TNYC Press Release
SILENCE AND HIV TAKEN TO A NEW LEVEL BY THE OCEANIA PERFORMING ARTS GROUP, TUPOU HIGH SCHOOL CHOIR AND THE UNIVERSITY OF THE SOUTH PACIFIC TONGA CAMPUS
This year the international theme for the World Youth Day is Dialogue…Mutual Understanding. In Tonga at the Queen Salote Hall, the Oceania Performers together with Tupou High School’s choir and the University of the South Pacific Tonga Campus choir, led by dazzling solos beyond her years from Ane Finau, took the theme to a new level with a jaw dropping and an awe inspiring performance of ‘A Love for Life: Silence and HIV’. Though the performance is scheduled for 3 days, today on the 5th of August, 2010, was the first day of the production and they rocked the stage by inspiring many of the youth in Tonga. In the final rehearsal, last night Allan Alo saw the sea of tiring faces but he pointed out the significance of the show to the fight against HIV/AIDS and the teams were energized. One could already feel in the air the anticipation of waiting on the edge but above all the tiring nerves that are tensed progressing towards the next day when the performance would be placed on the stage.
The day dawned with the beautiful rays of the sun and the show outshined the golden rays. Local students were invited and the hall was packed with secondary students from all over Tonga but it was the message and how the message was conveyed to them that took the fight against HIV/AIDS to a level never before witnessed in Tonga. The silence was broken and themes addressed ranged from Domestic Violence to mythology, modernity, Christianity, gender issues, stigma and discrimination and HIV/AIDS. In every way possible the production by the Oceania Centre for Art, Culture and Pacific Studies, USP, portrayed the unlimited ways of human creativity but more importantly of the centrality of the performing arts in conveying essential messages to the youths.
This piece was first produced in 2009 for the Pacific Youth Festival which was held in Fiji. A love for life: Silence and HIV/AIDS was produced and directed by Allan Alo and poet Frances Koya. The music directors were Calvin Rore and Damiano Logaivau and it is a piece that should and would remain iconic in the life of Pacific Islanders. Poet Frances Koya reported that they were invited by the Prime Minister of Tonga Hon. Dr Feleti Sevele to be associated in the Kava Kuo Heka as part of the festivities for the King of Tonga’s birthday. However the performance goes far beyond the limits of festivities to embrace the theme set up for the International Youth Day. The show brought dialogue to life and proved that mutual understanding brings peace to everyone and anyone.
With heartfelt performance from Taomi Tapu-Qiliho as Mele a mother of two who has lived under an abusive and unfaithful husband for years the story unfolds with her liberation from misery. She not only finds the will to stand up for herself and leave her husband but also finds God in the process. Mele moves to another village with her teenage daughters, finds a man who genuinely loves her but also discovers that she is pregnant and has contracted the HIV virus. The characters, dancing performers and choir worked together to bring out a fusion of reaction and emotions with in the audience, for one minute a silence falls across the hall then another minute there is uproar of clapping and cheering. The story is not just a musical for characters portray talent in singing out their lines but the dancing itself is a masterpiece of illustrating emotions within the story.
Relationship between Mele and her eldest daughter ‘Ofa, who is spectacularly played by Mele Pelenato of Tupou High School, is the source of conflict which produces both irony and heightened drama within the story. ‘Ofa is a peer educator for HIV/AIDS and yet she is among the first to be ashamed of her mother and her hatred is centered upon Maika, marvelously performed by Michael Levaci, who is the man her mother has found a new spring of happiness with and whom ‘Ofa wrongfully blames for infecting her mother. The show concludes with Mele’s new born baby’s birth and though it may seem that Mele’s incurable infection is a realistic approach to death but the baby’s negative HIV status highlights the fact that life continues and that HIV does not limit one’s possibility to contribute to life.
It was an awesome performance that included Mele Maher as Nena, Tevita Hafoka as the Doctor and Fifita Selui as Moana, Mele’s youngest daughter who has a gift for sensing overwhelming events and understanding the magnitude of pain. Her visitations from the spirits of Oceania, executed to an elevation by the Oceania Performers, completes the cycle of life in the Pacific which is a mixture of mythology, cultural heritage and a flood of modernity. Though the production focuses an immense energy on God as the resolution for some of the most pressing problems that we face in the Pacific today, it does not overlook the ancient spiritual link that binds the past and the present of the Pacific.
Furthermore the essence of dialogue and mutual understanding in dealing with problems such as HIV/AIDS and even stigmatization and discrimination challenges stakeholders of the World Youth Day to step up their preparation. The teams from Oceania together with Tupou High School’s and the University of the South Pacific’s choir have paved the way for breaking the silence that continues to produce misunderstanding and misleading assumptions. In the words of Maire, “Moana is a depiction of us all, for life is not a straight road, one moment we are not scared and the next we are scared.” The performance of ‘A Love for Life: Silence and HIV’ in Tonga teaches its audience that breaking the silence which continues to hold people captive in ignorance and to stigma and discrimination can be achieved through many ways from dancing to singing and even plain conversations. The battle for HIV/AIDS is indeed promising when such innovation and enchanting creations are mobilized into the field. With the World Youth Day coming up there is anticipation that the energy of this day will be transferred into it.