Birds with Skymirrors is an adventurous, uncompromising show by Samoan choreographer Lemi Ponifasio. it challenges our concept of dance, for there is no dancing prowess - the dancers when they do move, do so at an exaggerated, ponderous pace and apart from continuous haunting, indigenous sounding music, from the very beginning a sense of stillness pervades the stage.
In our busy, technological lives, Birds with Skymirrors induces a sense of calm, persuading the audience to meditate on Ponifasio's question: "What is our human role on earth?"
This is something he has contemplated for some time growing up in the tiny island of Samoa in the Pacific Ocean he naturally became aware of the beauty of nature and over time began to witness the destruction and disruption caused to animal life by human waste. All his productions have a sociological and spiritual content, and all deal with our relationship to the Earth. And the dancers in the MAU troupe, named after the Samoan independence movement, all have this abiding philosophy.
The stillness in the production is mesmerising. The performance begins with a spotlight on a lone female figure standing outside the safety curtain. Singing a Samoan song, she walks slowly down the steps and begins to move up an aisle in the stalls. The light goes out, the curtain rises and we are presented with a bleak, black stage on which a male figure in standing still.
A female figure enters, clad only in pants and starts to move, although becoming aware of her body. Gradually, over time, other figures emerge and in slow motion they synchronize their bodies in perfect harmony, emphasising the meditative atmosphere of the stage. At points in the production, lights are shone on the black plastic at the back of the stage creating a wonderful mirror effect of the dancers movements.
We then see repetitive footage of a pelican with plastic tape in its mouth, an incident Ponifasio observed, and which was the inspiration for the show.
Birds with Skymirrors is a most unusual dance production and although at the time, the performance at an hour and thirty five minutes seemed too long, in retrospect it did achieve its objective as much of the haunting imagery presented to us on stage endures.
Birds With Skymirrors was at the Edinburgh International Festival on 17 & 18 August 2010.