Kôwhiti Matariki Festival of Mâori Contemporary Dance

Te Papa: Soundings, Wellington

24/06/2010 - 27/06/2010

Production Details

Nau mai, haere mai, piki mai, kake mai
and welcome to Kôwhiti Matariki Festival of Mâori Contemporary Dance.

To celebrate the arrival of this new decade it is our privilege to curate Kôwhiti – four days of performances, forums, films and lectures. We are excited to present to you the established and
emerging stars of Mâori Contemporary Dance.

Our vision for Kôwhiti was embraced by last year’s Te Aitanga DescenDANCE – Mâori Contemporary Dance Summit and by Jenny Stevenson’s idea to build a festival in Wellington. We gratefully acknowledge the partnership with the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa and especially Mere Boynton and Suzanne Tamaki.

We honour the pioneers of Mâori Contemporary Dance who have prepared the ground for this artform to blossom. Gaylene Sciascia, Tama Huata and Stephen Bradshaw are the mentors of this new generation we are presenting to you.

From hip-hop to avant-garde, Kôwhiti is a rich and varied experience of dance, film and discussion. By harvesting these diverse talents, we hope that your experience is as enlightening as it is for the artists, who are passionate about sharing their creations.

Nâ tôu rourou, nâ tôku rourou, ka ora ai te iwi –
Sharing our harvests is sustenance for all.

Nâ mâua iti nei ô koutou môkai

Merenia & Tanemahuta Gray


Schools matinee Bookings – Friday 25th at 12.30pm
$10 Entry
(Free Entry for 1 Teacher, for 10 students)
to book email info@kowhiti.org.nz  

Te Papa: Soundings Theatre

There will be six performances of the Kôwhiti Premiere Programme in Soundings Theatre, Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa.

Thursday June 24
7.30pm: Evening Performance

Friday June 25
12.30pm: Schools Matinee
7.30pm: Evening Performance

Saturday June 26
2.00pm: Matinee
7.30pm: Evening Performance

Sunday June 27
4.00pm: Afternoon Performance

All other premiere performances:
Thur 24th / Fri 25th / Sat 26th June 7:30pm
Sat 26th at 2pm & Sun 27th at 4pm
$30 – Full Price
$20 – Concession;
$15 Children (up to 12 years);
$75 – Family (2 adults and 2 children)
Group Booking – $25 per person (Group of 6 or more)
A limited number of door sales will be available.
Special conditions and booking fees may apply.
Book at ticketek: www.ticketek.co.nz

Fri 25th at 4:30pm & Sun 27th at 2pm (Short dance films)
Sat 26th June – Maui – One Man Against The Gods
(Price of admission receives free Maui brochure).
$15 Full Price
$10 Concession
Group Booking – $10 per person (Group of 6 or more)
A limited number of door sales will be available.
Book at ticketek: www.ticketek.co.nz

$10.00 per class
to book email info@kowhiti.org.nz

No need to book, just turn up!

There will be a Gala Fundraising Dinner at Icon Restaurant,
Te Papa on Thursday 24 June, from 5.45pm onwards, prior to
the Opening Night performance. Several sponsorhip options are
available, please contact info@kowhiti.org.nz.
For more information email info@kowhiti.org.nz or visit

TO check out all on offer go to;

Special thanks to our core funders and sponsors;

Creative New Zealand (Te Waka Toi), Wellington City Council,
The Lion Foundation, Whitireia Community Polytechnic,
LT McGuiness, Te Ruunanga o Ngaai Tahu, DANZ, Inhouse
and Te Papatongarewa – Museum of New Zealand

is proudly presented by Kôwhiti Productions ltd, P.O. Box 9608,
Marion Square, Wellington 6141.   

Atamira Dance Company
Merenia Gray
Tanemahuta Gray
Footnote Dance Company
Future Fame
Judith Fuge Dance School
Te Toki Haruru
Mute Off Productions
New Native Dance
New Zealand School of Dance
Louise Potiki-Bryant
Cat Ruka
Whitireia Performing Arts Centre  

Lifetimes in Dance; backwards and forwards to the present life

Review by Peter Cleave 05th Aug 2010

It was the show of shows. A comprehensive display of dance, Maori dance at Te Papa. It featured a Hakari, a dinner at Icon the dining complex at Te Papa Tongarewa and this was remarkable for the dignitaries there: senior politicians, High Court judges, Kerry Prendergast the Mayor of Wellington, sundry MPs and lawyers.

