A show which debuted in Raglan four years ago and went on to tour the North Island to critical acclaim is now set to go global with a performance next month at London’s curtainraiser for the Olympic Games — the only New Zealand show to feature among 92 acts from around the world.
Creative producer Bronwen Christianos — who lived and breathed Green Fire Islands in Raglan while putting together the collaborative story of two cultures, Maori and Irish — is working “ridiculous hours” to finalise the organisational details for the tour by the 34-strong troupe, which appears first in Dublin’s Helix Theatre before hitting the stage in Greenwich, London, two days later.
The Kiwi contingent, she says, makes up about half the troupe’s numbers and includes Raglan kaumatua Sean Ellison who has advised on tikanga Maori and also on a spiritual level since the show’s inception several years ago.
Sean describes Bronwen’s work in getting Green Fire Islands off the ground — first in New Zealand and now on the world stage — as a “brave vision”. His part and that of revered Rotorua kaumatua Joe Malcolm, who’s also accompanying the troupe overseas, is to ensure the show holds onto its cultural integrity.
Joe will also be leading the kapa haka element of Green Fire Islands.
A special Irish welcome awaits the Kiwi half of the troupe soon after their arrival in Dublin in a month. It offsets the Maori welcome for the Irish contingent on their arrival here early in 2008 before the dress rehearsal in Raglan Town Hall which kickstarted a North Island tour to Wellington, New Plymouth and Auckland.
Sean sees the welcome as an integral part of Green Fire Islands’ journey as it’s launched into its new production overseas. “It can’t go to the world stage before placing itself in Ireland and the two (cultures) stand as equals,” he insists.
Bronwen was excited to learn, after the invitation to perform in the River of Music Festival along the Thames as part of the Cultural Olympiad, that the show occupies the Oceania Stage — “one of the best (venues)” — for the weekend and plays early on the Sunday evening.
“I couldn’t have hoped for anything better,” she says. The festival is staged the weekend before the Games begin, in the grounds of the Royal Naval College which can take a capacity audience of 10,000.
Funding permitting the show is also set to play in Vienna, Austria, soon after London’s pre-Olympic event.
Meanwhile the group of leading Celtic and Maori musicians, reuniting for the first time in four years, get a week in Ireland to fine-tune the show at rehearsals in the renowned Tyrone Guthrie Centre — an artists’ retreat — in Annamakerrig.
Celebrated NZ cinematographer Alun Bollinger, who has worked with just about every significant Kiwi director including Peter Jackson, will for the second time film the event from the rehearsal perspective for the production of a feature-length documentary for the big screen.
It will be interesting, he says, to see the contrast between what was recorded during rehearsals in Raglan in 2008 — shown in the town hall 18 months later — and what will occur now at rehearsals in Annamakerrig in Ireland.
To witness the “uncorking” of so much creative energy, he adds, is a phenomenon.
“Given the established interest in Irish music and culture and the growing curiosity in tikanga Maori, I believe we have here an opportunity to capture an experience which will resonate with audiences worldwide.”
Crowd funding — a way to raise money via financial pledges — has been introduced online in the hope it will go viral and help with the filming of the “exciting adventure Green fire Islands is about to embark upon”, say Bronwen and the team behind her.
They are grateful for generous funding from Creative New Zealand, and additional New Zealand supporters include the Gallaghers charitable arm and The Tindall Foundation, while Culture Ireland is supporting the venture from the other side of the globe.
Bronwen is currently based in Auckland but regards herself still as a Raglan resident. And the entire project works through the Raglan-based Whiti Te Ra Hou Trust which was set up even before the first production got off the ground, encouraging positive and creative ways to raise self-esteem and improve mental health in New Zealand.
Watch the Greenfire Islands Trailer here: