Hau ‘o Momo - The Way of Momo

Metro Theatre, Mangere, Auckland

21/07/2012 - 21/07/2012

Production Details


20 dancers, 12 choir singers, musicians

40 mins

Lyrical and enchanting

Review by Margi Vaz Martin 22nd Jul 2012

If you are someone who watches a lot of dance and knows who is who, you are about to meet a new woman of influence: Sesilia Pusiaki Tatuila. You may not necessarily see this humble woman on the stage. But you will see her beside the stage as she passionately and carefully checks that her dancers deliver every movement accurately. If you are not familiar with the growing body of Pacific Dance choreographers in Auckland, they will soon make themselves known to you. Pacific Dance New Zealand (PDNZ) has been a functioning, fully staffed office since 2009 and its work is becoming noticed.

I first encountered Sesilia in October 2011, at the showing of the Pacific Dance Fono Choreographic Lab. Each year since 2009, three emerging to mid-career choreographers, of PacificIsland descent have been selected for a two week residency where they are equipped with studio, dancers, a mentor and funds, to create a new work. In 2011 Sesilia won a place in the Pacific Dance Fono. When I saw her pieces I recognised a choreographer who has something special. It was not unexpected that she should win the Pacific Dance Artist in Residence role for 2012. This showing tonight exhibits what she has achieved over the ten week residency.

There is a special treasure this woman carries, as if she is the one from her family who has been chosen by Higher Power, to preserve the culture and heritage of the New Zealand based Tongan community. Sesilia dares to take her dance vocabulary beyond community walls behind which is has previously been hidden. She does this with the support of her family. She knows that audiences beyond the Tongan community will be affected. Pacific Dance New Zealand quoted her recently: “I think traditional dance can live on stage as well as contemporary or a mix of both. We have a lot of ancient music and dance, which has been kept in the Tongan community. So we have a lot to share.”

Sesilia’s dance work tonight at this Dance Artist in Residence showing is called Hau ‘o Momo. The inspiration for the piece comes from a set of ancient dances created during the time of Momo, the 10th Tu’i Tonga (lord of Tonga, circa 1200AD) and thus the title for the work – Hau ‘o Momo, or, The Way of Momo or alternatively – The Rule of Momo. Sesilia has taken three dances from this era and extended them to create a sneak peek of Tongan village life from that time. The dances – the Otuhaka, Faha’iula and the Me’etupaki were performed and “preserved” through her family and in her village inTonga – Lepaha.

The showing begins with prayer and sung prayer and a welcome by Sefa Enari, director of Pacific Dance New Zealand. Then the sound of a nose flute, played by an exceptional Tongan musician, floats peacefully like the early morning across the room. I am transported back to Islandvillages I have enjoyed. The place feels warm, there are fragrances in the air. The acoustics of the Metro Theatre are a great asset as the 12 singers begin to fill the room with harmonies that are unbelievable! I am surrounded with resonant sound.

Three women sit cross legged and begin lyrical hand gestures, embodying the waking of the village. Eight girls and then eight boys are now on their feet, travelling, stomping, falling and rising and leaping joyfully. In the front row, we feel part of the village. The choir was in front of us but at some point as the dancers changed places and formations they moved to the back of the floor facing us in two semi-circled rows. Gorgeous women dance, followed by men and boys holding small paddles and gently stomping their feet like repetitive drones. It is intergenerational. The connection and love of a community is evident.

The 20 dancers and 12 choir are all on stage now but seated. A young woman, Aspasia Tatuila, steps forward and enchants us with her movements. Everyone in the room gets excited. Some audience members spontaneously jump to their feet and join in the dance from their place. Then a couple of choir members do the same. Finally a couple of the boys in the dance group also jump up and dance spontaneously to the side. It is a great culmination to the show. Final speeches and prayers close the night at 7.15pm.

Further opportunities to encounter this choreographer are in September and October. A new show – Heliaki, which Sesilia has developed with Lima Productions and is double billing with another up-and-coming Tongan choreographer, Amanaki Prescott-Faletau, will be on at the Mangere Arts Centre at the end of September. And at this year’s Tempo Dance Festival in October, a piece entitled ‘Pukepuke ‘o Tonga’ (to Uphold Tonga) will be performed. It is a development of the work done in this residency. Sesilia says it will be much more contemporary in approach and reflecting the experience of Tongan youth living inAuckland,New Zealand. It is also part of Sesilia’s larger goal, to broaden Tongan music and dance, to move it out of the home and church and give it a foothold on the stage. 


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