PACIFIC DANCE CHOREOLAB SHOWING 2015

Corban Estate Arts Centre, Henderson, Auckland

06/11/2015 - 06/11/2015

Production Details



Pacific Dance Choreographic Lab 2015 Showing

Pacific Dance New Zealand is proud to announce the selection of three exciting choreographers in the 2015 Pacific Dance Choreographic Lab 2015 challenge. They are – Hadleigh Pouesi, Jahra ‘Rager’ Wasasala and Albert ‘Bux’ Fale.

The choreographers will be given space and time to work on new Pacific dance works concluding in a showing at Corban Estate Arts Centre in late-October. They will also receive mentoring from Tupe Lualua (Director of Le Moana) and award winning spoken word artist Teuila Grace Taylor.

The 2015 selection was made by a selection panel including Dr. Marianne Schultz (DANZ), Olivia Taouma (Auckland Council) and Justin Haiu (Pacific Islands Dance Fono).

Pacific Dance NZ Director Sefa Enari commented on the calibre of the choreographers,

“The different dance styles and cultural make up of this years choreographers reflect the diversity of Pacific people in Aotearoa and their individual dance practices. From traditional Pacific to contemporary dance expressions, we have it all this year which makes for another really exciting lab. The role of Pacific Dance NZ is to support the artists in the early stages of their career through the lab.”

The annual Pacific Dance Choreographic Lab is now in its seventh year and the three current selected choreographers join an alumni of some well-known names in the New Zealand dance arena: Justin Haiu, Charlene Tedrow, Aruna Po-Ching, Tupua Tigafua, Nita Latu, Leki Bourke and Katerina Fatupaito to name a few.

Hadleigh Pouesi (Freshman’s Dance Crew) – Samoan/Maori/Pakeha

Hadleigh has been a name in Aotearoa’s hip hop dance scene for a number of years. Starting in the genre at high school, in 2007 Hadleigh started his own crew – Sweet & Sour – which took out Aotearoa’s first ever gold medal at the HHI World Championships in 2008. Hadleigh has been involved in a number of award winning crews since, most notably Fresh Movement Dance Company, of which he is the founding director.

For the choreographic lab Hadleigh wishes to explore more diversity in his dance expression by developing his Pacific dance repertoire. He has been working on a full-length show called ‘The Station’ and through the choreo lab hopes to develop authentic Pacific movements to incorporate into this larger work.

The sub-piece for the choreographic lab has a working title ‘Tall Poppy’ and explores the concept of the tall poppy syndrome in the performing arts. 

Hadleigh will work with his newly formed group Freshman’s Dance Crew under the mentorship of Tupe Lualua.

Jahra ‘Rager’ Wasasala – Fijian/Pakeha

Jahra is a contemporary dancer, choreographer and spoken word artist. She is a graduate of Unitec’s Bachelor of Performing and Screen Arts, and since graduating in 2012/2013 has made her mark on the Auckland dance and spoken word scene; her latest show Mother/Jaw attracting much acclaim and winning five awards at the Auckland Fringe Festival 2015 (securing her a season at the Herald Theatre in 2016).

The working title for Jahra’s choreographic lab work is – ‘Blood/d/runk’ – an exploration of the tensions between mediums such as spoken word and dance, the role of women in contemporary dance, the polarisation of body perception between Western/global ideologies and the relationship young Pacific women have with their bodies; and the mother nature affiliation between the female, Earth and rituals of connection. In this context women of colour reflect the state of the world.

Blood/d/runk is a solo piece in which Jahra will work with Teuila Grace Taylor to develop a multi-disciplined presentation incorporating dance, spoken word, visual art and sound.

Albert ‘Bux’ Fale (Bux Squared) – Samoan

Albert has been a successful tutor of Samoan dance for high schools presenting for the ASB Polyfest dance competition over a number of years. He has branched out into other styles of dance since and has been involved in the Pacific Dance Choreographic Lab before as a dancer. Now Albert has the opportunity to spread his wings in this dance/theatre setting as a choreographer.

