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Lucy Marinkovich & Emmanuel Reynaud: Behind Tiki Taane Mahuta 

By Leah Maclean

From humble beginnings in 2015 at the refurbished Isaac Royal Theatre in Christchurch, Tiki Taane Mahuta, one of New Zealand’s largest nationally devised productions is embarking on a 13 city tour.

Audiences may be surprised to learn that the epic production has actually been 11 years in the making. Creator, choreographer and Taki Rua Productions Artistic Director, Tanemahuta Gray, found the story in the music of New Zealand’s own Tiki Taane. Using the music of Taane’s albums Past, Present, Future and In the World of Light, Tiki Taane Mahuta tells a beautiful story of life, love and loss. Complete with live music from Tiki Taane and Sam “Sambora” Trevethick (Shapeshifter),  Tiki Taane Mahuta is a bold and passionate production that combines theatre, contemporary dance, hip hop, kapa haka, mau rākau, audio-visual projection and stunning aerial work.

“I think the strength of the production is all down to Tanemahuta and his willingness to encourage development  of this cross-disciplinary platform,” says Rehearsal Director Lucy Marinkovich, “what is quite amazing to learn from him is unbelievable perseverance.”  Fellow Rehearsal Director, Emmanuel Reynaud agrees, “Tanemahuta has done a really amazing job over the last 11 years to cultivate this idea… It’s tenacity, to hold onto the idea and wanting to make it work.” Both Marinkovich and Reynaud have been humbled by the experience to work on such a massive project and to have the opportunity to develop and take the next step in their dance careers.

Marinkovich and Reynaud share common ground as New Zealand School of Dance graduates and  Footnote alumni, and both have a number of teaching roles and other freelance projects under their belts (Marinkovich delightfully exclaims that Reynaud was Captain Jack Sparrow at Disneyland Paris). The pair has known each other for a long time and have most recently been collaborating in Marinkovich’s Borderline Arts Ensemble. Their rehearsal director roles for Tiki Taane Mahuta are unlike anything either of them has delved into before. “It’s been an absolute pleasure to work on such a project and share this experience with Lucy,” says Reynaud, “there’s often moments where we realise there’s no way we could have done this without each other.”

So, what exactly does it mean to be a rehearsal director? Though it is just the tip of the iceberg for the pair, being a rehearsal director means that they do a little bit of everything – liaising between the performers, the production and the creative teams, dealing with  health and safety requirements, keeping schedules, narrative and choreography on track, right down to booking accommodation for the tour. “It’s multi-tasking in the extreme,” explains Marinkovich. “But we both have our strengths in a way, so it’s nice to know that I can let Lucy take care of this or I can take care of that,” says Reynaud. The strength in this directing team is an  unconditional respect for one other and a passion for this incredible project, not to mention their singing praises for the cast and crew they have been collaborating with. The biggest drama, Reynaud jokes, is the lack of real coffee in Wainuiomata; one of the bases for the Tiki Taane Mahuta rehearsals.

Collaboration and contribution are enormous parts of the Tiki Taane Mahuta ethos. When I spoke with Marinkovich and Reynaud, Tiki Taane and Sam Trevethick had officially joined the project. Marinkovich, whose partner is a musician, describes the joy and excitement that musical artists express when they realise that their music can be used for dance, “it’s a whole new way for them to see their music!” Noting his experience with live musicians in last year’s Pango/Black performance by Atamira, Reynaud believes collaboration as way to enhance a performance is catching on in New Zealand. “It broadens the audience base and the learning audience. The musical audience is going to learn about dance and vice versa. Cross-pollination is the word I’m looking for.”

In terms of contribution Marinkovich and Reynaud talk about the importance of allowing the performers, a cast of nine, to input their own choreographic ideas, which they feel has been an incredible development since the show’s first iteration in 2015. Tiki Taane Mahuta is not just dance, it has a rich narrative with a strong character base so having the creative input from the dancers has been key in building an honest and authentic experience. “If one of the performers isn’t feeling comfortable with a movement from the version two years ago, then the character isn’t going to feel comfortable either,” Reynaud explains. “We’re trying to create a more realistic and personalised version of the show, so this time around we’re really trying to ground it in the experience of the performers,” says Marinkovich. Aligned with that, Marinkovich mentions the privilege of having the presence of six New Zealand School of Dance understudies and having their choreographic contribution. “It’s been really lovely to see how their work ethics and approaches have evolved,” notes Reynaud, having worked with the students previously.  “I was only meant to choose two,” Marinkovich admits, “but now we have six!”   

With opening night in Palmerston North looming, Marinkovich and Reynaud reflect on the opportunity they have been so grateful to be a part of. “I was so excited about being in the rehearsal director role. I love collaborating, I love working with other people. I was excited to work with the dancers and it’s so unusual to work with so many dancers!”  says Marinkovich. For Reynaud the experience of working alongside the dramaturg (Sasha Gibb) in setting and interpreting the story with movement has been enlightening  in terms of his own personal practice, “I’ve really enjoyed it to the point I want to direct my own play. I didn’t expect that, but I have very much enjoyed it as part of the process.”

The fire behind the production is fierce, with Tanemahuta Gray’s persistence and passion, the hard work and talents of Marinkovich, Reynaud, and the cast and crew. Tiki Taane Mahuta promises to be a powerful and touching experience for audiences around the country.  

Tiki Taane Mahuta is touring to
: Palmerston North (19 May), Napier (22 May), Tauranga (24 May), Hamilton (26 May), Auckland (29 May), New Plymouth (31 May), Wellington (2 June), Blenheim (6 June), Ahsburton (9 June), Chirstchurch (12 June), Oamauru (14 June), Dunedin (16 June), Invercargill (20 June).
Tickets are available from TicketDirect and Ticketek.

Lucy Marinkovich & Emmanuel Reynaud: Behind Tiki Taane Mahuta 

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