Vital Culture of Performance
This article was printed in the Wednesday 13 February edition of The Press, but was not archived on their website.
I was in my academic idyll – top floor of the library – whittling my explanation of how sexed-up kapa haka hit gold at Edinburgh Festival. A call cut things dead. Sounded like Thatcher: “Theatre and Film Studies is going to be ‘disestablished’ ”.
I’m a dancer. ‘Disestablished’ makes me think my legs will telescopically collapse. The real word is ‘scrapped’. Seems TAFS is not ‘core’ to UC’s BA. (Cracked the codes?)
I was born in the land of Shakespeare, Fonteyn and Mr Bean. I say performance is core to the arts. It set me in orbit round the globe many moons ago.
In 2000, I helped Māori gay icon Mika make a song-and-dance show with a posse of rangatahi – Torotoro. The PM and Te Arikinui egged us on, and mingling haka and break dance carried us into the hallowed halls of AUT, NZQA and CNZ. (Got a decoder?) Not because the braw lads and lasses wore tight shorts, but because their international careers have left their peers gasping.
Kasina Campbell flew to London last year to execute her exquisite two-minute solo in Mau’s Requiem. It’s an awesome showstopper. Taupuhi Toki thinks little of a sojourn in Cuba for movie filming. Amazing outcomes: testament to the power of the arts.
Performance has pushed these West Aucklanders’ lives to bear unexpected fruits. Their names aren’t tagged on walls; they’re on boarding passes. I’d be cock-a-hoop if they got them on Theatre and Film BA certificates too – but till that day, it might be wise to see others do.
Performance is vital culture. In Belfast, I coached a cross-sectarian step dancing duo – seeing the kicks only went out front. In Craigmillar, where HIV made UK touch down, I taught the kids of third generation heroin addicts the joy of movement. In pre-Glastnost Ukraine, I showed Pioneer Palace children that not all dances are in straight lines. And in India, I see caste shattered for good by artists’ shining genius.
I have seen performance transform lives. I speak of slow revolution, not the flimsy fame of Pop Idol.
I’m researching martial dance theatre – picture Bruce Lee kicks with Nureyev panache. It’s a big fish on the international festival circuit. The cultural diplomacy of pre-Olympics China is flooding London with such work and maverick ballerina Sylvie Guillem now trains in aiki-jo – Japanese stick fighting.
Meanwhile at home, last week, Shane Jones declared activists and fans of bunga-style kapa haka are bowdlerizing the wero. My topic is topically relevant. Ask Torotoro.
Globetrotting with my Māori colleagues, I’ve seen their slick martial arts and dance fusion hit home. They stretch their ‘indigene’ slot to the max, entertaining while they educate. Their diverse audiences go home wide-awake to urban iwi life.
I chose UC for my PhD because of my department’s sophisticated engagement in our nation’s biculturalism, which feeds through to an attentive regard for the inter-culturalism and intra-culturalism of performance practice worldwide.
My department’s a place where practical and theoretical studies are intimately integrated. This is vital. It ensures that my performance research outcomes are aligned with international scholarship while also being meaningful for the people I live with here. Haka have complex lyrics, but the guys’ pecs, quads and biceps figure too!
What will I do if UC ‘disestablish’ me? I searched high and low for my specialist supervisors. Do I flee with them? How can I continue my practical research without the knowledge and experience they share with me, without studios, without my peers – trained performer/scholars to work with me – as I do with them?