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Māori choreographer Eddie Elliott inspires an international ‘stomp of approval’

Mary Afemata, Te Rito Journalism cadet

A unique combination of Māori contemporary dance and the application of clay has received standing ovations and stomps of approval on the world stage.

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

Fresh from the Holland Dance Festival in Germany and the Netherlands, Uku- Beyond the Canvas, Eddie Elliott’s first showpiece beyond Aotearoa is finding a huge fan base.

Uku is a part of WHENUA - a stunning double-bill show presented by The New Zealand Dance Company.

Elliott is the choreographer of Uku and throughout his 10-year dance career, has travelled the world.

His work is influenced by Te Ao Māori and kapa haka - which are integral elements of Uku - and is inspired by his relationship with his sisters.

“I’m taking whakapapa from my sisters all the way overseas. And when they’re doing the standing ovations, I’m just like: ‘Wow, I’m standing here with my tūpuna with my sisters behind me’.”

Influenced by Māori mythology, Uku focuses on Hineahuone, the first woman shaped by Tāne-Mahuta from clay.

Dancers are covered in clay throughout the performance - making their movements more intense.

As a Māori choreographer, Elliott says he kept reaching into his whakapapa.

‘They were stomping and I was like, is there a kapa haka group out there’?

“But you don’t really get into the grooves of it until you go overseas and they identify things that relate to the connections to Aotearoa.”

The show was well received overseas and received standing and stomping ovations.

“They were stomping and I was like: ‘Wait, is there a kapa haka group out there’?” jokes Elliott.

“I got to experience it in its full truth and it felt really grand and quite eye-opening.”

Despite his numerous overseas shows, Elliott is nervous about performing in front of the whānau.

“When I go overseas and perform, it’s easy. When I come back to Aotearoa, [it’s]: ‘Be ready for the truth Eddie’ - because you know my family don’t have no filters.”

The influence of sisters and whānau

The pressure from whānau is strong and the connection to Te Ao Māori is stronger.

“We’re on the same journey like everyone understands New Zealand the same as each other. There’s a stronger connection to know your identity,” he said.

Elliott is grateful for the collaboration to create and shape Uku with other performers who want him to tell his story.

“I’m so heavily influenced by my sisters because we’ve got a matriarch system where the women are in power in our whanau.”

He reflects on his approach to dance from a Māori lens or Ngā Toi Māori.

“When I look in at Ngā Toi Māori, I think about our pūrākau because that gives us the understanding and a greater look into Te Ao Māori and our whakapapa.

“It’s gathering our history and our Māori history and then finding that lens, putting that into contemporary dance and using that as a catalyst to make art.”

Elliott hopes to inspire rangatahi through his work.

“I always remind myself that my works aren’t only representing who I am but where I’ve come from and that in itself is the reason why I like to create.”

Uku is a glimpse into different parts of Elliott’s personality, he said.

“There’s comedy, there’s angst in there. You’re basically on edge - you’re on your seat the whole time.”

WHENUA is showing at Q Theatre on the 11 & 12th of April. For more ticket information, visit here.

Hero Image: Uku – Behind the Canvas is part of WHENUA, a captivating double bill and is choreographed by Eddie Elliott. Photo / Sjoerd Derine and Holland Dance Festival

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