Kiri Te Kanawa Theatre - Aotea Centre, Auckland

27/06/2024 - 27/06/2024

Pacific Dance Festival 2024

Production Details

Director Iosefa Enari
Pacific music director Aiono Manu Faaea-Semeatu

NZTrio and Pacific Dance NZ

Prepare to be swept away on a rhythmic journey as Pacific Dance NZ, and NZTrio join forces to present ‘TOLU’—a showcase of artistic fusion and melodic brilliance. Meaning ‘three’ in the Pacific, this collaboration is set to break boundaries and traditions as the NZTrio takes a vibrant detour into the heart of MOANA, crafting a musical medley that resonates with the colourful tapestry of the Pacific.

This extraordinary concert, a triumphant conclusion to the Pacific Dance Festival in June 2024, promises an ethnomusical performance that transcends genres and captivates the senses. Imagine the seamless synergy of dance and music as artists converge after three years of meticulous preparation. Curated with precision, the repertoire boasts a bold and unashamedly brown flavour—a celebration of diversity and a testament to the collaborative spirit that binds cultures through art. Prepare for an evening of lively entertainment, where the stage comes alive with the pulsating heartbeat of the Pacific, beckoning both seasoned aficionados and new enthusiasts seeking a unique and enchanting experience.

‘TOLU’ is not just a concert; it’s a testament to the magic that happens when creativity knows no bounds and collaboration takes centre stage.

Venue: Kiri Te Kanawa Theatre, Aotea Centre
Dates: 27 June
Times: 7.30PM
Prices: $20.00 – $45.00

Dancers: Faivaeselopepe Anric Sitanilei, Tupe Lualua, Josie Bonnington-Mailisi

NZTrio: Liam Wooding (piano), Ashley Brown (cello), Amalia Hall (violin), with Alan Motufoua (drum), Niulala Helu and Helen Pahulu (voice)

Visual scenography by NZ Arts Laureate FAFSWAG and production designer Filament Eleven11
Music of Samoa, Tonga, Cook Islands, Tahiti, Hawaii and Aotearoa, including music by John Psathas
Arrangements of the Pacific music by Poulima Salima, Ryan Youens, and John-Paul Muir

Supported by Auckland Live

Dance , Music , Pasifika contemporary dance ,

60 minutes (no interval)

Pasifika journey of the heart.

Review by Olivia Taouma 29th Jun 2024

I don’t know much about TOLU when I arrive amongst the large Pacific wave of familiar Pasifika faces, families, and people. It is a great start to the night to see so many turn out on a cold Thursday evening for what is billed as a rhythmic journey by Pacific Dance NZ, NZTrio, and FAFSWAG. It starts with a stripped-back stage, musical instruments set up across the centre stage and two microphones to the right of the stage with a large screen behind. The musicians and singers enter, with the cellist ceremonially placing a bright red ula fala on his music rack. This act is simple but speaks volumes to us Samoans; I interpret it as an ode to our Samoan Matais, past, present and future and a marker of what is to come. 

As with all shows, a settling-in period occurs, and the first number may feel a little bare compared to the rest of the show, but it helps transition people from the realities of today to another realm where this show hopes to take people. We adjust our hearing to the soft and slow fala drummed by the multi-talented Alan Motufoua, the melodic piano is played by the incredible Liam Wooding, the deep cello bass expertly manoeuvred by Ashley Brown and the high yearning sounds of the violin played by Amalia Hall. The music is accompanied by the very soft and deep voice of Niulala Helu, as if clearing the air to prepare for the intense journey to come. This fusion of classical and Pacific music is not new, but this show holds it with reverence, honouring the weaving of the two cultures through master musicians and expert music curatorship; this creates a feeling of orchestral and cultural respect, which continues throughout the show. The music is the star of this show, as it moves the audience effortlessly through different segments with points of shining solo’s where the quality musicianship is felt.

Suddenly, the screen lights up with a stunning night scene, and we lift off into what I will call a Pasifika journey of the heart. It immediately takes me back home to the islands and our connecting moana seas. I can imagine our waka on the water beginning our voyage with the scene of the night sky, moon in fullness and stars shining down upon us. It is Matariki, and this stunningly designed scene, malo FAFSWAG, suddenly excites the audience as we see the connection to the now and that this show will be a maritime journey following the stars ahead. 

We now have the pleasure of hearing the beautiful vocals of Helen Pahulu, a real rising star and find of the show. While watching the stars move across the night sky on screen, the music smoothly adds a guitar to the mix, which we always hear with our Pasifika music, again reinforcing the Pacific and classical fusion journey we are on.

