Dance, circus and Māori martial arts are woven together with music performed by the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra (CSO) in a new show telling a distinctly South Island creation story.
Tūmahana, the result of a collaboration between Ngāi Tahu, Ngāti Wheke, Cirko Kali, and the CSO, will premiere at the Christchurch Town Hall on Saturday 27 March.
Artistic Director Juanita Hepi (Ngāi Tahu, Ngāti Wheke), a University of Canterbury (UC) Master of Education graduate and current UC Children’s University Manager, says her goal is to bring to life on stage a creation narrative that is particular to Te Waipounamu (the South Island) but also universal.
The story was first written down by Ngāi Tahu rangatira, Matiaha Tiramōrehu in 1849. In that same year, the tribal leader also wrote the first formal statement of Ngāi Tahu grievances against the Crown regarding South Island land purchases.
Hepi, an actor, theatre producer and former primary school teacher, says the cross-over between storytelling and politics is appropriate.
“It shows how legal rights and structure and stories can be intertwined and are just as important as each other. In the same way, we’ve brought together a whole lot of different performance disciplines in this show because they’re not separate and they all relate to one another and contribute to the story as a whole.”
Having so many different elements – dance, mau rākau (Māori martial arts), taonga pūoro (traditional Māori instruments), performers suspended on aerial silks and an orchestra – involved is challenging, she admits. “People are definitely out of their comfort zones which for actors is great.”
Her 15-year-old son Manu Lee Syme-Hepi, (Ngāi Tahu, Ngāti Mutunga, Ngāti Wai, Ngāpuhi, Waitaha) is one of the nine performers involved in Tūmahana, playing Tāne. Manu’s father Danny Lee Syme, founder of Cirko Kali, is Co-Director of the show as well as performing in it.
Another member of the cast is Celina Nogueira, a UC Fine Arts student who is originally from Portugal and is an aerialist and gymnast.
Hepi says she aims to pack as much meaning and diversity into the show as possible…
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