Albert’s piece for the choreographic lab is called ‘Le Fa’avae’, a familiar term for many Samoans as it means ‘The Foundation’ and is reminiscent of the Samoan proverb – “Lau o le Fiso, Lau o le Tolo, e ala e tasi ae mauga e Olo” meaning; “There are many Pathways that will lead to the same Foundation.”

This piece is an exploration of Samoan culture through dance. From siapo (tapa cloth) making, to traditional oratory presented as poetry, to ritual movements of the tufuga ta tatau (master tattooist), to concepts of cultural fusion and the influence of the church.

Albert’s piece features the dancing talent of: Natalie Toevai Maulolo, Byron Faaui, Atapana Meleisea, Albert Tupuola and Albert Fale.

Check the Pacific Dance website for more information and updates about the Pacific Dance Choreographic Laboratory 2015 and Facebook at –facebook.com/pages/Pacific-Dance-Choreographic-Lab

For general enquiries about the choreo lab, contact auckland@pacificdance.co.nz ph: +64 9 376 00 60

For media enquiries about the choreo lab, contact marketing@pacificdance.co.nz ph: +64 22 123 1050



Pacific traditional dance forms , Pasifika contemporary dance , Hiphop , Dance , Contemporary dance ,


90 minutes

Youthful virtuosity and fiery words

Review by Paul Young 07th Nov 2015

The Pacific Dance Choreographic Lab has long provided a platform for Pacific choreographers and the three mentees presenting work at the 2015 event are evidence of the sheer breadth of genre that the term ‘Pacific Dance’ encapsulates. From traditional to pop to contemporary performance art, some the works, as the master of ceremonies  states, are more observably Pacific than others.

I do not have a deep understanding of nuances of Pacific Island Culture that may be embodied in these presentations, so I’m reviewing this as a contemporary dance practitioner rather than a cultural specialist. I lay my cards on the table at the outset; I am far less interested in entertainment, tradition and content than I am in spatial composition and conscious performative rigour.

Le Fa’avae, meaning The Foundation is the opening quintet which, the program says, explores the roots of Samoan dance. Traditional grass mats are employed as props symbolising islands, vaka, containers and, as choreographer Albert Fale informs us post-show, the family tree. The text is entirely in Samoan and the movement is a mix of traditional dance, mimetic theatricality, and if my eyes don’t deceive me – some popping and locking, all performed with strong commitment and skill.The performers are very staunch and ceremonial, implying an occasion of auspice, the men’s oratory is particularly resonant in the small space. Natalie Toevai Maulolo wearing a gigantic feathered headpiece is the sole feminine presence, but I could not tell you her role or relevance to the narrative, and in fact a direct relationship between any of the performers is nearly entirely absent. They don’t look at each other. A notable characteristic of Pacific Dance is the unique percussive rhythms of either instruments or body percussion, a form thoroughly explored in early Black Grace dance company repertoire. Fale himself underpins much of the performance with a rhythm drummed on a rolled up grass mat and wooden sticks, an important variation to the norm perhaps?

Does Le Fa’avae explore the roots of Samoan Dance or does it reiterate a mytho-historical tradition? I don’t really know for sure, but for me the word ‘exploration’ implies research and some deconstruction of form which I can’t discern in the very familiar movement, time and space that Le Fa’avae occupies.

Tall Poppy by Hadleigh Pouesi  is a peppy, entertaining group piece that the programme notes suggests looks at Tall Poppy syndrome. I would suggest that the work neither ‘looks at’  nor questions the issue of Tall Poppy syndrome but rather is a hip hop theatre transliteration of the title. How can we deal with a subject in contemporary dance performance without developing an appropriate and unique vocabulary, or at least addressing the chosen vocabulary consciously in relation to the premise? Hip hop is a form which is rarely subverted, which is a shame as the movement vocabulary itself  could well have ursurped modern dance vocabulary in emerging contemporary New Zealand dance by now. It hasn’t. Instead, contemporary hip hop’s reliance on cheesy narrative, and seeming inability to disentwine itself from the world of music videos and international competitions sees it subjugated to the entertainment industry. What I can say is that the performers  of Pouesi’s Freshman’s Crew are incredible. There is virtuosity amongst these young, focused and fit dancers and not a weak link among them.  I would love to see their paradigm shifted by a challenging mentor.

