[Paying Tribute to our Foremothers]
My Kuia invites us into the space of a Māori tangihanga/funeral ceremony, where tributes and laments are made by performers Alesha Ahdar (also the curator/ director of the show), Jonathan Morgan, Jacob Tamata and Levi Waitere. Through a series of heart-felt monologues and a passionate dance performance, the cast pay tribute and reflect on their experiences with their grandmothers as members of the LGBTQIA+ community.
As I enter theatre space I am given a white wreath of flowers to be placed in an open box. There is a beautiful woven bust of a Māori woman above this box, signalling the deceased grandmother. The performers look to be in mourning, and a long lament of stirring music played by Samara Alofa follows.
The first tribute is made by Morgan, who recounts his memories of the moment he found out his Nan passed away, his childhood memories with her in Gisborne, and the exact moment when he decided to come out to his family and bravely state: ‘I’m gay’. Clutching the green stone necklace his Nan gave him, he tells the audience that the thought of his Nan gave him the courage to come out to his family. He ends his tribute to her with a song.
The next tribute is performed by Tamata, who expresses his feelings through dance and movement. With passionate, strong and elegant sweeping moves that convey reverence, respect and awe, I am inspired by the juxtaposition of strength and elegance in Tamata’s performance. This is the most poetic moment of the show for me.
Waitere, dressed in drag in a fabulous pink wig and matching floral hair garland, shares the support and inspiration his Nan gave him despite his family’s disapproval of his sexuality. Although he is recounting his personal experience, I found that I could relate to his feelings of being an outsider: ‘I always let other people do them. But I wasn’t allowed to be me’.
The final monologue is performed by Ahdar, who makes the moment seem ‘very real’ when she reads a heart-felt poem she wrote from a piece of paper. Ahdar expresses her loss of not knowing what her Nan really thought about her sexuality, or whether she even accepted that part about her. She ends her monologue by addressing the audience on how My Kuia came about. Finally, the audience are welcomed to take the floor and to share their own experiences with their grandmothers. It was a rather special moment on opening night when Waitere’s grandmother, who was seated in the front row, decided to take the stage and to share her support and feelings.
My Kuia is an intimate show in which the performers share with us their feelings and struggles relating to their sexuality, and the support and inspiration that their Nans have given them. My only qualm is that I wished that there was more use of the dramatic devices that is known to theatre, in whichever form that may be. This includes the use of set: turning the theatre space into a wharenui needs a bit more work and refinement.
Honest, real and raw, My Kuia leaves me thinking about my own grandmothers, the strong inspirational figures that they are, and the stories that they have left behind for subsequent generations to tell.
My Kuia is produced by Breaking Boundaries and plays at Basement Theatre until March 30.