Moana Pacific Dance Showcase

TAPAC - The Auckland Performing Arts Centre, Auckland

20/03/2013 - 23/03/2013

Production Details

Pacific Dance New Zealand presents Moana, A Pacific Dance Showcase. This showcase is a celebration of the fifth year of PDNZ’s annual Pacific Dance Choreographic Lab and is a forum in which to re-stage works from previous labs presenting a range of specifically Pacific voices in the form of dance choreographers Justin Haiu (New Zealand Dance Company), Tupua Tigafua (New Zealand Dance Company), Nita Latu (University of Auckland Dance Studies) and Charlene Tedrow (Ura Tabu Pacific Dance).

Moana is a generic Pacific island term meaning Ocean. Here, Moana represents both the meeting of the seas in Auckland’s isthmus and the spread of people from the islands, the centre of Moana in the Auckland region. This concentration of peoples from various island backgrounds and lineages in “Aukilani” has led to the creation of dynamic variances in communities, possibilities and outlooks – all with a certain essence which connects these variances; something like the ocean, like Moana connecting islands held in its belly.

Moana presents a coming together of stories and ideas from Pacific choreographers living in Aukilani/Auckland City and their response to this urban environment quite apart and yet still carrying through their Pacific island descent.

The underpinning theme of Moana is to address the space between the heritage, traditions and contemporary dance world of the Pacific. It will reference the space or distance between our island homes and Auckland/Aotearoa and its influence on our unique dance language and the space in which the choreographers physically and creatively occupy.

A selection of exciting emerging and mid-career Auckland Pacific choreographers will share their unique perspectives and experiences through presenting original works, which will inspire, question and redress those notions of what Pacific dance is today. These works are as varied as the choreographers – their unique voices providing a perspective and response to the diaspora shared and lived both in Aotearoa/New Zealand and the wider Pacific.

Cast List:

The Broken Ties - Kimberly Young, Conor Young, Mathew Hamuera, Nichole Pereira, Nita Latu

Call to Wallis - Paula Uvea, Aisea Latu, Tevita Vaka, Onetoto Ikavuka, Michael Falesiu, Justin Haiu

Spiritus Aitu - Elaine Tipi, Siobhan Patia, Mele Taeiloa, Kolopa Simei-Barton, Avei Alofaga-Futi, Katerina Fatupaito, Santana Schmidt, Riki Nofo'akifolau, Sophie Williams

We Shall See Shel on the Sea Shore - Christopher Tevita Ofanoa, Aloalii (lii) Tapu, Adam Naughton, Kosta Bogoievski and Tupua Tigafua.


1 hour

Pacific connections explored in dance works

Review by Margi Vaz Martin 21st Mar 2013

Moana: A Pacific Dance Showcase is a celebration of the fifth year of PDNZ’s annual Pacific Dance Choreographic Lab and is a forum in which to re-stage works from previous labs which have had ongoing development. It presents a range of Pacific voices in the form of dance choreographers Nita Latu (University of Auckland Dance Studies), Justin Haiu (New Zealand Dance Company), Charlene Tedrow (Ura Tabu Pacific Dance), and Tupua Tigafua (New Zealand Dance Company).

Moana, meaning Ocean, presents a coming together of stories and ideas from Pacific choreographers living in Auckland City and their response to this urban environment. The underpinning theme of the showcase is to address the space between the heritage, traditions and contemporary dance world of the Pacific while recognizing our connection, seen in the metaphor of the ocean. The first three pieces particularly highlight significant issues for Pacific peoples.

Beginning with a recorded news item and then interview, two male and three female dancers overlay the sound with movement sequences and dramatic gestures depicting dislocation. We are introduced, firstly, to The Broken Ties (Nita Latu), which addresses youth suicide – with current New Zealand statistics showing over 500 suicides a year in NZ – and half of these are youth. Experts say that young Pacific Islanders are twice as likely as the rest of the population to have depression and anxiety issues or to attempt suicide. [1] Latu uses contemporary Pacific motifs, mixed with hip-hop movements and traditional Pacific vocabulary, to convey a dramatic story acknowledging and confronting the issue of suicide.

With regular entrances and exits from stage, performers work in unison, then solo, duet and as interactive individuals. Using swiftly swaying and angular lines they swing, fall, rise into lines and jump in rhythmic, punctuated and strong movements that link to traditional Pacific Island (P.I.) vocabulary with a hip-hop flavor. The dancers quote suicide statistics then state their expectations as the lights change from ½ to ¼ lit stage spaces. As the lights go out, the audience has had their awareness of the issue creatively reawakened.

