Wine critic Michael Coopers offers his top picks.

Read more
Ivanka and her tower of crumbs
102404 2019-02-14 10:33:12Z Arts

Ivanka and her tower of crumbs

by Preminda Jacob

For two hours each evening, an Ivanka Trump lookalike has been vacuuming a hot pink carpet at the Flashpoint Gallery in Washington, D.C.

Read more
Youth mental health is in crisis and NZ is failing to keep up
102393 2019-02-14 09:52:16Z Social issues

Youth mental health is in crisis and NZ is failing…

by The Listener

The introduction of a free youth mental-health pilot for Porirua, and later the wider region, is welcome news, but it's far too little, far too late.

Read more
Guyon Espiner: Year of delivery begins in defensive crouch
102387 2019-02-14 09:21:07Z Politics

Guyon Espiner: Year of delivery begins in defensiv…

by Guyon Espiner

For a government promising 'a year of delivery' it has begun in something of a defensive crouch.

Read more
American futurist Michio Kaku's predictions for life on Planet Earth
102217 2019-02-14 00:00:00Z World

American futurist Michio Kaku's predictions for li…

by Russell Brown

Civilisation on Mars, movies with feelings, digitised human thought & recorded memories are just some of the changes we can expect, according to Kaku.

Read more
The fatal attraction of new Netflix series Russian Doll
102349 2019-02-14 00:00:00Z Television

The fatal attraction of new Netflix series Russian…

by Diana Wichtel

Netflix dramedy Russian Doll is confounding, random and annoying, but stick with it.

Read more