Although it may be clear that the heaviness when entering the MacMillan Theatre is partly due to the overtly large size of the venue, the audience will leave with more than just this, after having been exposed to MAU Company’s exhilarating production of Stones In Her Mouth, presented as part of Toronto’s Luminato Festival.. Renowned choreographer Lemi Ponifasio gives insight into the deterioration and turmoil of the Maori women’s struggle against the torment of nature. Throughout the evening, Ponifasio’s vision is brought to life not only by electrifying performances, but with Margareta Andersen’s clever lighting scheme, in collaboration with Sam Hamilton’s sound design, which turns the theatre into a soundscape of pain and terror.
The production itself offers minimal to no set pieces, aside from the apparent line of white light that emits from the back wall of the stage, the stage deck, and a white platform at the front that moves all the way across from stage left to stage right, looking like a walkway. What was particularly interesting was the way in which they used these lights in conjunction with the performance. Throughout the performance, a young angry Maori woman would be displayed yelling a poem of rage as the light beam from below her shone on her face, turning her rage into a death-like glare.
In conjunction with the lights, shadows were used on the back wall of the stage in order to further display a sense of individuality among the Maori women. As the movement throughout the show progressed, fluidity would be emphasized and the manipulation of light aided in reflecting the fluid motion of the dancers on the wall behind them. In terms of the performances, it is almost necessary to note that all of the dialogue, songs, and prose, were, in fact, written by the performers themselves. The performers, having complimented the already fierce lighting scheme, displayed a fascinating blend of dance, speech, and song. This allowed for a visceral experience and a verbal assault on the senses.
In my opinion, one of the most heart striking moments of the performance was the sound. Sam Hamilton, having collaborated with Ponifasio on the sound, created a truly terrifying soundscape to accompany the distraught nature of the women. This moment seemed to strike hardest towards the middle of the performance when a woman, lying in the nude on the front platform got up and began contorting her body as sound effects bellowed out in the theatre, making the audience cringe.
All in all, MAU Company’s production of Stones In Her Mouth expressed a point of view that could only be realized once left to incubate in the mind, but nonetheless created an extremely visceral piece of contemporary theatre that will not be forgotten.