“Could all the women present who have a previous connection to Jahra please come forward,” invites Lab Mentor and renowned poet Grace Teuila Taylor, author of recent release Afakasi Speaks. Thus begins Bloo/d/runk, the new resurrection of feminine ritual as performed by Jahra ‘Rager’ Wasasala who is standing smiling before an empty traditional Fijian Kava bowl. Wasasala’s performance persona is less alter ego or character but more a magnified representation of specific relevant characteristics of herself. Even her costume is not a theatrical device: she always looks that way.

The bowl is filled incrementally with water by each of the twenty or so women before they take places seated on the ground at the rear of the space behind Wasasala. With the division of the audience into two distinct sides I wonder about the segregation. My side of the audience now feels sparse and isolated. The special women are ‘in’ and we are out. I wonder if the remaining women with no prior connection to Wasasala feel left out? It is as though Wasasala is amassing friends (an army maybe) to aid her in her proceedings. She crouches down between them and us like a guard or a barrier, maybe their queen? “Call this a cleansing” is chanted over and over via audio. Ok, I will.

Wasasala’s spoken word poetry is intrinsic to her practice and effectively provides context throughout  her performance. “I am a mongrel map,“ ‘”I am the colonised and the coloniser.” Wasasala deals with identity in a far more  immediate way than we often see. She is explicit in content without making us feel like we are having it spelt out, and there is no ambiguity about the visceral punch that she packs. I write in my journal that Wasasala breathes real fire.

Her three main points of research are clear. The internal conflict of being mixed race; the ownership, or lack of ownership, of the brown, female body; and the issue of missing and/or murdered indigenous women in Canada, and the disappearance of the brown body globally. There is no real need for a synopsis however. I really appreciate that it’s all there in the work.

At a recent performance forum I was reminded that there are ethical considerations to audience participation and that audience compliance shouldn’t be taken for granted. I bring this up for consideration rather than accusation. I have no doubt Wasasala’s army is righteously compliant. I use the words ‘army’ and ‘war’ because I get the sense that for Wasasala being a woman is tantamount to being in a state of war or siege, whether it be the personal conflict of her split cultural identities, her presentation as a woman of colour at the bottom of a white patriarchal ladder, or her conjuring of religiously suppressed ‘divine feminine’ spiritual identities. She is neither at ease nor at peace with the status quo and is kicking against the pricks.

I occasionally feel that there is a disconnect between what Wasasala is experiencing and what we are seeing and I wonder whether she is casting a spell or under one. I would like to see more deliberate design to her performance to complement her channeling of states and emotion, but ultimately I can’t tear my eyes off her while I write and I am left with pages of illegible notes.

A complaint. I find it weird and ironic that  immediately following Wasasala’s performance the Lab is closed with a Christian prayer asking the Lord for this and that. Is Pasifika really so synonymous with Christianity? I would have preferred to have been left with the image of Wasasala hugging each of her female supporters one by one. Keep nurturing the divine feminine Jahra, and next time an oppressive male deity is invoked at the end of your performance, breath some of that Wasasala fire on it.

I’d call that a cleansing.

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A collection of Pacific bodies and concepts

Review by Vivian Arthur Aue 07th Nov 2015

Walking up the stairs of the Opanuku Studio I am stunned by the tight space in which the Pacific Dance Choreographic Lab 2015 Showing is presented. I was expecting a traditional theatre stage, with lights, and curtains, but this environment does not upset my desires. It is a warm and inviting atmosphere, exactly the feeling I get when entering a room full of family and loved ones. I believe that this is the intention. A Pacific warmness and a gathering of bodies from different ages and different ethnicities. Friends and family members fill the waiting area ready to enter into a space full of Pacific creativeness and fruitful offerings.

