Lemi Ponifasio

Salā Lemi Ponifasio is a Samoan and New Zealand director, artist, dancer, designer and choreographer. In 1995 he founded MAU in Auckland, working with communities and artists from all over the world.

Early life

Ponifasio was born in Lano, Samoa.

He moved to New Zealand when he was 15 years old. While at high school in New Zealand he started to attend a series of workshops with the Maori Matua Tohunga master artist Irirangi Tiakiawa [1] in Rotoiti. Ponifasio was then invited by Maori performing arts leader Tama Huata to work with him as part of his Maori cultural group Takitimu Trust, performing in communities throughout New Zealand and in reservations in Canada.


Lemi Ponifasio began his artistic career as an avant-garde experimental performer, staging his epic ten-year solo dance investigation Body In Crisis, primarily in non-theatrical and outdoor spaces.

His brief encounter with modern dance, butoh and classical ballet in the 1980s made him skeptical about the notion of contemporary dance and launched his search for the origin of his own dance. He started to travel the world and danced continuously.[2]

He explored the life of the body through cosmic vision, genealogy, philosophy, architecture, chant, dance and ceremonies of indigenous communities, especially Maori, Kiribati, Kanaky people of New Caledonia, Samoa, Tonga, Tahiti and the diverse islands of the Pacific region.[3]

After a decade of traveling, living and performing in many countries, Ponifasio returned to New Zealand. Reading Maori rights activist Eva Rickard quote “only dead fish flow with the current”, he decided to call his first group performance work Fish Of The Day.[4]

Ponifasio formed MAU - the philosophical foundation and direction of his work, the name of his work, and the communities he works with. MAU is a Samoan word that means the declaration to the truth of a matter. With a group of young performers and friends, Ponifasio created Illumina as the first work of MAU performed at the Galaxy Theatre, Auckland, New Zealand 1992.

Ponifasio collaborates with people in all walks of life, working in schools, universities, in factories, villages, opera houses, castles, galleries, and stadiums. The work has included fully staged operas, theatre, dance, exhibitions, festivals and community forums.

At the forefront of the international art scene, Ponifasio performs and exhibits his work worldwide including the Festival d'Avignon, BAM Brooklyn Academy of Music New York, Ruhrtriennale, Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts New York, Edinburgh International Festival, Theater der Welt, Théâtre de la Ville Paris, Onassis Cultural Centre Athens, London’s Southbank Centre, Holland Festival, Carriageworks Sydney, Luminato Festival Toronto, Vienna Festival, Berliner Festspiele, Santiago a Mil Chile, the Venice Biennale and in the Pacific region.

In 2016, UNESCO invited Ponifasio to write the official message for International Dance Day.[5][6]

Lemi Ponifasio’s most recent works include Standing In Time (2017) a mauopera with MAU Wahine,[7] Die Gabe Der Kinder (2017) with children and community of Hamburg,[8] Lagimoana (2015) for the Venice Biennale 56th Visual Arts Exhibition;[9] Apocalypsis (2015) with music of R. Murray Schafer at the Luminato Festival, Toronto;[10] I AM: Mapuche (2015) and Ceremonia de Memorias (2016) [11] with MAU Mapuche[12] the indigenous people of Chile; and I AM (2014) for the 100th Anniversary of WW1, which premiered at the Avignon Festival [13] followed by seasons at such places as the Edinburgh International Festival [14] and the Ruhrtriennale, Germany.[15] His other creations include The Crimson House (2014) [16] probing the nature of power and a world that sees all and no longer forgets; Stones In Her Mouth (2013),[17] a mauopera with Maori women as transmitters of a life force through oratory and ancient chants; the opera Prometheus (2012) by Carl Orff for the Ruhrtriennale;[18] Le Savali: Berlin (2011) [19] confronting the imperial City of Berlin with its own communities of immigrant families in search of belonging and constrained by threat of deportation; Birds With Skymirrors (2010) [20] responding to the disappearing Pacific Islands, homelands to most of his performers and devastated by climate change; and Tempest: Without A Body (2008)[21] concerning power and terror and the unlawful use of state power post 9/11.

