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Vale Stephen Bradshaw - Māori Dance Pioneer

25 Mar 2024

"A gentle, humble and selfless soul" - Tiaki Kerei pays tribute to a man who paved the way for contemporary Māori dance on both the national and global stage.

The passing of esteemed dance tuakana,  Stephen Bradshaw, casts a veil of sadness over the Māori contemporary dance world. 

He was a gentle, humble and selfless soul who focussed his energy on uplifting people in need, from unemployed to incarcerated. He was someone who was the epitome of ponotanga, demonstrating a way to subtly speak the truth in his quiet, tumultuous and incandescent way.

Stephen (Ngati Maru), a Koowhiti Lifetime Achievement 2010 recipient, was a pioneering figure, who embodied cultural continuity and evolution. Rejecting limitations imposed by colonial constructs, declaring “contemporary” and “traditional” as inadequate descriptors within Te Ao Māori. 

He studied at University of Auckland – Waipapa Taumata Rau (1995-1999) and later published a commissioned essay (2001) still referred to as seminal literature for Māori contemporary dance even today. I was invited to respond to his essay (2015) which I was so fortunate to have done so here.

His journey in dance began by training at Limbs Dance Company in 1981. His affiliations with the Auckland Opera and Ballet Company and the New Zealand School of Dance further enriched his artistic repertoire. Despite immersion in Western dance traditions, his Māori heritage remained deeply ingrained, drawing inspiration from ancestral knowledge. 

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Stephen Bradshaw at Q Theatre loft in 2013. Photo: Supplied.

In 1984, Stephen famously founded Te Kanikani O Te Rangatahi, igniting a transformative spark within unemployed urban Māori through dance. This initiative marked the inception of his lifelong commitment to fostering Māori representation and cultural resurgence within the arts. 

Establishing Taiao in 1988 and collaborating with organizations like Te Ope o Rehua and Toi Māori Aotearoa, paved the way for future Māori contemporary dance (such as Atamira) to flourish on both local and global stages. 

Stephen’s legacy resonates through his advocacy for inclusive arts education at Northland Polytech, the New Zealand School of Dance, Unitec, and the University of Auckland.

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Stephen Bradshaw. Photo: Supplied.

From participating in his mihimihi workshop, to collaborating with Germaine Acogny from Senegal, the mentoring opportunity he provided me through Te Whakahaungia Choreographic Commission 2006, to organising Aitanga DescenDANCE - a Maori contemporary dance national summit in 2009, Stephen empowered countless individuals, like myself, to explore and contribute to the vibrant tapestry of Māori ‘continuum’ dance. 

Though it is unfortunate that the digital footprint of his work remains largely inaccessible, there is archival research happening through Auckland Dance Studies under the stewardship of Dr. Tia Reihana-Morunga that holds the pulse of these dance greats for future appreciation. 

Our heartfelt condolences extend to his beloved wife Louie, their children, and extended whānau. May his mauri continue to guide and uplift us, carving through the air. 

Dance in aroha, Stephen Bradshaw (1963 – 2024).

 

Acknowledging Jack Gray's journey and decision to reconnect with his Tipuna name, Tiaki Kerei. This step not only honours his ancestors' legacy but also challenges historical norms by reclaiming his Māori identity in a world often influenced by British conventions. Through this action, Jack Gray asserts the importance of cultural and personal mana.