Hi’iaka: Our Pacific Heroine Emerges

TAPAC - The Auckland Performing Arts Centre, Auckland

18/01/2014 - 18/01/2014

Production Details


Hi’iaka: Our Pacific Heroine Emerges is an exciting new developmental dance work exploring the evolution of Pacific dance based on Hawai῾i’s most favoured mythical heroine, Hi’iaka.

Hi’iaka is the youngest sister of Pele, the Goddess of Fire and they both reside on Hawai῾i (now known as the Big Island). Pele sends Hi’iaka on a perilous journey to fetch her lover, Lohiau’ipo from the island of Kaua’i. Bestowed with powers, Hi’iaka must battle and overcome kupua (demons), makaula (seers) and mo’o (shape shifters) in order to collect Lohiau’ipo in the limited number of days given.

Hi’iaka is the first leg of the journey of exploring and discovering the emergence of the cultural dances of the South Pacific. Pasifika Sway, NZ’s leading organization promoting Hawaiian hula, looks at traditional dance of the South Pacific and creatively explores connections across and between the traditional dances of the Pacific nations. Pasifika Sway’s director Aruna Po-Ching explains, “Herb Kane, a Hawaiian art historian believes that during the time of the ancients, Raiatea in Tahiti was the Vatican where all the ali’i (chiefs) met to exchange gifts of knowledge. Hi’iaka is a recognition of the emerging Pacific woman in a leadership role, ranking alongside the chiefs and learning how to receive, interpret and translate this cultural exchange of storytelling, dance and chants paying homage to the journey of our Pacific people’s evolution.”

Hawai῾i is the ancestor of Aotearoa but little is seen of the Hawaiian culture due to the location of the nation on the Polynesian triangle and also by the occupation of United States of America. Hi’iaka will bring Hawai῾i’s dance culture more closely to Aotearoa, working with the haka and hula, we can publicly celebrate the two communities’ connection culturally, spiritually and physically.

“We are very excited to work with two styles of indigenous dance, mau rākau (Māori weaponry) and Hawaiian hula. We are pleased to work with students and graduates of Pita Sharple’s Māori weaponry school, Te Whare Tu Taua o Aotearoa, and honoured to work with NZ’s first top female graduate Tania (Tat) Stanley of mau rākau as co-choreographer with myself. With the results of the first exploration instalment of Hi’iaka, we will endeavor to share with the community with our new learning for future generations” says Aruna.

Hi’iaka will also look at the languages of the ancients, acknowledging the base words that are universal in Polynesia. These ideas will be presented in traditional oli (chants) and or mele (songs).

The developmental process will begin on 13th January and ends with a showing at TAPAC theatre on Saturday, 18th January at 7.30pm.

Theresa Sao (Hi-iaka); Aruna Po-Ching (Pau-o-pala'e);

Mahiki Clan: Edmund Eramiha, Josepehine Stanley, Chrissy Hilton

Maimed person: Jacqualine Westerlund

Pacific traditional dance forms , Dance ,

30 mins plus forum

Haka and hula come together in Hi'iaka

Review by Margi Vaz Martin 19th Jan 2014

In a contemporary fusion of Hawaiian and Maori cultural art forms, six dancers have pursued a five day devising processs, interacting with composer Opeloge Ah Sam, to create a new piece that releases a freshness and energy into the room.

Hi’iaka: Our Pacific Heroine Emerges is an exciting new developmental dance work exploring the evolution of pacific dance based on Hawai῾i’s most favoured mythical heroine, Hi’iaka. Envisaged by Pasifika Sway director Aruna Po-Ching but jointly choreographed with Tania Mohuru-Stanley, Hi’iaka is the first stage of a developmental piece, working with two styles of indigenous dance, mau rākau (Māori weaponry) and Hawaiian hula. 

It seems important to honour the intention of the work, which is an exploration into understanding each other’s cultures through dance. Although in development, this short piece (25 minutes) stands cohesively on its own, with linked scenes that trace a clear narrative. A deeper reading of the work might deliver understanding of an acknowledgement of spiritual forces that at times war against us.

The opening description and images of a valley in a wild forest region with huge waterfalls (delivered by producer Michelle Johansson) previews this developmental dance piece, providing an intriguing glimpse of the traditional Hawaiian story of Hi’iaka. We are warned of lizard like creatures with powers that must be battled against.

As lights rise, we meet Hi’iaka and Pau-o-pala’e, in tiered cotton Hula skirts and dark singlets. Carrying ka kāla’au – rhythm sticks, they tap in unison as hips sway and attentive faces seek the path of a journey. They seem powerful and focused. The atmosphere is quiet as they move off stage.

Then three dancers representing the Mahiki clan use mau rakau-based choreography and are moving very close to the floor, portraying lizards with their movements and sounds. The air is electric as the three dancers fill the space with their presence. Floor movement alternates with standing pukeko steps, jumps, hops and taiaha wielding. With mobile expressions emphasising large eyes and half smiles, they appear alluring and cheeky one second, then change to fierce and powerful faces the next.

In scene three, the two hula dancers representing Hi’iaka and Pau-o-pala’e meet the lizard characters (Mahiki clan) and demonstrate the power of the hula dance to overcome spiritual forces. When the Mahiki clan are frightened off stage by the hula, the female warriors attend to the maimed person that is lying on the stage floor. Their focused dancing and praying brings about a miraculous healing.

In scene four, the Mahiki Clan return to engage in fierce warfare. Spinning, shouting and flicking their taiahas they initimidate with their power. With focus and perseverance Hi’iaki and Pau-o-pala’e weave in and out of the creatures, finding their ka kala’au sticks and fighting back to back, hand to hand until two of the creatures lay still on the floor. Movement is fast and carefully choreographed. Enraged and shouting, the third creature is combated by Hi’iaki with her Hula skirt, which is flicked and waved until its power overcomes all opposition. Finally the hula warriors sink to the floor, smiling and victorious, giving thanks as they lift hands and faces to the sky.

In acknowledging Hawai῾i as the ancestor of Aotearoa, Po-Ching seeks to explore the evolution of Pacific dance based on Hawai῾i’s most favoured mythical heroine, Hi’iaka. “Working with the haka and hula, we can publicly celebrate the two communities’ connection culturally, spiritually and physically” (Po-Ching). The Forum, an after performance discussion, reveals Po-Ching’s intention to draw together many dance forms in interaction with hula as she develops this work. Specifically Samoan, Tongan and Tahitian dance forms are mentioned. Also envisioned is the inclusion of traditional instruments found across the Pacific Islands.


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