Selected Works

Year and place of world premieres by Lemi Ponifasio

  • 2017 Vanimonimo · Louvre Abu Dhabi, UAE
  • 2017 Die Gabe Der Kinder · Theater Der Welt Hamburg, Germany
  • 2017 Standing In Time mauopera · Festspielhaus St Pölten, Austria
  • 2016 Ceremonia De Memorias · Festival Santiago A Mil, Chile
  • 2016 Recompose · KunstFestSpiele Herrenhausen, Hannover, Germany
  • 2015 Apocalypsis (opera_R Murray Schafer) · Luminato Festival, Toronto, Canada
  • 2015 Lagimoana [22] · Venice Biennale 56th Visual Arts Exhibition, Italy
  • 2015 I AM Mapuche[23] · Festival Santiago A Mil, Chile
  • 2014 I AM · Festival d’Avignon, France
  • 2014 The Crimson House · New Zealand Festival, Wellington, New Zealand
  • 2013 Stones In Her Mouth mauopera · REDCAT Radar L.A. Festival, USA
  • 2012 Prometheus (opera_Carl Orff) · Ruhrtriennale, Duisburg, Germany
  • 2011 Le Savali: Berlin · Berliner Festspiele, Berlin, Germany
  • 2011 Le Savali Videoinstallation · Berliner Festspiele, Berlin, Germany
  • 2010 Birds With Skymirrors · Theater Der Welt, Essen, Germany
  • 2010 Tempest: Without a Body · Sydney Festival, Sydney Australia
  • 2008 Fale Aitu / Phantom House · Lift London International Festival of Theatre, UK
  • 2008 I AM Tuhoe · Te Rewarewa Marae, Ruatoki, New Zealand
  • 2008 Tempest II · KunstenfestivaldesArts, Brussels, Belgium
  • 2008 The Loss Of Civil Liberties · KVS Royal Flemish Theatre, Belgium
  • 2007 Woven Flesh : Oceania Exhibit · Prague Quadrennial, CZ
  • 2007 Tempest · Vienna Festival, Austria
  • 2007 Moana Roa · MAU FORUM, Auckland, New Zealand
  • 2006 Requiem[24] · New Crowned Hope, 250th Mozart Anniversary Vienna, Austria
  • 2006 Opus Dei · MAU FORUM, Auckland, New Zealand
  • 2006 Vasa · St Paul Street Gallery, Auckland, New Zealand
  • 2006–present Pacific Thought Symposium[25]
  • 2005–present MAUForum[26]
  • 2003 Paradise · Venice Theatre Biennale, Italy
  • 2003 Vasa : Oceania Exhibit · Prague Quadrennial, CZ
  • 2003 Threshold Wall : Heart Of PQ · Prague Quadrennial, CZ
  • 2003 Haka : Heart Of PQ · Prague Quadrennial, CZ
  • 2002 Bone Flute · Adelaide Festival, Australia
  • 2001 Land · Tjibaou Cultural Centre, New Caledonia
  • 2002 Bone Flute Ivi Ivi · Maidment Theatre, Auckland, New Zealand
  • 1999 Landing : New Zealand Exhibit · Prague Quadrennial, CZ
  • 1999 Rise · Winter Garden, Auckland, New Zealand
  • 1998 Ava · Maidment Theatre, Auckland, New Zealand
  • 1998 Light · WOMAD, Taranaki, New Zealand
  • 1997 Sacred Hill · Taupo Festival, Taupo, New Zealand
  • 1996 The Ancient Mother · MADD Gallery, Samoa
  • 1996 Lo’omatua · Maidment Theatre, Auckland, New Zealand
  • 1995 Illumina: Embracing The Darkness · Herald Theatre, Aotea Centre, Auckland New Zealand
  • 1992 Illumina · Galaxy Theatre, Auckland, New Zealand
  • 1991 Fish of the Day · Taki Rua Theatre, Wellington, New Zealand
  • 1987-1996 Solo Work - Body In Crisis · diverse countries


