Tongan Morris Men
06/03/2013 - 09/03/2013
The year is almost over for St. Bernard Year 13 Tongan student, Molisi Brown and his friends Jester and Tamasi – however things turn for the worse with the arrival of new dance teacher Mr. Stalk, and the introduction of Morris dance; an ‘English’ dance using hankies and sticks . In order to gain final credits for NCEA, Morris and his Tongan friends must take the new dance elective.
As the boys complain about Morris dancing, the girls have their own dreams and aspirations about the future. Ma’ata Lama has a secret desire to become a cheerleader. Her sister Selu on the other hand, prefers the practical things – finding a man and settling down. The only issue for Ma’ata is that her father is the Minister’s son, and soon to be taking over the church leadership! The church can be an unforgiving place when it comes to change from the Tongan traditional way of doing things.
Will Mr. Stalk succeed in restoring the prestige of Morris dance in an alien environment? Will Ma’ata have the courage to stand up for herself? And will Morris and his friends get the final credits that they need to achieve their Level 3 NCEA?
A story of courage, determination and a lot of Tongans Morris dancing!
It’s all or nothing, so giddy up
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A wonderful and funny journey
Review by Tania Kopytko 19th Mar 2013
The title of this theatre piece begged for me to attend – how could this show bring together such disparate ideas as Morris dancing, New Zealand Tongan culture and NCEA dance? The short answer was it did – and what a wonderful and funny journey we were taken on.
Arnette Arapai (co-writer and producer) Jason Manumu’a (director and co-writer) with Lavinia ‘Uhila (choreographer, design and co-producer) and the new Tongan Creatives Collective cast of 16, brought us a performance that explored a raft of issues from aspirations of migrant parents for their children to aspire to university, get proper jobs and do well, to the pressures of and tactics in achieving NCEA, the loss of cultural tradition through the influence of other cultures and a touch of reverse colonialism.
The story was a wildly unbelievable ruse which created the juxtapositions for all this exploration and a wonderfully funny but at times poignant tale. Morris dance needed a “Jonah Lomu” to survive: an English teacher and Morris dance master, Mr Stalk, was sent to New Zealand to find one. The students of St Bernard’s year 13 decided to complete NCEA by taking an easy dance paper, but to their horror found that the usual teacher had been replaced by the Morris dance master.
The discourse on dance was intriguing. The students love of dance included hip hop and cheerleading. Cheerleading (the girls) enabled the play to explore appropriate aspirations for daughters as well as a reminder to a now conventional Tongan mother that she had her wild time when she was young and the world didn’t fall apart. Hip hop/street dance also featured, with the adults and the church all showing various concern about the effect of these dances on Tongan culture and young people. The story climax was the Church, on hearing about the Morris dance the students had to perform for NCEA, declaring it pagan, dangerous and needing to be stopped. There was even a link back to the Tongan Queen (Salote Tupou III) who had given two crisp white hankies to ancestors of one of the families– surely a sign that the link between Morris dance and the students was on a higher level.
The theatre piece would benefit from editing out some of its length, as is often the case with the first showing of works. But it was a credit to the producers and cast that despite length and the many sub plots, the story continued to unfold in wonderful and funny ways, and the audience were still engaged with the performance at the end. The final credit goes to choreographer Lavinia ‘Uhila – and the dance number we were all waiting for. A full cast danced a wonderful finale which combined Morris, Tongan, hip hop and cheerleading dance elements. It was so good and I could have watched more.
The Tongan Morris Men showcased talent emerging from the Tongan community though a non-funded production. It showed determination, strength, a wonderful sense of humour from people able to laugh at themselves and the incongruity of the wider world. I hope the team revisit this work as it not only provides a good night out, but it has us thinking about the rules and conventions we have in our world and art forms. Well done to the Tongan Creatives Collective.
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