Albert Fale’s Le Fa’avae – The Foundation, opens the showing with four kings: Byron Faaui, Atapana Meleisea, Albert Tupuola and Albert Fale, scattered in the space full of pride and honour. The kings are adorned with Samoan traditional attire, wearing these sacred heirlooms with authority and the blood that their ancestors possessed. This experience shifts my own Pacific soul into a realm of connecting with my own ancestors and I watch Le Fa’avae proud of being Pasifika. The kings are accompanied by three traditional Samoan woven fala’s (mats) and one plastic material fala (mat). I feel that this decision was deliberately made. Visually it looks like the dominant mat is the plastic material fala and the three traditional woven fala’s sre present but on display or manipulated with movement by the dancers. Each king’s connection to the fala tells a story of love for their genealogy and their expressions through their bodies and faces are evidence of this concept. The gestural movements are minimal as two of the kings grasped tightly onto their own individual fala’s showcasing an image which reminded me of the wrapping up and burying of dead bodies in the Pacific culture, the dancers carry and take care of their ancestors.

The rhythmic beating of drum sticks on the fala is the musical element throughout Le Fa’avae, manipulating the kings to obey and respect the beats played. A strong and powerful presence is held throughout Le Fa’avae by Albert Tupuola as the intricate patterns from his malofie or pe’a (traditional male tatau that covers the body from waist to the knees) significantly support his character. I visualize a Matai (Samoan village high chief) cloaked over his presence. The Matai speaks passionately in the Samoan language and I sink into the depths of what he is reciting. Even though I do not understand the Samoan language I can feel the solid Fa’avae (foundation) he is placing upon the space and including us audience members on the journey. A poised taupou (the daughter of a high chief in a Samoan village), Natalie Toevai Maulolo, enters and the four corners of the room are filled with her elegance. Vigorous fa’ataupati (Samoan slap dance) movements fused with contemporary movements are performed, leading into a discovery of soft graceful hand movements. A vocal score of overlapping sanctified oratory is delivered by all the dancers in the space, leaving the audience with an amalgamation of various Samoan cultural ideologies.

I wonder how the dancers and the choreographer of Le Fa’avae can fully use the fala to its maximum potential, by breaking boundaries and traditional rules. Is this allowed? Or will disputes erupt?

Hadleigh Pouesi’s Tall Poppy asks: ‘What is the balance of uplifting your peers without lifting them too high? Exploring how dance artists support each other but also yearn to be better than each other. The white walled studio is occupied by 12 dancers: Chris Ofanoa, Byron Faaui, Chantelle Huch, Emma Huch, Simon Turangatau, Jacob Filipe, Soana Aleva, Donovan Graham, Anastasia Faaui, Keenen Ratahi, Carlo Powell and Mitaa Puru all dressed in grey, black and white clothing – feeling like a gang hanging out on the streets in West Auckland. My eyes are fixated on the clumps of dancers on the sides of the performance space rather than the dancer att enter stage. is this deliberate? I look back to center stage and I see Soana Aleva’s eyesight hooked to ‘something’ up in the sky. I feel like being nosey and looking up at the sky with her – so I do. I am not quite sure what is up there? Unexpectedly my vision is interrupted by all the dancers congregating to center stage. The dancers start to reach towards the sky still fixated at the ‘thing’ that is up there. The dancers individually push each other out of the limelight to discover the ‘thing’ for themselves.

In unison, street dance movements (break dancing is implemented most of the time) are performed with a mix of contemporary dance movements. Throughout this work the dancers always seem to break out of movement and be fixated to the ‘thing’ in the sky. Therefore this ‘thing’ is a significant aspiration in each dancer’s life. Multiple questions arise. What does the ‘thing’ look like? Who created this ‘thing’ in the sky? What makes the dancers so fascinated to reach this ‘thing? Suddenly an array of ‘lifting peers’ (literally) is showcased in some sense maybe related to how artists lift the spirits of fellow artists. The audience is entertained with group unison sections breaking off into duets and electrifying solo performances.

