This article was originally published in the DANZ Magazine Issue 45 (2016).
The aim of the Māori Choreolab/Te Kanikani Whakamātau is to expand the choreographic expression of Māori in Tamaki Maukarau (Auckland), reflecting the artistic vision of Māori in the 21st century.
The recipient of the first DANZ Māori Choreolab was freelancer and Atamira Dance Company member Bianca Hyslop. Bianca was paired with experienced Māori choreographer, Merenia Gray; a graduate from the New Zealand School of Dance who has enjoyed a successful career as a dancer, teacher and choreographer both nationally and internationally, with a specialisation in Māori contemporary dance.
Merenia mentored and worked with Bianca over six weeks to devise and rehearse a work at Te Pou in Auckland, which culminated in public showings at Te Pou and the Mangere Arts Centre during Matariki (June/July).
The following is a personal account from Bianca about her six-week journey towards the creation of Beauty of Small.
“Matariki is a time to reconnect with the natural world around us; to give thanks to the land, sea and sky. We come together to acknowledge the past, share stories and to turn to the future in celebration of new beginnings.
This year the rising of Matariki brought Te Kanikani Whakamātau: The Māori Choreolab, a new initiative created by DANZ to give time to reflect on the rich whakapapa of Māori contemporary dance in Aotearoa and whakamana the new dance of today.
This was captured in the project Whakataukī.
Kua mārō te haere o te kaupapa. Ko tā tātou i nāianei he ū tonu, he ū tonu kātahi ka whakahōhonu, ka whakawhānui.
The progress of the project has firmed. What we are to do now is consolidate, deepen and broaden its scope.
I was the proud recipient of this choreographic laboratory and from this created my short work in progress Beauty of Small.
The space in between; the wana, the harmony
The cliff line
The elevated point
The unfocused The beauty of all
The beauty of small
Over the Matariki period I meet with my mentor, Merenia Gray. We would have coffee and scribble down ever shifting ideas. I loved that the emphasis was on exploration and experimentation, opening my creative brain to endless opportunities.
I had eight short but rich days with my chosen dancers Maria Munkowits and Matiu Hamuera. I shared with them an improvisational task I developed from the time I spent at the Venice Biennale with choreographer Salva Sanchis in 2015. This task became the base on which the movement for the work was developed. The task required the dancers to ‘tune’ in with each other and the space around them. This resulted in two harmonious dancers who mirrored each other physically and spiritually.
I also worked in close collaboration with Dåkot-ta Alcantara-camacho, my music composer. Dåkot-ta (Chamoru, Filipino) is currently living in his home town in Guahan (Guam). We set up regular Skype dates in which we would exchange korero around the essence of Beauty of Small. After our first conversation, Dåkot-ta sent me a panoramic photo of Fanlalai’an, a cliff line that overlooks the south east part of the island. He shared with me how for him this place was the manifestation of my kupu; the seemingly endless beauty we had spoken of.
For me this exchange was the first in many of the small but beautiful offerings I had hoped for. My kupu became his call to the land in which he created a body of sound for the dancers to be inspired by. We then gifted our dance to the community; two small offerings at Mangere Arts Centre and Te Pou Theatre in New Lynn. The dance might have “just been a development but it now exists. It has been shared and felt and my hope is that it will continue to resonant in small but beautiful ways in our actions, thoughts and memories”.
Reflecting on her experience as a mentor for this project, Merenia said:
“I got a huge amount of pleasure sharing my knowledge with Bianca. We really established a bond of trust which I hope to see grow in the years to come. Bianca’s proposal was very clear and her initial ideas stemmed from wanting to create a duet from a poem she had written. The project is a fantastic initiative for DANZ and I highly recommend this becomes an annual event – that can be tapped into the Matariki celebrations that happen around New Zealand.”
As a platform for choreographic exploration the project was a success. It provided Bianca with the freedom to explore ideas without any financial burden and she was able to work with dancers who were very receptive to her process. Although the public showings were a secondary outcome to what occurred in the rehearsal room, it is heartening to see that the work-in progress will most likely be revisited, expanded and presented in a professional performance setting in 2017.
DANZ looks forward to further developing this project.
The DANZ Māori Choreolab project was supported by Auckland City Council, Atamira Dance Company, Mangere Arts Centre and Te Pou Theatre
Download the article: Māori Choreolab 2016