Brendon Pongia of morning television was the Master of Ceremonies for the meal and he got us all down to earth with a lot of patter about Dancing with the stars. I was proud to put my hand up when Brendon asked who watched Dancing with the stars. This sorted the audience out. Here was an audience of Wellington High Culture. Lowbrows like me were in the distinct minority. But Brendon was the perfect foil, dancer and sportsman, introducing Toni Huata for some powerful waiata and getting everyone ready for the show itself, Kôwhiti and the presentation of awards to follow. 

And then, with a bit of a hurry-up from MC Pongia over the dessert, we all moved from the banquet room to a theatre at Te Papa for the show.

Kôwhiti means to pull out or to select. It can be used to say something like, ‘the kumara were pulled out of the garden’. It also has the secondary meaning of the appearance of a new moon and there is an interesting usage with a replication of whiti in kôwhitiwhiti which refers to a leaping or dancing of water.

But for those who attended, Kôwhiti will always mean the performance or a set of dance performances at Te Papa Tongarewa during Te Matariki. Some of these were excerpts from earlier shows and others were new shows. There were strong similarities amongst the shows and there were differences as well. Kôwhiti then was a set of shows shifting in shape like dancing water in a fountain.

Stage management was well done without fuss or fanfare by Cathy Knowsley and her crew. Lisa Maule provided very effective lighting. It all ran like clockwork and, like the food at the hakari, it was both elegant and sustaining as background for the performances. 

Cat Ruka stood out. Dance met theatre at Kôwhiti; every dance-picture told a story and hers were the best in many respects even though she did not dance much. Bare breasted, her Playing Savage solo dance involved props from the world of the Maori woman, cigarette trapped, gang trapped, tourist trapped by toy plastic dolls, flag trapped and wrapped in a hold from which she was seriously hurt, from a warriorhood that came with the territory like a curse. 

But there was much else in the show. One or two of the dancers were older but a lot were young and they came with an open freshness, taking the lead of Tanemahuta and Merenia Gray on stage with very clear understanding. The young ones came mainly from the Judith Fuge Dance Studio and the Commercial Dance course at the Whitireia Performing Arts Centre.

The work of Taupuhi Toki and New Native Dance was seen to effect in Paa Kingdom. And the choreography of Cathy Livermore and the Atamira Dance Company in Don’t feed the man fishtook message and performance to new heights and asked new questions about things like global warming from the point of view of indigenous people. 

The New Zealand School of Dance supported Merenia Gray and the Merenia Gray Dance Company in Black Rain. As well as superb dance this show had an excellent use of music and poetry ranging from the work of Hirini Melbourne and Richard Nunns to that of Hone Tuwhare.

Tanemahuta Gray used the music of Tiki Taane in his Past/Present/Futureand in Tangaroa and Now this is it, keeping things current. The contemporary feel was reinforced by Future Fame appearing courtesy of Mad Fame Creative Specialists in The Inner Cosmos. This featured the music of Mr Flash and The Dorian Concept.

Merenia Gray also used poetry in Entangled, this time taking Octavio Paz’s The Sacred Fig Tree as an inspiration. Merenia cross referenced to a lot of things without losing the thread. A subtlety to be wondered at. 

Some of the work went back a fair way. He Taura Whakapapa with choreography by Charles Koroneho and Te Toki Haruru came from a production by the Taiao Dance Theatre in 1990. With a theme concerning the fragility of unity the work, like all other pieces on the night posed questions that lingered.

Some of the collaboration worked extremely well, taking all kinds of risks. The support of Kid Genius Klik for Cat Ruka’s Playing Savage made for a magic combination. Playing Savage also employed the music of Chopin and Notorious BIG. The presentation carried the musical contrasts.

The way Kôwhiti worked was that key performances from the past were selected with an eye on the message so that the experience of Maori over time was reflected. In Moonlight Sonata and Memoirs of Active Servicedating from 2006, the Year of the Veteran, looked back to the long experience of Maori, especially Maori from remote areas, in the New Zealand war machine.

Te Whenua, with choreography by Moss Paterson and the Atamira Dance Company, came from Whakairo of 2007. This gave Kôwhiti a spiritual and mystic dimension and so connected the deep past of the Maori to Te Papa Tongarewa during Te Matariki of 2010.

Some of the work went back as it projected forward. He Taonga with choreography from Taane Mete and Taiaroa Royal and the Okareka Dance Company came from a Graduation ceremony for the New Zealand School of Dance season in 2009. This interesting work is being extended for a production in 2011.

