Hannah Playhouse, Cnr Courtenay Place & Cambridge Terrace, Wellington

16/06/2023 - 17/06/2023

Toitoi - Hawke’s Bay Arts and Events Centre 101 Hastings Street South, Hastings

20/10/2023 - 21/10/2023

Kia Mau Festival 2023

Production Details

Wellington Ballroom

Wellington Ballroom is bringing ARAWHATA to Kia Mau Festival 2023.
ARAWHATA is a one-of-a-kind show capturing the essence and lived experiences of queer, indigenous people of colour through the art forms of underground Ballroom and the practices of the cultures which flow through our blood.

We welcome you into a sacred realm of stories that speak to our lived experiences as they meet at crossroads.

We invite you to witness, hear and hold these intimate tales with love and care – perhaps even seeing your own story within ours.

Creative Credits
KARAMERA — Carym Wharerau
ROMÉ — Jerome McLean-Burton
KIWI — Kiwi Rameka
HIBISCUS — Hibiscus Tupua Wilson
ANTHEA — Anthea Vache
MINA — Mina Ruaporo
EDDSTAR — Eddstar Tupolo
LAZARUS — Htoo Paw Thin
MANFRED — Manfred Manglicmot
K-CI— Cruiz Hegigie
TE HĀMAMA — Te Hāmama Hohua
PHASE — Samuel Ropati

Dance , LGBTQIA+ ,

Journey to Queer empowerment through performance

Review by Rosheen Fitzgerald 23rd Oct 2023

Queerness, in particular transness and drag, has been thrust into the spotlight of late – a political football to be tussled over in an increasingly polarised debate that serves to drown out the realities of queer lived experience. 

Arawhata is an antidote to all that. Made by queer people of colour, for an audience of everyone, this powerful piece of theatre gives voice to their real stories, charting their journey to empowerment through performance. 

It is a tale told in three parts, to my eyes. Repression. Redemption. Celebration. 

We begin in the depths of Te Pō. From the darkness a voice pleads for compassion, suspension of judgement, sanctifies the space as safe for the performers to be vulnerable in. Barefoot and neutrally clad, we meet our cast, running the gamut of race and body shape. All different. All beautiful.

A series of scenes, dripping with pain, brimming with authenticity, convey the challenges our cast face in just being in their own skin in a world where they are not accepted, where they are pushed to the edges. Intersectionality is explored. All the harder to be trans when you are also stymied by the colour of your skin, by a conservative culture, by being a refugee. Their pain is visceral, raw, wrought on their faces, in the contortion of their bodies. Spoken word voice overs drop like bombs, articulating their aching hearts. This is not easy watching. This is a show that makes you do the mahi to receive the treats. 

Then comes redemption. The path to power comes through community and connection with culture. In contrast to the shady displays we have come to associate with the ballroom style, here the cast wrap around each other in a blanket of love and solidarity that you can see and feel extends far beyond the confines of the stage. Drawn together by their collective marginalisation, they begin their healing by reaching inwards to the depths of their identity. Fa’afafine embrace their femininity with a delicate siva. Waiata and kapa haka, all originally devised by cast members themselves, empower and uplift. These impressive cultural performances are more than mere displays of considerable skill. They say, ‘I am here. This is who I am. I am proud.’

Finally, celebration. A bombastic explosion of what the audience probably came for. Queer excellence at its finest, brimming with confidence, style and breath-taking skill. There is an extravagant runway section, the cast fabulously clad, in juxtaposition to the opening scene. There are stunningly choreographed dances incorporating classic ballroom moves, executed to perfection, culminating in the dramatic dip. Performers flamboyantly throw themselves to the floor and pop up again and again. Just like queer culture. They take a lot of knocks but they won’t stay down for long. 

The audience is ecstatic filling the magnificent theatre to its vaulted ceiling with joyful noise. This show is an extremely important experience for many, particularly the rangatahi who intimately know the pain of growing up different in a small town. This piece is a beacon for them, a light at the end of the tunnel. At the curtain call a pair of young self-appointed kaikaranga full-throatedly tautoko the performance, giving voice to what many of us feel. There are tears on both sides of the stage. 

But wait, there’s more. The following day an open to all workshop, dubbed Arawhata Aftermath, is held, fittingly, in Toitoi’s ballroom. Led by co-directors of the show and mothers of the House of Marama, Romé and Karamera, a section of Hastings’ queer community and a handful of allies gather to get the lowdown, and perhaps receive some seeds to start a scene of our own.

