Lemi Ponifasio

Lemi Ponifasio’s Biography

Choreographer/Theatre Director
Arts Foundation Laureate 2011
Lemi Ponifasio, theatre artist, and founder and director of MAU. Produced internationally, Ponifasio’s epic productions provoke controversy and attention. His work has been called genius, powerful, frightening, beautiful and inspirational.

A pioneer in the development of contemporary Pacific theatre and dance, Lemi Ponifasio is known for his radical approach to the theatre; his ceremonial visual stagings intersect and transcend conventional ideas of theatre, dance and civic activism. Ponifasio presents his work at major theatres and festivals internationally including Theatre de la Ville Paris, Holland Festival, Southbank Centre London, the Venice Biennale, the Lincoln Center New York, Edinburgh International Festival and also throughout the Pacific Islands.

Globally, Ponifasio's epic productions such as Tempest: Without A Body, Le Savali, Birds With Skymirrors, "Requiem, Bone Flute and Paradise provoke controversy and attention. Requiem, commissioned for the 250th anniversary of Mozart in Vienna, is a work based on themes of transformation and tolerance. Tempest: Without A Body, which features the Maori activist Tame Iti, is a series of works responding to the escalation of state powers and unlawful detention in the post 9/11 world. Le Savali, commissioned for the City of Berlin, questions power and life in cities of empire, and Birds With Skymirrors is an urgent address to Human / Earth relations in time of climate change.

The Venice Biennale writes "An ancestral imagined world made of earth and air, fire and water, inhabited by gods and men, underlies the visionary creations of one of the leading New Zealand directors, Lemi Ponifasio, who draws from the native cultures of the Pacific to create, like a shaman, new symbols that also speak of our present. In his shows, ceremonies, performance culture, dance and contemporary theatre blend and demonstrate a strong connotation of civil commitment. Ponifasio's unique work is hard to define in conformity with the parameters of theatre and dance of the West. Seeing a work by the MAU Company means wondering at a crepuscular dimension in which the human being is vulnerable and in which the body becomes a receptacle of spirits, animals, creatures of dust, of a primitive instinctive energy. The works of Ponifasio have been defined "hypnotic, strongly scenographic, characterised by the strength of the images, with a powerful relationship between darkness, light and movement". The originality of his language, which refers back to the ancestral value of dance, shunning folklore cliches, fashion and pop culture, ensure he is one of the world's leading contemporary artists in the genre."

Lemi Ponifasio is based in Auckland with his company MAU. The MAU work place is a cultural and creative centre hosting lectures, workshops, symposia and celebrations in collaboration with international and local communities. Lemi Ponifasio is a High Chief of Samoa, he holds the title Sala.

Lemi Ponifasio received an Arts Foundation Laureate Award in 2011. In 2012 Lemi was named senior Pacific artist at the annual Arts Pacifika Awards.