Balancing act

Apr 5, 2015

Nā Morgan Lee

Above: Car crash scene

Above: Car crash scene

Late last year, around 30,000 people voted on Facebook and made Tanemahuta Gray (Ngāi Tahu) the first Māori winner of the AMP People’s Choice Scholarship, which provides funding for turning a dream project into a reality.

The $10,000 received was used in creating the aerial theatre production Tiki Taane Mahuta, which follows Tanemahuta’s first aerial production, Māui – One Man Against the Gods. Tiki Taane Mahuta is smaller in scale than its predecessor, with nine dancers (including two aerial performers) on stage at any one time.

Tanemahuta will launch the show at the Isaac Theatre Royal in Ōtautahi in May.

Tiki Taane Mahuta is a blend of narratives and a fusion of Māori martial arts, contemporary dance, hip-hop, and aerial theatre, set to a soundtrack from Tiki Taane’s albums Past, Present, Future and In The World of Light.

“In Tiki Taane Mahuta, I am trying to convey a sense of connecting to your whakapapa and your tūpuna lineage – there’s a real power to be harnessed if you’re open and willing to be connected to it,” says Tanemahuta.

“Often you don’t know where your ideas come from, but for me, they come from my tūpuna – I’m just a caretaker of the ideas and knowledge and it’s my responsibility to try and do the best I can with it to honour it.

“When Tiki first gave me his music, I listened to it and realised there was a story there. It’s about listening to these songs and giving them a fresh new narrative,” he says.

Tanemahuta has been dancing for 36 years. From the age of four he and his siblings were immersed in kapa haka, and they belonged to the Ngāti Pōneke Kapa Haka group. When he was six he trained in classical ballet. At 18 he went on to study at the New Zealand School of Dance, and trained in both ballet and contemporary dance.

A highlight of his dancing career was joining Argentinian theatrical troupe, De La Guarda, considered to be one of the world’s best aerial theatre companies. Tanemahuta spent five years working with De La Guarda on four continents. He currently lives in Waikanae with his wife Yumiko Olliver-Gray and their three tamariki, and still finds time to dance. His ambition is to continue teaching others while becoming a national and international artistic director of Māori and bicultural aerial theatre.

“It’s really great to know that you’re playing your part in the whakapapa of the arts, so the next generation is inspired to create its own dance styles.”