Having had the chance to shoot Lemi Ponifasio’s new production, “Stones in Her Mouth”, and interview the man himself on June 12, it became clear why the artist is such a hot commodity at this year’s Luminato Festival: his work is daring and different, but also speaks to relevant societal occurrences. “Stones in Her Mouth” features 10 Maori women who represent the silence faced by women in a male-dominated world, with singing, dancing, orating and chanting (in Maori). It’s a powerful experience from a powerful artist, and debuts tonight at the MacMillan Theatre.
Trying to categorize “Stones in Her Mouth” is a natural reaction of people, but the production doesn’t lend itself easily to typecasting. But when asked how he feels about dance, theatre and performing arts in general contribute to the messages he’s trying to get across, Ponifasio is quick to clarify. “I’m not so interested in theatre or performing arts,” he said, “because there’s a lack of seriousness and direct engagement with real time, real people. And so, I don’t think about theatre at all; I just make things I — that allows me to have a sense of being part of everything.”
He also has simply-expressed hopes of what he wants audiences to take away from “Stones in Her Mouth”. “With every performance, I think you want people to hold themselves,” he said, wrapping his arms around himself to physically demonstrate his point, “and think [about] their existence and be quiet.” Ponifasio seems to indicate that traditional forms of recognition, like standing ovations or rush lines for tickets, don’t matter to him nearly as much as being able to talk to communicate to others one-on-one do. When asked what the best part of putting on “Stones in Her Mouth” was, Ponifasio replied: “I can talk to you. That’s the point: I didn’t come all the way to Canada to have a —” gestures to his bottle of water. “I come to talk to people.”
While being able to share his production with others is clearly the reason that keeps him going, where does he actually find his ideas to continue this relationship? “The idea [for ‘Stones in Her Mouth’] — just watching the women in the company, and [I] thought that what happens to these young, beautiful women: when do they become invisible?”
From the bit of the performance I saw, it’s a gorgeous production that marries aesthetic with a powerful social statement, and Torontonians would be well served to check out Ponifasio’s work. His work is strong, bold, avante garde and eye-popping, and it really has shown to be one of the highlights of Luminato so far.
For more information on Lemi Ponifasio’s “Stones in Her Mouth”, which runs from June 12 to June 14 at the MacMillan Theatre, visit the Luminato website.