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Tahiti prepares for Takitimu Festival

Monday, August 21, 2011

Tahiti prepares for Takitimu Festival

The unmistakable sound of Polynesian drum beats, mixed with the mesmerising hip movements of dancers, will be used to retell the 1000-year old story linking Tahiti with New Zealand.

It’s likely to be part of the performance Leila Lai and her dance troupe, Tavai’ura, are planning to present at the international Takitimu Festival in Hawke’s Bay next month.

“I don’t want to give too much away, we want it to be a surprise. We’ve found many stories from the islands and from our ancestors, which relate to people here in New Zealand,” she says.

Leila and a delegation from Tahiti were in town recently to talk to festival organisers in Hastings about the role the Pacific nation will play at the event.

The group shared stories with students from the Kahurangi Maori Dance Academy about how the Takitimu waka left the Pacific, carry people from Tahiti and other islands, in search of new land eventually landing in Aotearoa.

“And so it’s my role to prepare the structure and story of our dance, to set the choreography for the boys and girls performing and to show our genealogical history,” Leila says.

Preparations began several months ago when La-Darles, an experienced performer, had the difficult task of selecting 40 dancers from her 150-strong troupe for the Takitimu Festival.

“There were some who were disappointed they missed out, others couldn’t go because of their commitments at home, so in the end I let our ancestors guide me.

“They are really excited to be part of the group coming to New Zealand and I’ve asked them to give everything in their performance, not just in terms of dancing, but spiritually as well,” she says.

Leila began dancing in her father’s troupe in Tahiti when she was three years old and further made a pledge to her country’s culture following the death of her grandmother.

“Since that sad event, I have a lot of feelings when I dance, write songs and choreography. I love my culture and I want to share it with everybody.”

She has danced around the Pacific and recently won the prestigious Hula Kahiko and Hula Owana contest in Hawaii, an accolade which entitled her to teach Hula Hawaiian dance to others.

It prompted her and friends to form a troupe which now had 150 performers and in 2010 it won first prize in the Orero section at the Heiva in Tahiti, considered the biggest dance contest in the Pacific.

The Orero involves performances depicting legends of events from centuries ago, using songs, dance and traditional orchestra percussion instruments such as pahu and toere, tariparau, pahu tupai and faakete.

“We also dance in the hotels of Huahine and Tahiti, they perform from 10am until 8pm most days, and in the weekend they spend time making their costumes, it’s a lot of work,” Leila says.

Among the troupe coming will be singers, dancers and a small number will perform craft work at the festival. For most, it will be their first time to New Zealand.

“Now there is only a month to go and they are doing everything they can do to ne ready, physically as well as spiritually,” Leila says.

Waiata Maori Awards website: www.takitimufestival.co.nz
Facebook: @Takitimu Festival

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