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Pacific Dance: Justin Haiu

As the application deadline for the next ‘Pacific Dance Artist in Residence’ approaches, last year's recipient Justin Haiu relates some of his insights from the eight-week residency.


As the application deadline for the next ‘Pacific Dance Artist in Residence’ approaches, last year's recipient Justin Haiu relates some of his insights from the eight-week residency.

This interview by Aaron Taouma is the latest in a series of profiles from Pacific Dance New Zealand.

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Justin Haiu is a contemporary dancer/choreographer with a street dance background. He has been steadily rising in the NZ dance scene and says he wishes to see more “hope filled stories” in NZ dance theatre.

Justin has previously taught at the Pacific Institute of Performing Arts (PIPA), TAPAC (The Auckland Performing Arts Centre), as a Zumba instructor and performed in a number of theatrical and television productions (including ‘Lion King’ and ‘So You Think You Can Dance’).

But 2010 was a blast of a year for Justin. He took out the ‘Best Emerging Choreographer’ award at the Tempo Dance Festival, was part of the ‘Pacific Choreographic Lab’ and was the inaugural ‘Manukau Pacific Dance Artist in Residence’ (now called - ‘Pacific Dance Artist in Residence’).

He describes 2010 as his “Pacific choreographic year,” where he had the opportunity to explore Pacific dance fusion in a contemporised context. This was especially reflected in his work with the dance residency, the choreographic lab and his award winning piece ‘Call to Wallis’ in which he explored his Wallis and Futunan background.

He also describes last year as his year of consolidation, moving from [just] being a dancer to being a fully-fledged choreographer.

The ‘Pacific Dance Artist in Residence’ is once again up for grabs and Justin relates some of his insights from the eight-week residency.

“It was good working eight-weeks trying to get things going myself because I’ve always just turned up to a place [as a dancer] and things have been done. But this really pushed me to step forward in my leadership; whether it’s speaking, leading or facilitating…I found myself pushing people to get things out of them in the best way I could without being confronting or totally over the top. So, it was good people skills that I developed.”

Justin’s dance residency ran between July and September last year and his public performance, which brought eighteen relatively inexperienced dancers into the limelight on stage at the Mangere Arts Centre, was listed as one of the most significant events in DANZ’s 2010 highlights calendar.

For Justin though it was not the performance itself which was most significant, instead he points to the methodology development and interaction with community as highlights of the residency.

“The residency gave me an opportunity to work with young people from the community and to try different processes and different choreographic tools. It was really cool because it allows you to merge the professional and those who are thinking about going into the industry. It gives them a link and really opens doors.”

If 2010 was Justin’s “choreographic year,” 2011 is one in which he is making steps to take things to the “next level.”

“I’m on the journey of using movement and theatre to tell hope filled stories…[and] I would like to be part of a greater company which would explore the pacific dance styles while also bringing across street and mixing up genres. Story telling is big for me. That’s the area I’d like to get into, something that will hit peoples’ hearts and touch their emotions.”

Justin has made progress towards this dream being involved in the development of a new dance company being formed by a group of well-known New Zealand dancers/choreographers (Shona McCullagh et al).

“I’d like to see this company tell some good theatre through movement and dance. I’m also interested in seeing some of the vision that the producers have in taking this company down different avenues and I’m interested in seeing where that goes.”

Where that may go will be seen in time but Justin points to the gap which exists in the contemporary dance scene in New Zealand, which makes it very difficult to earn a fulltime living as part of a fulltime dance company.

“I’m looking at long term investment for dance and a company which has an investment in dancers…A lot of the time dancers have to go overseas to find a fulltime company that suits them. There’re dance companies here but they often don’t cater for everybody. For instance, in my pieces I work in a lot of hip-hop and you might not see this in some other companies unless they are a street dance company like Request.”

Looking around the dance scene and the number of dance companies who can actually boast fulltime employment for a number of dancers – it is quite a limited list.

Justin is optimistic though and points to initiatives such as residencies like the Pacific Dance Artist in Residence as great starting points in which to actually develop the skills and creative frameworks necessary to develop works of merit.

And, his advice for the new artist in residence:

“I hope they make some good work and offer the community some new skills and insight, which pretty much betters the community so that they can further better the community around them. It’s good for both sides. If they’ve got an idea and they want to express it through the community – just go for it!!”

Written by

Pacific Dance New Zealand

26 Apr 2011

Interests Pacific Dance New Zealand fosters and encourages the development of the Pacific dance sector of New Zealand. We are involved in running dance workshops, conferences, community and professional events promoting Pacific dance in New Zealand.