This weekend sees the culmination of the third annual Pacific Dance Artist in Residence programme in a public showing at Mangere’s Metro Theatre (Saturday 21st July, 6pm). And, this year’s Pacific Dance Artist in Residence, Sesilia Pusiaki Tatuila, is looking forward to exhibiting what she has achieved over the ten week residency.
Sesilia’s dance work is called Hau ‘o Momo and she says the inspiration for the piece comes from a set of ancient dances created during the time of Momo, the 10th Tu’i Tonga (lord of Tonga, circa 1200AD) and thus the title for the work – Hau ‘o Momo, or, The Way of Momo or alternatively – The Rule of Momo.
Sesilia has taken three dances from this era and elaborated around them to create, as she says, a story or sneak peak of Tongan village life from that time. The dances - the Otuhaka, Faha’iula and the Me'etupaki - Sesilia says, were performed and “preserved” through her family and in her village in Tonga – Lepaha. Her goal through the residency is not only to share these dances with her community participants but also to help “pass them on.”
Sesilia has been working with 20 dancers and 12 singers from the community. These community participants represent a range of ages and some actually come from Sesilia’s own family, which she says was also important and a special part of the process – being able to work with her family in a dance/performance environment.
Sesilia explains that, “it’s been really great to be able to work with community participants and to be able to pass on these dances. Usually I work with contemporary dancers who don’t have much Tongan [dance] experience but this time I’ve got Tongan dancers who don’t have much contemporary experience. So, it’s been quite an interesting and rewarding experience.”
In Hau ‘o Momo Sesilia presents these dances not in their usual format, as entertainment, but as she describes, as story – “a slice of life of a Tongan village from that time.” For Sesilia the taking of these dances and presenting them with a contemporary re-rendering blanketed with story and imbued with Tongan culture is an important part of keeping the dances alive and relevant today.
But, she didn’t want to contemporise the dances too much. As she explains;
“The movement is traditionally Tongan and I didn’t want to lose that. But the way I’ve laid it out on the floor is different than how it’s presented traditionally. I’ve tried to use different formations to give it a broader space, not a two or three line piece and we’re not performing on stage. We’re performing on the floor to give the piece more space. I wanted to keep a traditional feel but hoping the formation will liven it up more, giving it a slightly contemporary feel.”
Saturday’s showing maybe the culmination of this process but Sesilia is also hoping to develop the work further.
“I would really like to develop it and give it a new life if the opportunity comes up, not with the experienced dancers I’m used to but with the community. I’d love the community to get involved. We don’t get the chance to showcase dances for the sake of just dancing. These three dances were preserved in my village and they were the only ones. It hasn’t really broadened out to other Tongans and doesn’t get performed much. I’d like to see other villages and communities pick up the dances as well.”
And, Sesilia has recently gotten another opportunity to broaden the work. She will be presenting a similar piece at this year’s Tempo Dance Festival in October. This piece entitled ‘Pukepuke ‘o Tonga’ (to Uphold Tonga) is a development of the work done in the residency though this piece, Sesilia says, will be much more contemporary in approach and reflecting the experience of Tongan youth living in Auckland, New Zealand.
This is also part of Sesilia’s larger goal, to broaden Tongan music and dance, to move it out of the home and church and give it a foothold on the stage.
“I think traditional dance can live on stage as well as contemporary or a mix of both. We have a lot of ancient music and dance, which have been kept in the Tongan community. So we have a lot to share. I think I’m just trying to open doors to expose the community to the atmosphere of the stage and give them that experience.”
You can watch a showing of Hau ‘o Momo this Saturday 21st July at Metro Theatre, 6pm. Seats are limited, so please RSVP to email@example.com.
Also, look out for a new show – Heliaki, which Sesilia has developed with Lima Productions and is double billing with another up-and-coming Tongan choreographer, Amanaki Prescott-Faletau. This will be on at the Mangere Arts Centre at the end of September.
For media enquiries or more information about this year’s Pacific Dance Artist in Residence, contact Pacific Dance New Zealand.
Phone: 376 00 60 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also find out more information on our website: www.pacificdance.co.nz
The Pacific Dance Artist in Residence is presented by Pacific Dance New Zealand in association and supported by DANZ, Auckland Council and Creative New Zealand.