REVIEW: Meremere (Tour-Makers)

Review by Cynthia Lam

[This Beautiful Thing]

Kicking off in Auckland and touring New Zealand for the third time since its inception in 2016, Meremere is an autobiographical multimedia dance work showcasing the inspirational life journey of Rodney Bell. Directed by Malia Johnston and created and performed as a solo by Bell himself, the audience follow his journey from leaving Aotearoa after the death of his father, to becoming the principal dancer for AXIS Dance Company in the United States, to surviving the streets of San Francisco following a period of homelessness, before his eventual return back home after a decade away. As he begins to carve a meremere from black maire for his cousin’s 40th, Bell takes on a reflective and meditative tone as he recounts his story.

The mixture of Bell’s charisma together with his emotive and powerful dancing and storytelling all work together with the music (composer Eden Mulholland, performer Jol Mulholland), audio-visuals (designer Rowan Pierce), lighting (Ruby Reihana-Wilson) and set (John Verryt) to create a compelling aesthetic that aids the work. The set is framed by beige walls that remind me of a paper mache texture in which light, shadows and images are projected. Light beams creating travelling geometric shapes work together with thunderous beats to create startling effects. Another arresting image is when after a beautiful dance performance, neon red grid lines that turn out to be a map of the San Francisco area is projected onto Bell’s shoulder blades –– they look like wings.

Themes of dancing, disability, homelessness and survival are interwoven throughout. A photo of the homeless shelter in which he vied for the 90-day bed is shown; as Bell tells us that in order to survive on the streets, he invented an act called ‘Para-Dice’ –– a combination of ‘paraplegic’ and ‘dice of life’ –– where he would perform dance acts for tourists depending on the number the die fell on. Bell invites an audience member onto the stage to roll the die for him. 

One of the highlights of Meremere is when Bell holds a large white scrapbook, in which images and videos of him performing amazing dance feats whilst being hoisted twenty-feet in the air are projected. Here he is dancing a duet with Brydie Colquhoun; after a while, she is invited onto the stage and we get to witness a powerful and graceful live duet between them. 

As Bell reflects on his amazing career as dancer and his journey coming home, there is a redemptive and almost nostalgic feeling to his inspiring life story. I can’t help but think that this solo autobiographical work is not the ‘summary’ of his life’s work, it is in fact, just the beginning of something new and beautiful.

Meremere is an autobiographical dance work created and performed by Rodney Bell and presented by Tour-Makers, Dunedin Arts Festival and Festival of Colour in Partnership with Movement of the Human. It is touring Aotearoa 10th April – 15th May, 2021. 

 

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