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Pacific Dance: Tepaeru-Ariki Lulu French

Tepaeru-Ariki Lulu French
Interview with Tepaeru-Ariki Lulu French, one of three emerging to mid-career choreographers of Pacific Island descent taking on the Pacific Dance Choreographic Laboratory 2011.


2011 sees three emerging to mid-career choreographers of Pacific Island descent take on the Pacific Dance Choreographic Laboratory; Ojeya Cruz Banks, Sesilia Pusiaki Tatuila and Tepa

2011 sees three emerging to mid-career choreographers of Pacific Island descent take on the Pacific Dance Choreographic Laboratory; Ojeya Cruz Banks, Sesilia Pusiaki Tatuila and Tepaeru-Ariki Lulu French.

The Pacific Dance Choreographic Laboratory is in its third year and is a three-week intensive lab in which these three have the opportunity to create dance works towards an eventual showing of works in development at the Mangere Arts Centre on Friday 14th October (7pm).

Aaron Taouma from Pacific Dance New Zealand asked Tepaeru-Ariki Lulu French a little about how she got there and what she hopes to achieve in the lab.

Tepaeru-Ariki Lulu French is of Cook Islands descent, holds a masters of (medical) science and has been an instructor of Cook Islands dance in a number of dance groups, institutions and schools. In her youth she was junior dance champion in her home Island of Aitutaki and since moving to New Zealand has been part of a number of groups well known in New Zealand Polynesian dance circles - Ura Tabu, Pacific Expressions and the long standing group Anuanua Dance Troupe (of which she is still a member).

When did you start dancing and what drove you to continue on with it to this point? Tell us a bit about yourself and your history.

I have been dancing for as long as I can remember.  My earliest memory would be, when I was about 5 years old. My mother along with aunties and uncles would line up the children in the family while the sung and drummed and let us move. This was quite entertaining to them. I cannot remember a time where I did not dance, so dancing has always been a part of my life.  Since 1998 I have been part of Anuanua Dance Troupe (a Cook Islands dance group established in 1992) that is based in Mangere, Auckland.  I have had the opportunity to travel to Dubai twice to showcase my culture and how much it means to me to many people from all over the world.  At this point, I know I have reached a level in my dancing where I can push the boundaries and explore a little bit more.

Having a second family such as Anuanua has kept me grounded keeping me focused on what’s most important about Cook Islands Culture - It is family and in a greater sense; unity.

I have always tried to keep a balance of my two greatest passions - dance and science.  So, during my years of study, I have used dance as a way to de-stress and keep active. Today, I am almost at the end completing my Graduate Diploma in Secondary School Teaching and hope to start teaching Junior Science and Senior Biology.  I enjoy teaching, and live to love and share.

What do you love about dancing?

The idea that a dance piece or performance is a blank canvas and using my body along with music to paint a picture for the audience. Besides this, I enjoy reconnecting with my roots and remembering the humble beginnings from whence I come from…

What are your Pacific Islands roots?

My father is English and my mother is Cook Islands Maori.   I do not know much of my father’s side as he passed away when I was very young and I have lost contact with my English family.  My mother has Tahitian, English and Spanish ancestry.

How do you see these roots, or this heritage, informing your current practice?

My roots are exactly what they are - roots.  They keep me grounded, as well as nourishing me and allowing me to grow.  It gives me my identity, which will be evident throughout my dance piece (in the Choreographic Lab), as well as allowing me to grow, create and explore new and different movements.

What are you developing in the choreographic laboratory? What is your idea about?

I wish to incorporate different modes of traditional Cook Islands dance to create an overall work, which explores and challenges Western-colonial notions and representations of Pacific bodies. Particularly, the stereotypes and images of the 'Dusky Maiden' and the ideas surrounding a highly exoticised Pacific 'feminine mystique'. I aim to focus on the 'white' construct of the Pacific as a 'sexual paradise' as promoted through European-colonial literature and intellectual legacy, examining the cultural-political realities of colonial processes that continue to 'physically' repress and sexualize Pacific bodies and therefore impose identities or roles upon our women as sexual servants, exotic subordinates and or 'innocent natives'. Using the natural elements as the structuring device for the body of choreography, I hope to recreate an alternative position that asserts a Pacific Island woman’s voice; my voice - one which no longer consents to this abasement and 'sexual imperialism'. I want to move beyond and therefore breakthrough such romantic representations of the Pacific and instead promote our traditional dance as vehicles for socio-cultural expression reflecting everyday life. Lastly I wish to present dance as a mode of political action and challenge. In doing so, I hope to counter the all too simplistic and discursive representations of non-European cultures, and therefore the Western-colonial Gaze.

Neil Ieremia is this year's mentor to the lab - how do you feel about working with him and what do you hope to get out of this relationship?

Neil and his works always inspire me and I am super excited to be working with him.  I hope to get a lot of advice and some feedback in all aspects of the dance piece.  He is a very knowledgeable and creative individual and I hope to learn a lot from him.  I expect some hardcore constructive criticisms so that I can deal with cynicism, which would be expected from various reviewers (whether professional or coconut wireless).  I also hope to build a relationship that is supportive so that there are positive outcomes.

Where do you hope to go from here in terms of your dance practice and development perhaps of the ideas you've been working with in the laboratory?

Not too sure at this stage, but I do enjoy working with and collaborating with other dancers of different cultural and dance backgrounds. Perhaps maybe I’ll develop a major collaborative production incorporating the themes I’ve explored.  I hope to continue teaching Cook Islands dance and supporting other culturally inspired dancing as well as establishing a career as a secondary school science and biology teacher.

How has the experience and opportunity been for you?

I have been given the best dancers anyone can ever think of. My dancers inspire me and allow me to explore movements. Working with Neil has been amazing and he has a subtle approach when giving his thoughts and comments which was very unexpected. But perhaps I judged him too soon - lol. I initially thought he would come down on me like a hammer.  This is a great and very important opportunity for me and something that a girl born and raised on the island of Aitutaki and now living in Otara just didn’t expect…completely life changing.

Written by

Pacific Dance New Zealand

10 Oct 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.