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A Call To Listen To Papa-Tū-ā-Nuku The Earthmother

In perhaps her most spectacular work to date, choreographer Merenia Gray is taking on the complexities of inter-generational relationships, the art of karanga and the escalation of climate change in her new multi-disciplinary work, Karanga, funded by Creative New Zealand, to be performed for one night only at Q Theatre on Thursday 5 August.

Inspired by her mother, Tiahuia, who recently passed, Gray has gathered together an extraordinary group of artists to create the work, which will also be made into a short film directed by Mary-Lyn Chambers.

Karanga is an urgent call in the metaphorical sense, to heed the warnings of Papa-tū-ā-nuku and mana wāhine, concerning the long-time abuse of the planet and the exploitation of its resources. A call to take action and to right the wrongs.

In her lifetime, Gray’s mother Tiahuia was a creative muse to her family of five children. At birth, she had been adopted into the Kingitanga, as a whāngai to Princess Te Puea Hērangi, spending her formative years in Waikato/Tainui on Tūrangawaewae Marae. Tiahuia’s birth mother Merenia Henrietta Manawatu was from Christchurch - so not only did Tiahuia straddle three tribes she also navigated the Pākehā world with ease. She was a chameleon and a shapeshifter developing multiple skills in a wide range of Māori performing arts, including karanga at which she excelled. In later years she was called upon to welcome the Dalai Lama, Queen Beatrice of the Netherlands, Torvill and Dean and Fleetwood Mac, among others, to Aotearoa.

To Karanga - to call - is to access the spiritual realm, Te Pō, while simultaneously remaining firmly grounded in Te Ao Mārama, the physical world. It is a sacred role, the exclusive domain of women whose voices possess the tonal quality necessary to connect to the tūpuna (ancestors) in the transcendental world. Karanga is an integral part of any formal welcome ceremony – the first voice: initiating the proceedings, calling for spiritual guidance and giving expression to the mana of the groups that are either welcoming (tāngata whenua) or being welcomed (manuhiri).

Gray’s creation is the embodiment of the three stages of karanga in which she has fashioned a dramatic weaving together of movement and imagery and the voice of kaikaranga (caller) featuring celebrated soul songstress Toni Huata. Composers Gareth Farr and Michelle Scullion have created a superb score of pre-recorded and live karanga, the spoken word, performed by Miriama McDowell and waiata, with tāonga puoro by Ariana Tikao, which will accompany the carefully curated cast of dancers, both young and old. Poignant and subtle images that convey the natural world in its pristine glory and the historic depiction of tūpuna will inform and enhance the action. Find out more about the Karanga collaborators here.

As one of the early pioneers of Māori contemporary dance in Aotearoa, Gray has developed a unique style which blends her strong grounding in kapa haka and mau rākau (martial arts), with her training in ballet, contemporary dance, and the exacting elements of physical theatre - a form she studied early on in her career with Pan Theatre in Paris. Her work has been described as “sophisticated and aesthetically strong” (Theatreview) and her considerable experience across many genres is the key to realising her finely honed and nuanced view of her indigeneity and its practices.

A shortened version of the work will also be performed at Waikato Museum on 7 August, to an invited audience to open an exhibition of Māori fashion by Jeanine Clarkin entitled Te Ao Tapu Hou (The new sacred threads).


  • Thu 5 August 2021, 7PM
  • Rangatira, Q Theatre
    305 Queen St, Auckland
  • Tickets $30
    *services fees may apply

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