And this was the way of the show. It looked forward as well as to the past with no holds barred, no prisoners taken and no boundaries to hem people in. And Kôwhiti was made for the present. It worked in the here and now, each dance show tugging at the audience with its own immediacy.

It is to be hoped that this trio, Tanemahuta and Merenia Gray and Jenny Stevenson work together again. They are good enough as individuals; Tanemahuta pushing the envelope, Merenia creatively organizing as she reaches out to art and literature and Jenny advising and teaching. Put together they appeal immensely.

And they carry weight.

Tanemahuta and Merenia bring the whanau and what a whanau it is. There are dance connections stretching out into the world and back to the Kapiti coast. Tanemahuata had recently returned from his involvement with the New Zealand Expo in China. He and Merenia had managed with Jenny to get many dancers of different types together but the show hummed rather than grated – you weren’t sure what kind of dance you would see next but that was of no bother, it was the way of the kôwhitiwhiti, the way the fountain played.

And Jenny Stevenson brought her husband Jim to Kôwhiti. Jim is mentioned in the Kôwhiti Programme, he is a quiet mentor, a restrained consigliere of the arts, especially dance in Wellington; a patron who knows how to make things happen and walk softly.

Each piece was an exploration with Tanemahuta Gray himself pulling out the stops, pulling back from working with Jackie Chan at the Shanghai Expo and down from aerial stuff for the night, mentoring, talking up things with his body. And that was the way of the night; all performers used their bodies to say something. It was the most open expression I’ve seen for a while, anywhere in the world. Merenia was there throughout, smoothing out the wrinkles and in every corner there was Jenny Stevenson, a mind of dance. 

And then it was on to the presentation of awards. These were for contributions over a lifetime to Maori contemporary dance. And here the lifetimes were shown. Gaylene Sciascia, Tama Huata, Stephen Bradshaw, figures of a lifetime in dance. The awards were presented by the dignitaries; the Mayor of Wellington and Gregory Fortuin of the Whitireia Council and ex Race Relations Conciliator. All introduced by the indefatigably fresh Brendon Pongia, himself one of a formidable range of Maori dignitaries in attendance.

In 1977 at Rongomaraeroa marae at Porangahau Gaylene Sciascia was part of a hui for Maori dancers. In Gaylene’s lifetime of contribution dance courses have been started at places like Whitireia Polytechnic, a production called Moko was choreographed by her and then taken to China with the New Zealand Ballet Company and she is presently taking a dance group on a tour of Croatia, Slovenia and Germany. 

From 1983 Tama Huata has contributed in many ways to Maori Contemporary dance and with his role as Chairman of Te Matatini, New Zealand’s largest performing arts festival, there is an important connection to kapa haka and traditional Maori dance. He is the founder and CEO of Kahurangi Maori Dance Theatre. This has 24 full-time dancers in three troupes that tour internationally. He has taken Maori dance to the world especially to North America. 

The third contributor, Stephen Bradshaw, has moved and shaken the world of contemporary Maori Dance since 1984. His journey has taken him from Department of Labour employment schemes involving dance in 1984 to the formation of Taiao in 1988 to the convening of a summit on contemporary Maori Dance in 2009. This summit ushered in the planning process for Kôwhiti Matariki Festival of Mâori Contemporary Dance in 2010. 

The awards themselves came with interesting stories. Charles Koroneho had carved keys and locks and these were displayed as part of the presentations. This was yet another twist to Kôwhiti, another way of entertaining and holding the attention right up there. The design concept of Toki Poutangata; lock and key was paid for by Creative New Zealand and brought sculpture to Kôwhiti as Koroneho’s idea of keys to unlock the carvings were explored and shown on stage. This is all described in the handouts as:

"Embodying the mana of the awards is the Toki; symbolically representing a body, a form of technical potential and precision, an expression of the highest commitment to knowledge, culture and artistic excellence. The Toki is therefore a material depiction of Maori Dance; the history, creative aspirations and cultural foundation that practitioners are collectively working to unlock.

"The concept of Poutangata is metaphorically represented by the Awards Recipient, an individual celebrated for their pursuit of excellence and unlocking the full potential of Maori Dance and Performance. Their contribution and lifelong commitment is literally cut from the body of the adze and transformed into a symbolic key, an anthropomorphic manifestation."