As the stage lights reignite, the second piece, Call To Wallis (Justin Haiu) takes us on a journey through a discovery of cultural identity in a very playful manner. Auckland-born Pacific Island people often have more than one cultural heritage and may lack opportunities to visit home as young people. However a searching out of cultural identity may prove to be enriching, as Haui demonstrates in this piece, where he journey back to the roots of his father’s culture. He mentions in the programme notes that this piece was put together with the support of his performers and family. He embodies a Pacific value in this statement.

Haiu blends drama and dance, mixing genres with ease and presenting a more fluid and lyrical quality than the other pieces. Live singing opens the piece with the choreographer’s church heritage showing through, and then it changes to his childhood birthday party with games, and then a school classroom. Humor and virtuosic showing off are at their best with the slow motion hip-hop sequence that features Haiu. As his other dancers freeze and the lighting moves to a soft spot, front of stage, a drummer accompanies Haui in movement that is of a different quality. I think I am seeing an image of Wallis Island movement. As the scene changes to full lighting and all six dancers, we are entertained and amused by the use of people to represent furniture! It is the melodramatic tradition taken into a contemporary context with Haui encased in a breathing bed created by arms and bodies cradling him in lyrical movement. Following an airport scene, depicting travel across the ocean, we watch what seems to be a dramatic presentation of a visit to Wallis Island and the learning of local custom and dance.

Thirdly, in Spiritus Aitu (Charlene Tedrow) the ocean and spirituality are addressed as we are reminded that those living in Oceania are all dependent on the waters whose beauty can turn to violence in a tsunami. As the Latin word spiritus is placed beside the Samoan/Polynesian word for spirit – “aitu”, Tedrow plays with the idea of reviving a belief system that is based on aitu.  Because aitu are more than just spirits, they are also seen as protectors of sacred land in Pacific culture. She seeks to focus on the preciousness and fragility of the Pacific environment. This is a development of Siva Aitu (Tempo 2009) and Aua (Pacific Choreographic Lab 2010).

As the lights rise, the all female cast of nine beautiful women, appears on stage, in long white lyrca dresses. Their hair is loose and flowing. Tedrow is not in the piece. Initially they present an image of heaven in a tight group, with lengthened waving arms raised above their heads, while Latin Church music accompanies them. Changing formation, they continue to move with grace in half-lit groupings with P.I. vocabulary but not strictly P.I. formations. Their hands wiri and then they sway like the dusky maidens epitomized by Lulu French (Choreolab, 2011.Tedrow danced in that piece). A new section begins that is a tribute to the innocence of childhood and is full of happy rhythmic games. The last section, Oceans Curse, is the most powerful and depicts the 2009 Samoan tsunami taking the lives of children. There are two haunting images. In several pairs, spread across the stage, one woman stands over the other crumpled figure, holding her ponytail and whipping her around.  They seem to represent the ocean and the children. Next, those playing the children roll to the front of the stage and seated, pick up red flowers and slowly chew them. Death has come.

The fourth piece, We Shall See Shel on the Sea Shore, takes the audience to quite a different place from the last. It connects us to the physical pleasures of childlike life through absurd backward movement sequences and playfulness. Tigafua uses an all-male cast and draws on his memories of school and “tom-foolery” with the P.I. boys at the tuck shop as an expression of the humor of a P. I. male growing up in New Zealand. The other source he draws on is author Shelby Silverstein whose cartoons, writing, poetry and music have inspired him since childhood.

Tigafua seeks to explore the notion of weaving together the ideas of comic sequence through timing and poetic imagery and produces a fast, masculine movement counterbalanced by the gentleness of the musical pulse which is often a recorded classical strings and even piccolo. His sequences do not resemble a P.I. vocabulary, but rather an absurd ballet perhaps performed in retrograde! It is delightful. Pedestrian dancers moving across the back accompany solo dancers front of stage. Groups of backward moving dancers are followed by live poetry spoken in ¼ lighting. One sequence feels like an adapted version of Gene Kelly in Singing in the Rain with rain recordings providing the background music. The movement is clever and entertaining with the comic juxtaposition of Vivaldi’s four seasons music finishing the night with satisfaction.


NB  Moana: A Pacific Dance Showcase is a celebration of the fifth year of PDNZ’s annual Pacific Dance Choreographic Lab. It is also an event of Pacific As: March 2013,  a series of events designed to highlight and celebrate Auckland’s unique Pacific Island culture, heritage and identity, promoted by Auckland Tourism.




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