The show adds another dimension as the first dancer, Faivaeselopepe Anric Sitanilei, enters with a strong white pathway light. He moves gracefully with Samoan siva dressed in a bright red  ‘ie lavalava with gold trim, with his Pe’a peeking out. As he moves slowly across the front stage, his movements remind me of a sea spirit showing safe passage through the waters. The show then moves without a dancer through the deep blue sea lighting to what feels like an intense storm building-up, with the music intensifying with the visuals, suddenly breaking into sunshine and warmth as we make it out safe. 

The second dancer enters, Tupe Lualua, who brings a sense of calm mana and female quintessence. Her contemporary Samoan siva is slowly mesmerising, directing and navigating the audience through to other realms, performed with a smile of knowing things we are yet to see and understand in the world; she tops this off by cheekily teasing her malu under her bright red contemporary ‘ie lavalava, ever so joyfully. This piece brings the light humour ever present with us Pasifika, which breaks the dark seriousness and past gloom of the storm. This segment greatly reflects how our people always balance the dark with the light.

The scene turns into contemporary Pacific-lined shapes on screen moving at pace, with the music of contemporary Pacific fusion journeying the audience further into the joy introduced by Tupe Lualua. Just when the audience thinks they understand the show, a new performer enters and breaks the mould. Josie Bonnington-Mailisi takes the performance to another level, literally. Josie performs slow Samoan siva movements similar to the others but dressed in a black top and pants. A hoop lowers in the front centre stage, and everyone breathes excitedly, ‘is she going to get onto the hoop?’ we ask ourselves. Our hope is more than rewarded as she transforms into the rising masina/moon and transcends us into her night beauty of aerial artistry, shapes, and majestic beauty. This moment is a real highlight of the whole show.

The show then moves scenes on land with silhouetted coconut trees and three flying fa’agogo, symbolising safety and the reaching of land. Music moves to match a dark pink light into a contemporary style of plucking sounds, reminiscent of insects and animals in the islands awakening in the near dark, shaking off the night, and reinforcing memories and sounds from the islands. The show moves quickly as a contemporary Samoan siva duet unfolds between Lualua and Sitanilei. They circle each other in a flirtatious and cheeky catch-me-if-you-can dance. This scene gives off Bridgerton ball-scene feels and is enjoyed by all.

A Tuiga rises in the background, which means the end is near for us Samoans. The three dancers appear on stage in three white spotlights, performing to a Fijian song sung by the two singers, dancing slowly and then building up in energy over three repetitions. It was nice to see all three dancers on stage, yet it felt underwhelming as the energy the music and song were trying to build was not matched in the performers’ energy. This piece could have been the dynamic, high-energy point of the show’s dances. 

Next, Helen Pahulu stands and sings the best vocal performance of the night, accompanied by the beautiful sounds of the guitar and cello. She sings a profoundly emotional Tongan song with deep lower notes layered with husky top notes, resonating jazzy undertones. She expertly moves the audience, some to tears. 

The journey now moves to a scene displaying the rising water crisis, with a sea partly submerging Rapanui Moai. The music moves tensely, high notes play quickly, and the three dancers return to the stage in silhouette. They move as if in slow motion, performing accented synchronised movement at times with the music. This little peep of change in the choreography could be explored further, as the music took the audience on a journey across many dynamic rhythms and feelings, but the dance pieces did not.

The dancers stood facing the screen, slowly raising their hands to amplify the water rising on display, submerging the moai, arching their backs to stare at the audience from behind as if drowning in the water, asking us, ‘Why?’. They become spotlit and move slowly in fa’agogo motifs, reaching and flying, and then the hoop drops again. Bonnington-Mailisi rises again in white light as all else fades in black. She contours her body in shapes that bring about feelings of hope, grace, and peace, and, finally, transforms into an image of the fa’agogo flying away into the night to show the way for other navigators.

TOLU is a striking piece of collaborative artistry; I must applaud all involved here, which signifies Iosefa Enari’s remarkable return to the stage as the Director and visionary. A show must transcend us in the audience into the world of the story being told and move us in a way that makes the work memorable. This work did this not only for me but also for the line of youth I was sitting next to who all agreed on one word: ‘beautiful’. Some Pacific elders were teary in love with the memories the show made them feel of the islands they miss, but one was miffed as there were no exciting, energised dance pieces as our people do enjoy an excellent high-paced dance-off. This point is food for thought for the next time, as I hope more people get to experience this show, as it is more than worth it and will be one I and all those in the audience will remember in years to come. Fa’afetai tele lava Pacific Dance NZ for taking us on this beautiful Pasifika journey of the heart.


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