Mozart's Requiem in the form of contemporary dance choreographed by a Samoan chief may sound a little hard to swallow, but Lemi Ponifasio's entrancing interpretation throws a new light on the dark subject matter.
The piece, also called Requiem, was originally commissioned by Peter Sellars as part of the New Crowned Hope Festival in Vienna, which celebrates the 250th anniversary of Mozart's birth. Ponifasio has a refreshing perception of his connection to cultures of the past: "I am part of the tradition and I am alive, therefore tradition is not part of something that happened 500 years ago but it is something that happens right now."
His Samoan ancestry is brought to life in his creations; he electrifies contemporary dance forms with the dynamism of ancient ritual to bring the past into the present. An internationally acclaimed dancer and choreographer, his concept of what it is to be an artist challenges the European dimensions of the role. "In our world, the artist has responsibilities, he is a leader. I myself am a chief of my country, which is a strange concept for artists in the West. You are responsible for your people, your land, your environment, and also for your culture."
He highlights the significance of traditional Samoan culture in these intense performances, which tackle the shadowy history of colonial struggles in the Pacific region. For him, the past is the machinery to produce meaning in the present – this is no trinket of Samoan exoticism to be enjoyed by tourists of world culture.
"We have to negotiate with the modern life, not try and pocket the tradition and say it belongs here in this moment of history. Tradition is my umbilical chord, it is my anchor when I go fishing, so that I can go to many places."
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