The origins of Ballroom are acknowledged. It began as a safe space for queer black and Latino people in Harlem, New York in the late 1960’s. It gave them a place to play at being socially acceptable. Many left homes where they were rejected to create families of their own, both networks of practical support and dance crews to compete as a team. 

The Aotearoa scene kicked off in South Auckland, germinating on high school sports fields before blossoming into fledgeling events with families of our own. The Whare of Marama spend a lot of time crossing the motu to compete in our largest city. 

That they came together at a workshop just like this, a mere three years ago; that they devised the entire show themselves; that, for many, Arawhata’s debut at last February’s National Fringe Festival was the first time they performed on stage, is a shining inspiration to the aspirational rangatahi in the room. 

Kōrero concluded we get down to the mahi, trying our hand at just two of the many ballroom categories – runway and vogue. 

Runway is basically walking, but with confidence, sass, style and posing. Romé guides us gently through the basics then commentates – yells at us artfully over heart thumping music. The latter is a skill that needs to be experienced to fully grasp its power. With the magic of voice alone suddenly this is an event, a happening, we are made to feel important. 

Vogue is a more slippery beast. Silky limbed Karamera, utterly captivating on stage, educates us on the five elements of vogue. Hands (easy); floor performance (lolling around on the ground – anyone can do it but can you make it look good?); catwalk (get low, pop your hips and alternate your hands); duckwalk (oh god, my thighs) and dips (how can falling over be so hard?). With a lot of laughter and falling down he succeeds in teaching us a mini routine. Spirits in the room are high as we form a circle for the final throwdown, the opportunity for everyone to have a chance in the spotlight. 

There’s an atmosphere of elation in the room, similar to what was created by the performance. There’s a feeling that these rangatahi have found their people, have discovered the place where they belong. This is the gift of ballroom, and of the Arawhata crew. To take up space. To be seen. To be proud to be authentically themselves.


Make a comment

Many skilled and sensational performers

Review by Lyne Pringle 19th Jun 2023

Arawhata is a blast of exuberant love which fills the stage and surrounds at the Hannah Playhouse with stardust and haze – lots and lots of haze! Cough cough!

With buckets of enthusiasm the large crew of eclectic L.G.B.T.Q.I.A.+ performers construct a happening that showcases individual triumphs and struggles whilst celebrating the cohesiveness and support of their community. Arawhata means ladder, bridge or stairs. It is an aspirational title for an inspirational show that delivers in spades.

Many sections are cleverly constructed and there is some kick ass choreography. One section in particular where the performers are in white dancing to a classic piece of music is excellent. It is one stand out moment amongst many.

What stands out overall is how the personalities and particular movement qualities of each individual are able to shine through. There are so many skilled and sensational performers in this crew. They are: KARAMERA — Carym Wharerau; ROMÉ — Jerome McLean-Burton; KIWI — Kiwi Rameka; HIBISCUS — Hibiscus Tupua Wilson; ANTHEA — Anthea Vache; MINA — Mina Ruaporo; EDDSTAR — Eddstar Tupolo; LAZARUS — Htoo Paw Thin; MANFRED — Manfred Manglicmot; K-CI— Cruiz Hegigie; TE HĀMAMA — Te Hāmama Hohua; PHASE — Samuel Ropati

Some deeply personal solos tug at the heart strings but the pieces that move away from being derivative are the most successful. There is tender poetry in spoken words.

Founded on the ethos and vocabulary of  the Ballroom scene * it is impressive to see the scale and commitment to this mode of moving and being in Wellington.

Movement in this very distinctive Māori/Pasifika version veers from a hip hop base, into soft siva into ferocious flaying of the hips, into lyrical moves, into supersonic swirling pois, into classic Ballroom moves such as dipping (sometimes in killer heels)  and whacking. These moves are difficult and not for the faint hearted. 

A group session as encore, sees each performer ‘dip’ whilst being egged on by the amped up, blissed out audience.

Spilling out onto Courtenay Place post show the world seems a brighter, more vibrant place.

Long live Ballroom! Long live this collection of talented dancers and creatives.

A fitting finale for Kia Mau – it has been a wonderful festival. Congratulations to the organisers.

*Often referred to with terms like Ball culture, drag ball culture, the house-ballroom community.  The ballroom scene or ballroom culture, a young African-American and Latin American underground Queer subculture that originated in New York City in the late 20th century to become a countercultural phenomenon.


Make a comment

Wellingon City Council
Aotearoa Gaming Trust
Creative NZ
Auckland City Council