Maori theatre in spotlight
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.