  1. Anzac Pikia (2 April 2013). "Tohunga haka Irirangi Tiakiawa of Te Arawa at the NZ Polynesian Festival 1981 powhiri" via YouTube.
  2. https://e-tangata.co.nz/news/lemi-ponifasio-i’m-on-the-stage/politics
  3. "International: Lemi Ponifasio – 'Dance shouldn't be like watching wrestling – it should have opinions' - Features - The Stage". 14 April 2016.
  4. "ATL: Unpublished Collections". tiaki.natlib.govt.nz.
  5. https://www.international-dance-day.org/lemiponifasio.html
  6. "Samoan NZer to deliver International Dance Day msg". 13 April 2016. Retrieved 17 July 2016.
  7. http://www.festival-avignon.com/en/shows/2017/standing-in-time Standing In Time
  8. http://www.theaterderwelt.de/de/artists/artist/artist-5047%20Die%20Gabe%20Der%20Kinder Die Gabe der Kinder
  9. "La Biennale di Venezia - Artists: Lemi Ponifasio". Labiennale.org. Retrieved 17 July 2016.
  10. "Apocalypsis - Luminato". Luminatofestival.com. 29 June 2015. Retrieved 17 July 2016.
  11. "MAU Mapuche busca que "aparezca un pueblo que ha sido oprimido, pero que aún existe y que tiene cosas que aportar al mundo" | Fundación Teatro a Mil". Fundacionteatroamil.cl. 20 June 2014. Retrieved 17 July 2016.
  12. "Lemi Ponifasio, director samoano y obra en Teatro a Mil: "Sin los mapuche no hay historia" - The Clinic Online". 21 January 2016.
  13. "Lemi Ponifasio - Festival d'Avignon". Festival-avignon.com. Retrieved 17 July 2016.
  14. "I AM | Edinburgh International Festival". Eif.co.uk. Retrieved 17 July 2016.
  15. "Lemi Ponifasio: I AM - Ruhrtriennale 2012-2014". Archiv.ruhrtriennale.de. 29 August 2014. Retrieved 17 July 2016.
  16. "The Crimson House .- Spectacles -. Théâtre de la Ville, Théâtre des Abbesses - Paris". Theatredelaville-paris.com. 6 April 2014. Retrieved 17 July 2016.
  17. "Stones in her mouth | KVS - Koninklijke Vlaamse Schouwburg". Kvs.be. Retrieved 17 July 2016.
  18. "Orff/Ponifasio: Prometheus - Ruhrtriennale 2012-2014". Archiv.ruhrtriennale.de. Retrieved 17 July 2016.
  19. "Berliner Festspiele: spielzeit'europa, Le Savali: Berlin". Archiv2.berlinerfestspiele.de. Retrieved 17 July 2016.
  20. "Birds With Skymirrors". BAM.org. Retrieved 17 July 2016.
  21. http://www.lefigaro.fr/culture/2010/01/29/03004-20100129ARTFIG00541-la-revelation-leni-pomifasio-.php
  22. BiennaleChannel (10 May 2015). "Biennale Arte 2015 - Lemi Ponifasio" via YouTube.
  23. undacionteatroamil.cl/noticia/i-am-mapuche-recibe-el-premio-al-mejor-montaje-internacional-2015/
  24. Woddis, Carole (2 October 2007). "My faith in theatre has been restored". the Guardian.
  25. "Pacific Thought Symposium". 24 February 2009.
  26. Festspiele, Berliner. "Berliner Festspiele: spielzeit'europa, MAUForum: THE EVENT OF THE SELF/OTHER". archiv2.berlinerfestspiele.de.
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