Maori theatre in spot­light

Kapi-Mana News - - FLASHBACK - By JIM CHIPP

Play­wright Hone Kouka is determined more Maori work should be on the main stage.

With the wealth of Maori tal­ent around Welling­ton and the vol­ume of high- qual­ity work it gen­er­ates, it should be a lot more vis­i­ble, he said.

For the last half decade, those Welling­to­ni­ans have been joined for a few weeks each year by many oth­ers from around New Zealand for the Matariki fes­ti­val.

‘‘I no­ticed there were a lot of prac­ti­tion­ers com­ing down from Auck­land and just hang­ing around,’’ he said. ‘‘I thought we should make more use of them.’’

Kouka ap­proached Bats and Circa the­atres, and Te Papa and the Hannah Play­house with a pro­posal to run a Maori drama and dance fes­ti­val around Matariki, for un­spec­i­fied com­pa­nies to per­form yet-to-be de­cided works.

The the­atres showed con­fi­dence in him to come up with some­thing worth­while.

‘‘Ev­ery­one said yes. It was just awe­some.’’

Once the venues were there, the artists came.

Briar Grace-Smith, 2003 artist lau­re­ate and Bruce Ma­son play­wright award- win­ner, is one con­trib­u­tor to Kouka’s Ahi Kaa Fes­ti­val, which runs un­til July 11.

So is designer John­son Wite­hira, who had his work pro­jected over a quar­ter of Times Square in New York in 2012, and also dancer-chore­og­ra­pher Tanemahuta Gray.

‘‘It just hap­pens to be Maori,’’ Kouka said.

He ex­pected the fes­ti­val to be a high stan­dard of theatre, dance and de­sign through­out. It was in­ci­den­tal that it would be Maori­fo­cused per­for­mance art.

‘‘ Two com­pa­nies are com­ing from Auck­land and it looks like they’re bring­ing a tribe with them as well. What a pos­i­tive place to be.’’

Part of the rea­son for the dearth of per­for­mance plat­forms for Maori artists was some­thing of a down­turn in the arts in Welling­ton, Kouka said

‘‘We like mov­ing in a mob or a pack,’’ he said.

‘‘Once you’ve got a crowd mov­ing, you at­tract oth­ers.

‘‘If you can have plat­forms that em­ploy our peo­ple it spins off that – not just the Maori cre­ative econ­omy, but the theatre econ­omy.’’

Ac­tors and dancers in the beau­ti­ful ones with John­son Wite­hira’s set de­sign.

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