Dance. Lifetimes. Design Concepts. When Jenny Stevenson and Tanemahuta and Merenia Gray throw a party look at what happens as well as who turns up!

Before looking again at who showed up it was interesting who was not there. There was an uneven media presence with myself from Kia Ora FM, Palmerston North, and a photographer from the Dominion-Post. I did not see anyone else from any other radio stations including National Radio or from other media like, say, The New Zealand Listener or Maori Television, TV One or Three and this is remarkable given the sheer quality of the visual and aural work and its national significance. 

Fortuin was the most loquacious speaker of the night and this was, I think, because he grasped the nettle of national significance in Kôwhiti. A Maori-speaking South African, as well as grasping it he really articulated the shared pride in the dance from all quarters rather than knowing what we all mean as per the rest of the Kiwi Digs. 

Gregory Fortuin talking about Kôwhiti reminded me of Bernard Levin in the Times of London writing about Kiri Te Kanawa, the gusher helping to push the star to shining point. A pity Gregory does not have a column in the Dompost or the NBR! These curiosities and speculations aside there is no question that it was a show wanted on high, wanted by the parliamentarians, the High Court Judges and the Mayor and her Deputy, wanted as a point in Matariki, wanted for a shared celebration. The murmur of a national holiday to celebrate Te Matariki came to ear and mind. 

With a quality performance and a sold out attendance the question of publicity and promotion might be put alongside another question about the lack of a substantial sponsor. Kiri Te Kanawa had Mobil Oil, Benson and Hedges and a mix of Covent Garden, Norman Kirk and, of all people HRH Prince Charles behind her. And forty or fifty years ago the world of entertainment and art was a smaller place without the internet so these things were more easily patronised and sponsored. Where is the support from corporate and government for a show like Kôwhiti? It is simply not enough to have Jim Stevenson and the events people from Te Papa rallying the troops in support with Jenny, Tanemahuta and Merenia and all networking furiously to make things happen. 

Aside from the quality and power of the performance, the whole event, including those who bought tickets to the dinner and showed up to watch, poses some pretty big questions. There is something of a brow problem as in high or low brow, or something of a block problem as in a mental block with all of this. Dancing with the stars is at one end of a spectrum while the work of the New Zealand Ballet Company is at another. Kapa Haka is in one corner and works like Te Kôwhiti are in another.

This difference of brows, this blockage, does not seem to apply to the people deeply involved in dance such as Tanemahuta, Merenia or Jenny or any of their dancers, But it might apply to those watching. Or not watching. The kind of turnout of Digs – Maori and Pakeha Dignitaries – at Kôwhiti is not seen, at least in my experience, at Kapa Haka festivals. Nor, again in my experience at least, is the range of people attending Kôwhiti seen at New Zealand Ballet performances.

There is, of course the question; what exactly is this? Modern Maori Dance? Kapa Haka? Maori Ballet? Maori Burlesque? Anything goes and to great effect as in the case of Cat Ruka. Kôwhiti may not have been what Sir Apirana Ngata had in mind after the First World War when he encouraged people to join concert parties as part of an attempt to foster Maori performance that itself encouraged people to speak and sing Maori. Nor is it something greatly written about and one goes back to Jennifer Shennan’s good book, The Maori Action Song, published by the NZCER in 1984 for a steer on the subject.

But whatever Kôwhiti, the play of light in dance, is, it is ours, it is here and it is exciting. There is innocence about it all for us to experience like the country Aotearoa/New Zealand itself.

Coming back to the patchy media coverage of something held at the national museum a block for work like Kôwhiti does seem to exist in the media. It is as though Kôwhiti is a secret, something for the cognoscenti with blocks for others in the silliest of places; media and sponsorship…

But looking at it from a national or even a nationalistic basis there was a significant and telling presence, a social and political representation of who we are at Kôwhiti. People like Fortuin and Prendergast, people who eventually lead opinion, are exceedingly comfortable with the work as presented at Kôwhiti. The question of shared national experience of the arts arises: has Kôwhiti offered us something that we can all share in an unabashed way? Something fresh and clear, like – to refer to her once again – Kiri Te Kanawa at the Mobil Song Quests in the sixties. The impression given by the Prendergasts and Fortuins was that Kôwhiti was something that might be shared and valued by all of us. I agree. 
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Pathos and Power

Review by Jennifer Shennan 26th Jun 2010

This enterprising Kowhiti programme has considerable contrast of aesthetic, lyricism, humour, pathos and power.

