Nunns calls them ‘cellphones to the gods’. He is now 65 and has advanced Parkinson’s, yet he still travelled to Ireland last month to rehearse for their huge gigs — but I’m getting ahead of myself…
Finally, in 2008, through funding from Creative New Zealand (their Arts Council equivalent), various charity and private funds, and Bronwen’s own resources, they came together as a stage show called Green Fire Islands. The very first gig, with Lunny acting as musical director, was in the local town hall in Raglan, a North Island ‘surf village’. They went on to play five major gigs around New
‘The Irish Trad-Maori act played five major NZ gigs, and the audience response was overwhelming. Then: the Recession’
Zealand and the audience response was so overwhelming, Bronwen felt quietly excited that all her years of obsession would come to fruition. The level of international producers such a big show required would be soon lining up. But they weren’t.
‘Why?’ I asked. One word: ‘Recession.’ But she kept chipping away, and through the help of an Irish businesswoman living in Raglan — Cheryl Reynolds, originally from Cork — she secured a booking at the Cultural Olympiad in London prior to the Olympics. After much fundraising, including Bronwen remortgaging her house, they finally arrived in Ireland (Sean Ellison, a Raglan kaumatua, believed the show had to be grounded in its other source, Ireland, before it could evolve). They spent a week here in Annaghmakerrig: a 34strong team including Irish and Maori performers, technical personnel, the now 80-year-old Malcolm, and Ellison, as guides and protectors of the show’s cultural integrity, plus a film crew led by renowned Kiwi cinematographer Alun Bollinger, who had spent four years following the project for a featurelength documentary. Musical director this time round is Steve Cooney, and the cast were joined by Seosamh Ó Neachtain, doing sean nós dancing, in a piece where he improvises with Maori performer Moko Ratana dancing a traditional kapa haka. ( The ritual that the New Zealand All Blacks perform before matches is a ‘super-aggressive’ form of this type of dance, Bronwen explains.)
They performed in Dublin’s Helix in late July ‘and got two standing ovations’, she says, delighted. The reception in London was similarly heartening. Bronwen was back here in the Tyrone Guthrie Centre writing a final report about the whole project. ‘Where to from here?’ I asked. First off, she has lost her house. It has to be sold off to cover the show’s debt this time. But she remains convinced it will fly. She and Alun have hopes that the documentary will prove to be a Maori-Irish version of the Cuban phenomenon that was the Buena Vista Social Club. Before the Helix gig, Iarla Ó Lionáird told RTÉ, ‘There is a lot we could learn from the Maori… They have a very beautiful way of reflecting on the past and bringing it into the now in the ritualised sense. These days, we could learn from that, because we seem to have lost our way a bit.’
Perhaps that is key to the emotional response the show evokes. Bronwen is also full of praise for Rodney Walshe, Honorary Irish Consul in New Zealand, and for Culture Ireland, for their support. I’m writing this to say, ‘Go n- éirí an bóthar leat, Bronwen’. What an inspiring project, and woman. Visit greenfireislands.com