At the conclusion of this work 11 dancers stand staring at one dancer on center stage, a positive outcome is showcased as the ‘thing’ is finally taken hold of. But then again I am still wondering, what is this ‘thing’ that Soana is now holding? All the effort to finally get this ‘thing’? However, relating this back to reality, the more effort you put into something a successful outcome will occur. This is evident in the Street Dance New Zealand community as you have the likes of Parris Goebel and the hard work she implements into her craft, absolutely a successful artist. Is Tall Poppy a movement response to uplifting spirits? Or an exploration of being better then someone else?

The urban performance energy throughout, Tall Poppy was strongly held by all the dancers which distinctively connected well with the contemporary street dance movements. A well-crafted dance work and I look forward to further development.

Jahra Rager Wasasala enters into the space holding tightly onto a tanoa (kava bowl). Just this image is mesmerizing and I am already on the edge of my seat ready to witness art move. Grace Teuila Taylor (Jahra’s mentor and award-winning spoken word artist) announces, “May all the women in Jahras life please step join us on stage”. Multiple women of different ages and races step into the space and are invited to pour the clear fluid from a glass bottle into the tanoa. A ritual of cleansing the tanoa and the space which is about to be blessed by the controversial yet beautiful movements of Wasasala. The inspirational woman in her life sit down in a line with backs pressed towards the white back wall. This image in itself is breathtaking and I love the inclusion of the sacred providers for our future generations.

She is draped in sand. She is smiling. She is upon the journey of womanhood. She bows before the tanoa, a respectful act towards her ancestors. Her head is down and we witness the wet curls from her scalp start to twitch. Life has begun. Life has called upon Jahra to not be afraid and to state the truth of women in past and present societies. I gasp at the earthly tone in her voice as she begins to speak honestly upon us. Blood/d/runk is a spoken word and movement exploration and both elements are demonstrated with maturity and clean cut confidence.

She speaks to her inner ideologies. She is connected to her skin colour. Jahra screams and my mind switches to a cry for help from my very own mother and sisters. What would I do in this situation? What would you do in this situation? The sound score drills pain and agony in closed crevices in my mind and body. I am open to devour the nature of Jahra’s complex thoughts. I want to save her from the excruciating pain that she is showcasing but it seems like an imaginary fence is blocking me. What is this fence? Who constructed and placed this fence here? The phrases “Hide razors in my tongue. Gold in my throat”, have melted in my mind and have made a safe home. Embodying and internalizing these phrases makes me feel uncomfortable, however I am satisfied that the truth is exposed. She constantly wails and I reminisce over the passing of my grandmother in the Cook Islands. My heart sinks and I envision Blood/d/runk as a reflection, an autobiography of the woman in my life. I am happy. I am content. Jahra struggles to pick up the tanoa which is positively thought-provoking to observe. I see this act as the struggles and burdens women go through in life and she clearly performs this with integrity and commitment. She speaks goodness and drinks from the tanoa to sanctify her body and the women who are present in the space.

She spills the liquid onto the foundation of the studio and I envision this to be a curse upon the space and the rituals of being a woman. She drinks the liquid leaving an everlasting memory in my mind. A memory of fulfilment. A memory of purification. A memory of the female connection with the earth. She acknowledges the womb bearers who have witnessed her harsh act by hugging and reminiscing over the past, the present and the future of women.

Blood/d/runk is more than a dance and a spoken word piece. This work is a celebration. This work is breathtaking. This work is life.

I applaud Jahra for her extraordinary passion and for her ‘casual and light’ intense concept. An inspirational wahine in the Aotearoa dance industry.

I am excited to see the development of all three dance works in the future and also the extreme growth of not only Albert, Hadleigh and Jahra but other aspiring Pacific dance choreographers in New Zealand and the world.

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