ANNE GILDEA

The Irish Mail on Sunday - TV Week - - REAL LIFE - Anne.gildea@mailon­sun­day.ie

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

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