The story of love between two cultures is not an unfamiliar one.
But ground-breaking a New Zealand theatre company blends traditional Fijian culture and the magic of theatre in a bold new way.
Masi is an extraordinary show that has captivated audiences in New Zealand and Fiji, where it was the first professional theatre show to tour there.
Now it’s in Australia for the first time.
It’s a dance of two cultures. He, a Fijian high chief from the island of Kadavu; she, the daughter of Cambridge school masters.
“It’s a piece that explores loss and memory,” Nina Nawalowalo said, the show’s artistic director and actor.
“[It’s] what represents [the] identity of who we are.”
Nawalowalo, who also appears in the play, tries to recreate her parents’ love story, based on their meeting at a chess club in Wellington in the 1950s.
The story is told without words, using the magic of theatre.
The magic, coming from Harry Potter special effects designer, British illusionist Paul Kieve, who worked on the production.
The show also includes traditional Fijian male dancing, continuing the cultural heritage of Nina’s father in a new, contemporary light.
“You know, when you are another generation and then you are not born in that country and how you connect back to something that is not so familiar,” Nawalowalo said.
“But it may be familiar in your house.”
The dancers enjoy the opportunity to share their culture in a new setting.
“We’ve never come this far with traditional dancing, I mean as far as stage show is concerned,” Master Lai said, lead choreographer for the show and Fiji’s Kabu ni Vanua Dance group.
“It’s always been done in a traditional context. But it’s a great pleasure to see it step up into theatre co-production and now it’s opened up a lot of windows and doors. So, the sky’s the limit.”
The play takes its name from the traditional cloth of the South Pacific Islands, the geometric patterns reflecting the convergence of personal lives, and narratives.
Professional masi maker Ro Miriama is from an outer village in Fiji and is now a story-teller on stage.
“I’m proud to be a masi maker,” Miriama said. “I think its a very good experience for me to show masi to the audience because this come from my village.”
“I believe that it’s a universal story because we all hold onto things when we lose people, objects, things that are close to us,” Nawalowalo said.
“And Masi is something that was in our house when we grew up, we got gifted. And so it was a natural doorway and something when I lost my Dad that connects me to Fiji.”
While her parents died without seeing the play, their story of cross-cultural love lives on, bringing new life and possibilities to Fijian culture and story-telling.