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A traditional Māori performance infused with circus acrobatics will have its world premiere in Canada

Natasha Hill

Māori actors and circus performers take their show on the road

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

Te Tangi a te Tūī, a traditional Māori performance infused with circus acrobatics, will have its world premiere in Canada this month.

Te Tangi a te Tūī is an original story inspired by a song from the indigenous bird, the tūī.

The narrative is of love and loss between Māori, patupairehe (fairies), and the colonial impact on the natural world.

The show is written by theatre-makers Amber Curreen and Tainui Tukiwaho and the performance is a collaboration between the Māori theatre company Te Rēhia Theatre and the circus performance company The Dust Palace.

Curreen, co-writer and performer of Te Tangi a te Tūī, says the show follows the idea of how the tūī mimics the world around them.

“It mimics the world around it, imagine what it was like when the world was before ngā tangata [people], ngā tangata Māori [Māori people]… before we had all the machines.

“We found that really compelling and so we’ve made it an analogy for the loss of te reo Māori and so I brought some of my tūpuna [ancestors] into this story.”

She says there are two stories it follows, the moving away of assimilation and the traditional ways of the world.

“Not assimilation, not yearning for the way that things used to be, but forging a new path, bringing it all together.

“We have a young boy who makes a choice to go in his own direction which is what I see for the future of Te reo Maori.”

Cast and crew of Te Tangi a te Tūī at rehearsal. Photo / Michael Craig

The show features circus equipment such as a trapeze, a circle and a brand-new circus apparatus designed by their set designer.

Curreen says they feel honoured to be able to share their story to an international audience, especially to the indigenous peoples.

“What’s most important for us really is to be able to share our stories with indigenous people over there so that I find it’s a real mana-enhancing experience for everyone.”

Te Rongopai Tukiwaho Curreen, who plays the young boy in the show, says he is excited to travel overseas next month for the show.

He says the past three weeks of rehearsals have been tiring but he is looking forward to performing in the Canada shows and New Zealand shows.

The idea of the show came about when co-writer Tukiwaho and performer Eve Gordon were teenagers.

Gordon’s mother had spoken to them about the original voice of the tūī.

Twenty years later both came together to showcase this in Te Tangi a te Tūī, Amber Curreen said.

“The idea itself has been many years in the making, but we’ve been working on it with workshops and things for four years.”

She says there are many diverse stories of Māori and she is looking forward to showcasing them in upcoming productions.

The cast and crew will be premiering their work at Vancouver’s historic theatre The Cultch in celebration of the venue’s 50th anniversary season.

The New Zealand shows will kick-off in Auckland in March 2024.

Co writer and performer Amber Curreen and son Te Rongopai Tukiwaho Curreen. Photo / Michael Craig

Hero image: Amber Curreen, co-writer and performer, discusses Te Tangi a te Tūī – a show that infuses Māori theatre, te reo Māori and circus performance. Photo / Michael Craig

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