In Transit: The Merging of Two Tribes Through Dance
By Lauren Sanderson
New Zealand’s first Pasifika and African theatre production was brought to life at the Mangere Arts Centre in May 2017. In Transit, written by Wanjiku Kiarie Sanderson, is a play that gives voice to the New Zealand African migrant and refugee communities in Aotearoa. Based on real-life stories, experiences and realities, the inspiring work offers a layered and thoughtful examination of a community navigating the challenges while adapting to an ever-evolving environment.
Influenced by her late husband’s (Martyn Sanderson) involvement with the African community, Sanderson worked alongside director Justine Simei-Barton and choreographers Alfdaniels Mabingo and Charlene Tedrow to bring their vision and story to life by fusing together African and Pacific theatre and dance.
Choreographer’s, Mabingo and Tedrow, are no strangers when it comes to fusing dance styles. Mabingo was born and raised in Uganda, East Africa, and it was here he realised his passion for dancing and music. Tedrow is a well-known Polynesian dancer and choreographer, who trained at Auckland University where she was always pushed to think outside of the box. Together they bring their own experiences and influences to In Transit.
The duo was interested to see what would happen when African and Pacific cultures combined their theatre and performing arts traditions in a contemporary setting.
By uniting the two cultures through dance, Mabingo and Tedrow hoped to introduce new and unique styles of the art form by fusing together both traditional and contemporary movement. Storytelling was a key attribute to the choreography. “For me, the inspiration was to allow the stories to be told through multi-dimensional cultural narratives. Each dance had a story and that story became the inspiration. You can say that the dances were multiplicity inspired” says Mabingo.
“There was a beautiful multi-dimensional network of inspiration,” explains Tedrow who gathers a lot of her motivation from her ‘gafa (genealogy)’.
While talking with both choreographers, I began to truly understand not only what dance means to them personally but also to both African and Pacific cultures.
“Dance is a space where we experiment, share, learn, evolve, experience, grow, identify, express, rationalise, invent, innovate, communicate, historicise, challenge, document, and expand our individual and collective ideas and experiences,” says Mabingo.
“It is an extension of the humanity and civilisation in both communities. Dance forms are outward expressions of who we are at our core and whom we consider ourselves to be connected with. Dance should be allowed to transfer to and from the individual self to our collective cultural selves unbounded and with fluidity,” explains Tedrow.
Although In Transit is predominantly a theatre piece, dance has played a big part in celebrating and communicating the coming together of the different cultures, values and beliefs. “In both cultures and many others, dance is not a separate discipline from storytelling and storytelling is not limited to text, nor is it limited to specialised individuals. Our art forms come from our intergenerational communities. Just because we entered a western platform of storytelling – a theatre context – it doesn’t mean we leave behind what is embedded in us,” says Tedrow.
In Transit is just the beginning of this unique collaboration between cultures, but why was it important to bring it to light today?
“Our identities are coloured with traces of migratory influences. Hence, the premise was that perhaps the stories and experiences that the play captured are similar with the experiences that other migrant communities have been through. We wanted to expand the relevance of the play and allow other cultures to participate in its thematic interpretation and production,” tells Mabingo.
“When the opportunity came to collaborate with our distant relatives from Africa, I knew this was an opportunity to re-establish some of our long-lost connections; we know we are all connected but this was an opportunity to scratch the surface to reveal and experiment with these intersections,” says Tedrow.
However, the true influence of the integration of Africa and Pacific cultures in In Transit came from the relationship between Simei-Barton and Sanderson; both ladies are politically driven and continue to challenge the idea of diversity in New Zealand theatre.
In Transit unites people through theatre and dance, highlighting the significance and importance of the arts, especially in Aotearoa today. “Dance can heal, inspire and empower people of the future. We only need to engage in it and you will be shown all its magnificence! Siva maia!” exclaims Tedrow.
I believe Mabingo speaks on behalf of all the cast when he says; “A culture without dance is a culture without memories and expressions. When we access and share these dances and their attendant stories, we are moved to the centre of these cultures and communities. That way, we learn, our thinking is challenged, our ways of being change, and we peel away layers of biases, stereotypes, and ethnocentrisms. With what is going on right now, the world needs this attitude towards dance now more than ever before”.
Download the article: In Transit: The Merging of Two Tribes Through Dance
*ALL PHOTOS: IN TRANSIT WITH DANCERS FROM URA TABU DANCERS NATALIE TOEVAI, LAUMANU PASEKA, IRENE MANUMU'A ALITINI, VAIARI IVIRANGI, LOMINA ARAITIA, FAY TOFILAU , SONAALOFA ELIES, ATINA LIPA PATAU