Kia Mau Festival

Hi Guys. I have just returned from a whirlwind visit to the land of the long white cloud, yes Aotearoa, to the southern tip of the North Island that houses the beautiful town of Wellington.

I wish I could say the process of touching down was as quick as my visit, but alas I cannot. No. Sadly, I was profiled as an imbiber of more serious gear and was detained until the magic wand and ensuing x-ray of my emptied bags satisfied the powers that be otherwise. Alas, I will leave the regaling of that tragic ditty for some other time, as I don’t want the memory of my first visit to Wellington to be overshadowed by that isolated incident.

I was invited by the peak body for Indigenous dance, BlakDance, to attend the Kia Mau Festival. Think the NZ equivalent of Melbourne’s Yirramboi Festival, which celebrates all First Nations expressions from cabaret to dance and physical theatre, including hip hop and world music platforms. Initially, I was meant to perform at Kia Mau, however my downgraded visit turned out to be a bloody great consolation prize.

From what I witnessed there is much we have in common in terms of dance. The aesthetic of dance product coming from Aotearoa is dynamic with its roots still planted firmly in the Modernist genre. Watching the Indigenous works on offer at the Kia Mau Festival, I was reminded of my time at Martha Graham, where the physicality on display was primarily architectural rather than romantic or pedestrian and being airborne remained a major consideration.

The first work I saw was titled ‘Waiwhakaata- Reflections in the Water’ and featured performer Carl Tolentino in the lead, shared with a young actor, Lezharn Avia-Elliott, who played his childhood self, and a well-rounded ensemble cast. This was a Māori narrative, directed by Māori choreographer Eddie Elliott, in his full length debut. What I found interesting was the fact that performer Carl Tolentino is not Māori. I was heartened that his commitment to the performance surpassed any potential frivolous conjecture surrounding his ethnicity. As it happens, I similarly considered Tolentino an asset in the crafting of my work ‘Long Grass’, of which he was an integral collaborator in the formative creative stages, nearly a decade beforehand. In both works he acquitted himself with utmost integrity and physical rigour. In ‘Waiwhakaata’ Tolentino’s attention to the nuance of Māori stylistic embodiment was nothing short of impressive.

Having trained at New Zealand School of Dance, Carl Tolentino was already conversant in elements of Māori cultural expression. Of this fact I can’t help but feel a tad jealous. You see, years ago I was charged with creating an Indigenous contemporary dance technique, which I accepted, driven by my ambition to see every Australian dancer possess a literacy of Australian Indigenous dance, just as our NZ counterparts are literate in Māori dance. Alas, this ambition is still to be realised.

This got me thinking about the bigger picture, what with the referendum for an Indigenous Voice to Parliament looming. Why aren’t we having bigger discussions with the Māori and Pakeha communities regarding the machinations, and subsequent benefits and challenges of their model for political co-governance?

However, I do concede our situations differ considerably, in that unlike us, the early British colonialists actually forged The Treaty of Waitangi with Māori leaders. A select few. Additionally, the documents, one in Māori, which only forty chiefs signed, and an English version which was signed by a further five hundred, were ultimately imbued with sufficient ambiguity rendering the Māori to the position of subordinate subjects under the British crown. Yet despite their flawed treaty document the resulting co-governance model is still gaining traction in New Zealand. This gives me hope that the similarly ambiguous Aboriginal Voice to Parliament may one day have the same weight and impact resulting in a similar co-governance model regarding the land and the activities conducted upon it. For as Professor of Māori Studies at Auckland University Margaret Mutu states:

“If you take the time to understand what co-governance is about, it’s the wellbeing of everybody in this country. It’s not about Māori suddenly taking over and doing to the country what the British did to us when they came here. That’s not how we are.”

As to the concept of co-governance I see the arts as leading the way. Cultural difference, acceptance, acknowledgement and celebration are at the core of our existence. Through the implementation of arts protocols regarding engagement with other cultures, particularly Indigenous, we have inadvertently broadened the scope and impact of arts on and with the greater populace. This includes increased opportunities for intergenerational engagement through our consultancy with community Elders.

The Kia Mau Festival demonstrated such forward thinking and action through facilitated whakawhanaungatanga (relationship-building) and kōrero (discussion) sessions which focused on the future of First Nations arts as integral expressions for the dual purpose of cultural perpetuity and as contributors to the overarching euro centric entertainment industry. The talks were long, especially the introductions, but from this we were able to appreciate everybody’s ensuing input more thoroughly. Everybody’s personal narrative mattered, no matter age, place of origin, or reason for being present.

I must apologise for not supplying more information about the art works on offer at Kia Mau but I kept on making overarching cultural comparisons between Aotearoa and Australia. Even the traffic lights had the red man dancing the Haka for stop walking and a green woman performing the Haka for go. C’mon!

So, until next time.

Vicki Van Hout
FORM Dance Projects
Blogger in Residence


“The Treaty in brief – The Treaty in brief | NZHistory, New Zealand history online”

“Margaret Mutu: Call it what you want, co-governance isn’t going away – E-Tangata”