EIF 2014: I AM, Edinburgh Playhouse, Review

Rating (out of 5)
Show info
Lemi Ponifasio/MAU
Lemi Ponifasio (choreography, design, direction), Helen Todd (sound), Lemi Ponifasio and Marc Chesterman (sound composition), Ria Te Uira Paki (Moteatea), Kasia Pol (costumes)
Arikitau Tentau, Bainrebu Tonganibeia, Charles Koroneho, Gabriel Castillo, Halim Rahmouni, Helmi Prasetyo, Ioane Papali'i, Kasina Campbell, Maereke Teteka, Mere Boynton, Muagututia Fu'a, Nina Arsenault, Peter Saena-Brown, Rangipo Wallace-Ihakara, Ria Te Uira Paki, Rosie TeRauawhea Belvie, Teataki Tamango, Susane Lei'ataua
Running time

I AM is a challenging piece that is more to be endured than enjoyed, but if you push on through, you may emerge the stronger for it.

Samoan choreographer, Lemi Ponifasio, describes himself as ‘a person who disturbs the peace’ and created I AM to force an uncomfortable confrontation with what it means to be human in 2014, as we mark the centenary of World War 1. The vision he offers is agonising.

Everything was in monochrome, from the set to the performers’ costumes. There was little action or movement, just a series of processions as the dancers moved slowly across the stage, one behind the other, at times bent double pushing black boxes, sometimes standing upright. The atmosphere and drama was created by the disconcerting lighting, the painful and relentless sounds and noise and the searing tableaux, that together rendered this performance an excruciating experience.

Seemingly endless, repetitive sequences, enacted without expression, left an enduring impression of robotic rituals stretching out to infinity – like the walking dead. During one of the most shocking of these cycles, a skeletal, bald, woman, dressed in a pale, diaphanous shroud, sat motionless on a black chair. She was holding a rifle and had had a red rose stuffed into her mouth. The other 16 or so performers stood in line across the stage behind her. All were head to toe in black and each was carrying a white rose. One by one they walked slowly and ceremoniously toward her, spat crimson blood on her head so that it dripped down over her body, threw the white rose onto her knee and then turned away to walk slowly back into line.

Watching this play out made you long for just one of them to do something different, for something different to happen. Ponifasio believes that art can help transform human beings and I AM appears to be a call to arms – or a call to stop the taking up of arms against our own humanity.

Ponifasio is quoted in the programme as saying, ‘I know what the experience will be like for the audience: some of them will walk out’ – and he was right. During the final 50 minutes, the processions on stage were mirrored by those in the audience as, one by one, a number of people left the theatre. This performance did not offer any sugar to help this unpleasant medicine go down: but you’re not supposed to enjoy medicine, you endure it because it just may help you get better.

Ran 16th and 17th August