A powerful performance

A scene from Tiki Taane Mahuta, which is being performed at the Civic Theatre on Tuesday, June 20. Photos: Phillip Merry

AUDIENCES throughout New Zealand have risen to their feet in standing ovations as Te Runanga o Ngai Tahu season’s production of Tiki Taane Mahuta continues its nationwide tour. Southland Express reporter SAELYN GUYTON talks with creative director Tanemahuta Gray ahead of the show’s debut at the Civic Theatre on Tuesday, June 20.

TANEMAHUTA Gray oozes passion, dedication and enthusiasm for Aotearoa art and culture and, based on the response of audiences who have already seen his production, Tiki Taane Mahuta, these qualities are transferring to the stage.

The show is presented in partnership between Taki Rua and Aotearoa Aerial Theatre Company, combining theatre, aerial performance, contemporary dance, kapa haka, mau rakau (a martial art based on traditional Maori weapons) and live music.

Gray said he liked to challenge his audience and “keep them on their toes so they are invested”. The response so far had been “very humbling”.

“It takes them on an emotional ride – it’s pretty powerful,” Gray said.

“Some have been in tears – it’s a moving performance and we’ve received standing ovations at every show – people have been blown away by the performance.”

The story of love, loss and new beginnings covers a generational timeline with the show’s narrative and soundtrack set to music from iconic New Zealand musician Tiki Taane, who performs live with Shapeshifter’s Sam Trevethick.

Gray credits the musicians and dancers for their vision in helping to create a “world-class show”.

“We’ve built the show together. Their skill level is phenomenal and they have really come on board with the vision and connected to their characters.”

Gray described his approach to the production as “a bit backwards”.

“Usually you build the story first, but when I first heard Tiki’s album Past, Present, Future I thought, ‘wow this is potent – there’s a korero (story) in this music’ – I didn’t know what it was but I felt it, then I listened to his album In The World of Light and began piecing it together.”

Whanau and whakapapa (family line) are strong themes in the show that Gray believes people of all ethnicities can connect to.

He said he would like audiences to leave with an awareness of the strength they can harness if they reach out and connect to their own whakapapa.

“I’m very humbled to know that (whakapapa) is there for me – let’s face it, sometimes life is tough and we’ve got to use whatever we can to get through, and I know my ancestors are there watching over me.

“This show is for Maori, for Pakeha, for Asians – it’s for humans. We all suffer these conditions – so it’s universal.”

Travelling to 13 cities with 21 performances, including discounted shows for secondary and tertiary students, Gray wants to inspire the next generation of New Zealand artists.

“They (arts students) can see this show and know that they can have a career in the arts industry and be a part of world-class performances.”

For those Southlanders still on the fence about whether Tiki Taane Mahutais for them, Gray encourages them to take a risk on a New Zealand work.

“We have a lot of international shows come through, those that star Kiwi performers, but we have created a world-class show. Take a punt – it will be an experience you will not forget for a very, very, very long time.”

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