Wahine Toa - Pacific Dance Festival 2017
15 June 2017, Mangere Arts Centre, Auckland
Reviewed by Lauren Sanderson
After a successful debut last year, the Pacific Dance Festival returned to the New Zealand stage, taking over Mangere Arts Centre for ten days of contemporary Pacific dance, song and culture.
The festival displays some of the country's most exciting contemporary Pacific dance choreographers. Kicking off the first week was 'Wahine Toa', a collection of four works by female choreographers which celebrated the strength and diversity of Pasifika women. Featuring Tai Akaki by Tepaeru–Ariki Lulu French, Ave by Ufitia Sagapolute, West Meet South by Losalia Milika Pusiaki, and Found Words by Julia Mage'au Gray.
Tai Akaki highlights the effects of climate change on not only the land but also the lives of the community in the Cook Islands. Performing to a short film and outbursts of drums and chants, the dance combines both traditional Pacific and contemporary choreography. Fluid wrist gestures, isolated hip movements and synchronised travelling sequences are just some of the techniques used. The piece shares a story, with every movement we witness the ever-changing effect of climate change.
The second act to enter the stage takes voguing to a whole new level. Tia Sagapolutele’s Ave transports us to Samoa. Inspired by the death of her mother, Tia tells the story of cultural belonging and the search for identity. Six strong women merge street, hip hop, siva Samoa and contemporary dance to create a powerful piece that explores their ideas of colonisation and highlights their feelings of being caught between two worlds.
Separating the four works is a short film by Ojeya Cruz Banks. Tano depicts the rejection of the Chamorro culture by the US occupying government and is about rekindling bonds and activating spiritual consciousness. Set in Guam, dancer and anthropologist Ojeya Cruz Banks sways beneath the trees, connecting herself to the sacred land and its indigenous history.
Julia Mage’au Gray’s solo performance installation Found Words is delicate yet powerful. Although there was very minimal movement the piece was still captivating. With poetry by the late Teresia Teaiwa, stunning costume design by Dru Douglas and a short film by Gray, the touching piece is an expression of connection and disconnection to the past and present of Pacific Heritage.
The closing performance West Meet South by Losalia Milika Pusiaki tells the tale of a Tongan chief from the South and a princess from the West who fall in love and get married. The piece hosts a variety of dancers ranging from six to sixty, each adding their own spin on Pacific dance. Not only are the movements and gestures rich in culture but the costumes have a story of their own. Representing the coming together of two worlds, West Meet South does exactly that, with each movement the audience is brought closer and closer together.
The vibrant performances of 'Wahine Toa' bring together people of all ages and cultures through the art of dance, celebrating the best of the Pacific.