Program Type: 
Lemi Ponifasio / MAU

Tempest: Without A Body

April 07, 2011 - April 09, 2011
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theater


Bay Area Premiere

'The arrival of Lemi Ponifasio on the contemporary dance scene has been nothing short of an earthquake.'— Vogue Italia, August 2010

'The City of Paris now opens its stage to something new, powerful and fascinating.' 'An extremely powerful piece of work, of black and disquieting beauty.’ — Le Nouvel Observateur, 2nd February 2010

One of the most distinctive choreographers in the world today, Lemi Ponifasio is a fearless creative force whose work provokes attention and debate wherever it is experienced. His work is an extraordinary visceral kaleidoscope of ideas and influences that touches on the tensions and politics of race, tradition, mythology, urban consumerism and environmental awareness. Part dance, part theatre, part ceremony, Tempest is a powerful, visually ravishing and apocalyptic response to the sinister escalation of post-9/11 state powers and the erosion of individual freedoms. Infused with the potent shadows of Paul Klee’s Angelus Novus, Tempest interweaves the story of Shakespeare's Tempest with the ideas of Italian political philosopher Giorgio Agamben. The resulting work questions how readily contemporary society accepts practices that have been previously considered inhuman and exceptional.
(Running time: 90 minutes without intermission)


'A Paul Klee painting named Angelus Novus shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating. His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe that keeps piling ruin upon ruin and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. The storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress.'
— Walter Benjamin, Ninth Thesis on the Philosophy of History Through the Eyes of Paul Klee's Angelus Novus and Giorgio Agamben's Sacred Man

Back To Top


  • A Conversation with Peter Sellars and Lemi Ponifasio
    Apr 7, 2011 6:15pm
    YBCA Forum
    FREE w/ RSVP

    In conjunction with YBCA's presentation of Tempest: Without a Body, visionary opera, theater and festival director Peter Sellars makes a rare appearance in San Francisco to discuss art and activism with choreographer Lemi Ponifasio. Noted for his groundbreaking staging of classical and contemporary operas, including the recent production of John Adams' Nixon in China for New York Metropolitan Opera, Sellars is a strong advocate for artists whose work illuminates contemporary social and political issues. A former MacArthur Fellow and member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, he is currently a professor in the Department of World Arts and Cultures at UCLA and Resident Curator of the Telluride Film Festival.
    RSVP NOW »

  • Lemi Ponifasio/MAU: Tempest: Without A Body
    Apr 7, 2011 7:00pm
    Apr 8, 2011 7:00pm
    Apr 9, 2011 7:00pm
    Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theater

    *April 7 show begins at 8:15 pm

  • Lemi Ponifasio/MAU: Post-show Q&A with the artists
    Apr 8, 2011 7:00pm
    Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theater
    FREE with Performance
Back To Top

Curator Statement

Summer 2008, I traveled to NYC to Lincoln Center to see the work of choreographer Lemi Ponifasio for the first time. The piece was called Requiem and was commissioned by artistic director Peter Sellars for the New Crowned Hope Festival in Vienna. I had a profound, emotional experience in that theater experiencing the work of MAU that is difficult for me to articulate. A heightened state of awareness, a confluence of ceremony, potent imagery — it was an immersive journey through a realm of mythology and ritual that I didn’t fully understand, but had a deep visceral impact on me.

The artists' commitment to exploring truth, and creating space for beauty and hope, was a revitalizing force for the work I do as a performing arts curator. I've been ruminating on these words from MAU: 'As the human species, how do we confront and transform our being? How do we create the condition to make emerge the birth of beauty and truth? How do we stand up with courage to invite it, acknowledge it, celebrate it, love it or forgive it? How do we make emerge beauty that does not lie and truth that is kind?'

When talking with Lemi Ponifasio about which piece to bring to San Francisco, to serve as an introduction to MAU, we decided upon the work Tempest: Without a Body — a work that reflects the company’s fierce commitment to examining social, political, historic issues and realities. The company name, MAU, is the Samoan word meaning both 'vision' and 'revolution' and was the name of the Samoan independence movement of the early 20th century that practiced sustained non–violent resistance to German and New Zealand colonial rule. Tempest: Without a Body premiered in 2007 reflecting post–9/11 realities and controversies around the rise of state power and erosion of individual freedoms.

What does it mean to present Tempest, now? The themes of freedom, human rights, identity and state power that run through this work carry a potent resonance in this particular moment in time, with recent uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa. We are also presenting Tempest without one of the original participants, activist Tāme Iti, who has made a decision not to enter the United States as a stance against US military involvement in Libya. As Lemi reassures me when I express concerns, these actions, these changes to the work, are the work, and are reminder of how artistic practice, truth and reality are inextricably entwined in the work of MAU.

Join in me in welcoming this extraordinary company. Thank you for being here.

—Angela Mattox, Performing Arts Curator, YBCA
Back To Top

Artist Bio

Choreographer and director Lemi Ponifasio established the MAU in 1995, as a platform for critical reflection and creativity with artists, scholars, intellectuals and community leaders; MAU as a community action.

Through MAU, he weaves diverse Oceanic cultures, exploring complex forms of knowledge such as navigation, architecture, rituals, philosophies and genealogies as a driving force in emphasizing local-orientated arts, thought and narratives that have been silenced or excluded.

Without ingratiation to Western aesthetics or South Pacific cliches, Ponifasio offers a deeply challenging and powerful approach to contemporary theatre. His radical, ceremonial staging, choreography and design intersect and transcend conventional ideas of dance, theatre, art and civic activism. The work is known for its searing imagery, enacted by an ensemble of highly disciplined and cultivated artists from throughout the Pacific region, their movement reduced and sacral, in spaces of light and shadow composed by the light artist Helen Todd.

Ponifasio has presented works including, Paradise, Requiem, Bone Flute, Tempest: Without A Body, Birds With Skymirrors and the MAUForum in over 20 countries, at such venues as Lincoln Center (New York) and the Southbank Centre (London), Theatre de la Ville (Paris), and at festivals including the Edinburgh International Festival, Venice Biennale, Theater der Welt (Germany), Kunstenfestivaldesarts (Brussels), spielzeit'europa | Berliner Festspiele, Holland, Vienna and Adelaide Festivals, and throughout the South Pacific region.


  From YBCA Curator Marc Bamuthi Joseph on Twitter:

// This function goes through the tweets and puts them on the page
function processTweets(tweets) {
var content = document.getElementById("tweets");
var user, tweet, time;
//start the ul

for (i=0;i" + name + "  " + "@" + user + "<\/span>"+ tweet + "<\/span><\/div>";
//and close the UL
// This function loads the data from Twitter
function init() {
var js = document.createElement("script");
js.type="text/javascript" ;
//here's the search URL
return false;
// Call our init function when the page loads
window.onload = init;

Follow Bamuthi on Twitter »

Tempest is made possible, in part, by:
Creative New Zealand Toi Aotearoa and by the National Dance Project of the New England Foundation for the Arts, with lead funding from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and additional funding from Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and the Community Connections Fund of the MetLife Foundation.

YBCA's programs are made possible in part by:
The San Francisco Foundation
National Endowment for the Arts
Koret Foundation
Adobe Foundation Fund

YBCA Performance 10–11 is made possible in part by:
The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation
The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation

Additional Funding for YBCA Performance 10–11:
Zellerbach Family Foundation, New England Foundation for the Arts, National Endowment for the Arts, and Members of Yerba Buena Center for the Arts