He Taonga, by Taiaroa Royal and Taane Mete, has an all-male cast. The masterfully slow opening movements, as though each gesture needs first to be born, builds stunning momentum, opening the path for the evening.

Entangled, a sculptural duet by Merenia Gray, unfolds against the sonorous cello played by Janet Holborow. Her other work, Black Rain, references the mystery and miracle of procreation.

Now This Is It, by Tanemahuta Gray, is up-tempo; his Tangaroa surges with the wave tops of creamy surf; his Past Present Future has lyrical movement overlaid with the suggestion of haka. The Inner Cosmos is disco-dynamite, music-video live, in a performance to please Sammy Davis Junior. 

Memoirs of Active Service, by Maaka Pepene, clowns around but soon displays brilliant co-ordination of marching patterns, through to a poignant group lament that looks to the majesty of Jose Limon’s choreographic vision. Lighting effects here were the best of the evening.

Te Whenua by Moss Patterson continues his exploration of koru and kowhaiwhai as movement motifs. Don’t Feed the Manfish, by Cathy Livermore, makes a plea for environmental care of Pacific island habitats. Pa Kingdom by Taupuhi Toki offers Polynesian juxtapositions. 

He Taura Whakapapa, by Charles Koroneho, is a work of dignity and skill, weaving a rope for a great anchor stone. Taiaroa Royal deserves recognition for his heroic performance legacy across several decades.

Playing Savage, a solo by Cat Ruka, is a damaged woman, wounded bird, fractured society. The flag, Tino Rangatiratanga, is a cloak but then a burden. Plastic trinkets are confused with a baby in utero; there’s a patched leather jacket, shades and smokes. A giant poi disgorges political claptrap and much glitter. It’s a tour de force, more sad than angry, a devastating image of a society afraid of its own history. 

The dance festival continues with a stimulating range of events that mark Matariki – New Zealand’s new year. It deserves to do well.  
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The future is bright

Review by Terri Ripeka Crawford 26th Jun 2010

[Pars 4 & 5 added, 27/6]
This inaugural Matariki Festival of Mâori Contemporary Dance, curated by Tanemahuta Gray and Merenia Gray and produced by Jenny Stevenson, is both a celebration of Mâori Contemporary Dance and a time to forge exciting new directions and foster strengthened relations in this genre. Kôwhiti is a stake in the whenua, marking the development of this art form within Aotearoa.

The Kôwhiti 2010 premiere performance programme is a mix of avant garde, ceremonial, ambitious and contentious performances. There is no visible ideology underpinning the selections of works within the programme, nor is there a sense of being taken through a journey of a selected best of Mâori Contemporary Dance. 

Of the thirteen items, the stand out choreographies and performances are: Playing Savage by Cat Ruka, The Drill & Reflections by Maaka Pepene, dontfeedthemanfish by Cathy Livermore and He Taura Whakapapa by Charles Koroneho. Within these items are the essence of mana wahine, tiaki whenua, the spirit of the ancient and one’s place in the universe.

Other items in the performance by emergent choreographers, such as Paa Kingdom by Taupuhi Toki and He Taonga by Tai Royal and Tane Mete, are mediocre exemplars or work-in-progress type performances. Future Fame’s LA Boogaloo item, Inner Cosmos, provides some light relief for audience members.

The trilogy of works by Tanemahuta Gray – Now This is It, Tangaroa and Past / Present / Future – and Black Rain by Merenia Gray are disappointing. Apart from the gorgeous signature work Entangled by Merenia, these works, both in structure and performance, almost negate the potency of the Kôwhiti Premiere Performance and somewhat undermine the majority of works shown on this occasion.

The opening night performance included an auspicious formal address by Wellington City Mayor Kerry Prendergast, who acknowledged the Kôwhiti Festival and introduced the Inaugural Kôwhiti Awards. 

Finally! Not only is the artistic genre of Mâori contemporary dance acknowledged by a festival in the capital city, but three of our pioneering leaders awarded a beautiful pounamu toki fashioned by Charles Koroneho for their service and leadership.

The inaugural awards went to Gaylene Sciascia, Tama Huata and Stephen Bradshaw.  In accepting the award, Tama suggested that we are only skimming the surface of Mâori contemporary dance, and that there is so much more to come.

Kôwhiti, a rising star, come and be a part of the ascent. The future potential is bright.

Me piki ake, kake ake ki te toi huarewa!
For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News.


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