The Pacific Dance Choreographic Laboratory is an annual event which gives 3 up and coming choreographers of Pacific Islands descent an opportunity to devise, develop and perform a dance work.
The three choreographers selected to take part in 2013 are Santana Schmidt, Amo Ieriko and Nikki Upoko.
As part of the Southside Arts Festival, the Pacific Dance Choreo Lab showing will be at the Mangere Arts Centre, Saturday 2nd November at 7pm.
Here is a quick Q & A with Nikki Upoko about her piece “Vaine Toa”
Q1. What is your piece called and what is the inspiration behind it?
My piece is called Vaine Toa. The inspiration behind this title came about because I wanted not only to portray the inner strength of women through my performance but also through the title, which means “female warrior”. From what I’ve learnt in today’s society, things are often taken at face value. So I knew the strength of my piece had to start right from the get go - the title.
Q2. What is your background in dance? When did you start dancing and what were your early dance influences?
I’ve been dancing ever since I was about 3 or 4 - Cook Islands dancing that is, and that passion for dance has been very much alive since then. Having been in several Cook Islands dance groups, and a member/choreographer of one now, I’ve felt the push from the entertainment side of the Western world to modernise the movements, beats, etc. while at the same time trying to stick to our roots. I would say, because it was all around me, there was no doubt that I would jump at the chance to up skill myself in my own culture.
Having been in some quite diverse environments and situations, I have been lucky enough to experience many different cultural dances from the siva to the hopo. Having learnt, not only the cultural dances, but values and techniques to execute them, I found myself becoming quite a diverse dancer who was able to respect the culture and it’s form.
Hip-hop was introduced to me at a much later stage in my schooling years. Being a lover of the hip hop scene, I threw myself at every opportunity presented from “Bring It On Dance Competition” to seeking out friends who were able to teach me sets to watching YouTube clips. I took a huge liking to Parris Goebel. I never really found my passion for it until I started studying Performing Arts at the Manukau Institute of Technology. From then, I built the confidence to audition for the SDNZ [Street Dance NZ] Dream Programme, in which I became a successful member of the Varsity Team, lead by Indigo Sagala (Leader of M.EYE.A). This opened my eyes to everything that I’d wanted in hip hop dance but never really strived for until I got that opportunity.
As mentioned before, I study at M.I.T. This is also the place where I was introduced to the art of Contemporary Dance by the one and only Cat Ruka. Having never done it before, I didn’t know what to expect. In my mind, I was thinking ballet and jazz. Little did I know, it was a much bigger ball game. Although I’m not quite the ‘Pina Bausch’, I’d like to think that so far in my dance practice, I’ve learnt enough to incorporate it into my piece. From class, I’ve gained a sense of freedom in the studio. It takes me into a world of the unknown where I’m able to find precious jewels of movement and feeling.
Q3. How does your dance background influence your current work?
Everything that I’ve been taught and have taught, whether it be the movements, stories, values, beliefs, techniques, or whatever; all contribute to the emerging choreographer and artist that I aspire to be. Although this is a fresh new work, I am definitely going to be using aspects of what I’ve learnt, workshop it, and portray it as something new and inventive that my dancers and I can call our own.
Q4. In your piece for the choreographic lab, is there an essential message you wish to convey? How are you planning to convey this through your work and what do you want the audience to take away from it?
There will definitely be many messages throughout the piece which will be portrayed through poetry, song and dance. Although this piece will be focussed around womanhood, I really want all audience members to gain a sense of self worth, not just females.
In saying that, for females, particularly those of Pacific Island descent, I wish to portray the message that the inner strength that women possess is something to be cherished and celebrated and that the label of being ’strong’ should not only be left to ones physicality but should also be seen spiritually, emotionally and mentally.
Q5. How does it feel to be part of the choreolab and to be called a choreographer rather than just a dancer? How different is it for you?
It really is amazing. Although I’ve been in a choreographer position before, I’d put this down as my foundation of development as an up and coming Pacific choreographer. This was definitely unexpected and getting the chance to work with Pacific Dance NZ makes it feel a bit less like I’m being thrown in the deep end I suppose. It’s definitely going to test my abilities as a dancer as well as a leader but with the team of dancers I have, hopefully I can learn as much from them as they do from me.
Q6. What do you hope to gain out of the experience of being part of the Pacific Dance Choreographic Lab 2013?
From this experience, I hope to gain a whole new confidence in myself to go on and develop this piece as well as potentially creating others. I also hope that this creates opportunities for not only myself, but for my dancers to continue in our journey to pursue a career in dance.
Q7. What are your hopes for the future?
Hopes for the future... Well after my studies, I would really love to get into teaching. On top of that, I would love to start creating my own works to present to the public and creative eyes which would incorporate all performing arts elements in order to create something new and fresh that I can call my own.