Without doubt this was one of the best performances I have ever seen. The Contours of Heaven is a one woman tour-de-force performed by Ana Chaya Scotney and produced by Zanetti Productions. Originally created for the 2017 Harcourt’s Hawke’s Bay Arts Festival, it went on to win Best Theatre and Best Performance in the Auckland Fringe Festival, and is now on at The Basement until June 30. I would urge anyone to go and see it.
Scotney and Puti Lancaster have created a show with a depth of soul and desire for belonging that is hauntingly and beautifully true to life; the show combines verbatim theatre, waiata and movement to tell the stories of six young rangatahi from Te Matau a Māui, Hawke’s Bay. All six characters are performed by Ana in a truly virtuoso delivery. It’s hard to describe a performance that goes so far beyond language in its communicative scope, physical fluency and energetic power, but through each of these six characters, Ana creates waves of love, loss, hope and fear that will sit with audiences for a long time after seeing them.
Through her exquisite movement and connection to breath and voice, these waves emanate palpably through The Basement’s theatre space. The atmosphere was electric. I have rarely been so captivated by an actor – Ana’s performance is a masterclass in so many things: how to be interesting, how to connect with an audience, how to hold both the immediate space for the audience and the internal space of multiple characters. She is original, freely and joyfully committed to her work, and utterly compelling as each dramatically contrasting voice. I could wax lyrical ad infinitum but words just won’t do it justice. For me, The Contours of Heaven was flawless, and the opportunity to write about it and encourage you to go and see it is a huge privilege.
The kaupapa of the show is to enable audiences to ‘sit alongside our rangatahi and hear their voices’, explains Puti in the whakamārama (an enlightening process) that follows the performance. Audiences are invited to stay for a relaxed discussion if they wish. It feels important to mention that anyone who wanted to leave could well have done, but on opening night the entire room stayed transfixed. The ensuing responses from audience members sang with individually felt nuances, but a resounding experience of having been ‘inspired’ and ‘blown away’ echoed through all contributions.
Despite its seemingly straightforward kaupapa, there is a power to this show that, as one viewer described, is ‘confronting’ and urgently pertinent in its representation of those we don’t routinely see on stage. These are voices that contain so much, are so very different from one another, but have in common their expression of difficulties surrounding being a young person that we need to not look away from – precisely because of, and not despite, their complexity. The show asks what it takes to determine who you could be, and throws into a maelstrom of physicality and sound what it can feel like to be in turmoil; to feel emergent and as yet unformed; to be excited; to be overwhelmed; to be searching for a means of interpreting the world when the given means feel insufficient.
Overall, the show calls for a strengthening of tūrangawaewae, the platform of wairua and knowledge, aroha and discipline, all of which help to build a sense of belonging. The Contours of Heaven reminds us that the future of our rangatahi, our youth and future belongs to everyone, and for that reason, everyone should go and see it.
The Contours of Heaven is presented by Zanetti Productions and plays at The Basement until 30 June.