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Circus theatre hybrid show Te Tangi a Te Tūī a beautiful waiata of te reo

Mary Afemata

An unapologetic Māori show is delighting audiences by combining the art of circus and theatre to enhance a new way of Māori storytelling.

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

An unapologetic Māori show is delighting audiences by combining the art of circus and theatre to enhance a new way of Māori storytelling.

Te Tangi a te Tūī, a hybrid of a circus performance and Māori theatre is playing at Te Pou theatre in West Auckland.

The show had its world premiere in Canada in November.

Writer, director and co-creator Tainui Tukiwaho says that after performing in Canada, instead of bowing at the end of the show, the cast would mihi to the tangata whenua and open space for any response.

Tukiwaho appreciates that writer and co-producer of the show Amber Curreen asked that everyone first let the tangata whenua speak before opening to everyone else.

“It felt like it was every night, somebody from the land would stand up and have a tangi and have a korero - and it felt very one one-on-one.

“The korero where they direct it and they would just talk about the mamae and the loss of language and culture.”

Entirely in te reo - no subtitles

Co-creator Eve Gordon said they had good numbers with a bunch of sold-out shows and standing ovations from their Canadian audiences.

“Most of the response was that it was kind of overwhelming and empowering and unapologetic show in an indigenous language.”

Performing the show in Aotearoa, Tukiwaho says he feels obligated to deliver the best.

“When it comes to our people, I want to make the best show. I want to make our reo as strong and as powerful as possible.”

Changes were made to customise the show for the Aotearoa audience to support the different audiences.

‘Just let the reo speak for itself’

“Our people are here. Our language needs to be upheld in a certain way - our tikanga, our kaupapa needs to be upheld in a certain way; so because of that, we need to reassess the show.”

The show is spoken in te reo Māori and there are no subtitles.

“We were really committed that there’d be no English inside the theatre.”

Ticket holders have the option of listening to the English audio before or after the show.

“Just let the reo speak for itself,” Gordon said.

“If we create the show in a way where people who don’t understand the language can understand the narrative, then they can just be immersed in the beautiful waiata that is the reo.”

Tukiwaho said the story is more of an allegory for the Māori language and how the loss of the tui’s voice is similar to the journey of the Māori language.

“The tui can no longer remember what their original voice was...our people were dangerously close to that as well.

“And that’s why we’re using the tui in this particular way to show that. That’s the journey that our people could have gone on.”

Gordon said the circus acts are used to enhance the narrative.

She said the circus has never been approached inclusively and the main kaupapa of the show is the make people think of the circus as an art form that can be used to tell Māori stories.

The cast is Māori except for three members - including Gordon - and that is because of the skill set they bring to elevate the show.

“Of all the characters, she speaks on par with all the other lead characters,” Tukiwaho said of Gordon’s part in the play and her ability to speak te reo.

Without Gordon’s expertise and skill in her art form, Tukiwaho said they would not have been able to deliver the story.

“If Eve hadn’t built this school base in this art form, I don’t know if the show would have found a life.”

The impact of the play has inspired Gordon to enrol to learn te reo full-time.

“Not everyone has access to all the different versions of reo revitalisation that exist out there.

“If this is the time, out of the 1400 people who come and see this, [and] just one of them is excited by a language and will revitalise it, then that has to be worth it.”

Tickets can be purchased here. The show is on at the Te Pou Theatre at Corban Estate Arts Centre in Henderson, West Auckland, until Sunday.

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