The finest Māori art performances you can't miss in upcoming festival

By Jessica Tyson

Prominent Māori visual artist Lisa Reihana will open the programme for the 2022 Aotearoa New Zealand Festival of the Arts, which feature the finest in Māori and indigenous art.

The festival will be held in Wellington from February 21 to March 20 featuring 125 shows, 29 free events and 850 performers in a range of music, opera, theatre, dance, visual arts and literature experiences.

Kura Moana - Lisa Reihana

Reihana who was made a member of the NZ Order of Merit in 2018, with show her work, Pursuit of Venus at Te Papa on October 15. Reihana will also present a new series of installations named Kura Moana, consisting of six installations centred onTe Moana-nui a-Kiwa, the great ocean, and its role as a connector between Aotearoa and across the Pacific nations.

Situated along Wellington's waterfront, the installations will feature music, playful inflatable sculptures, and augmented reality, providing new ways to think about the local histories and stories that relate to Pōneke.

Reihana says Kura Moana focuses on Te Moananui a-Kiwa, the great ocean, and its role as a connector between Aotearoa and across all the Pacific nations.

"I have created a series of installations that invite families and communities to discover iconic locations on the Wellington waterfront in new ways, to think about some of the local histories and stories that relate to this place. It's about travellers, those who dared to traverse the Pacific, people who seek something new, another life," she says.

"Kura Moana is a treasure hunt across the waterfront and I’m hoping kids will go on a journey to discover the different installations – there's music, song, playful inflatable sculptures and an augmented reality experience. I can’t wait to bring this art experience to Pōneke."

Director Ngā Toi Māori director Mere Boynton says Kura Moana is a gift to the city and is based on the stories of Kupe, the founding ancestor of Aotearoa New Zealand and of Polynesia.

“Lisa wanted to find a way of connecting herself with Pōneke, not coming here to Pōneke as a manuhiri but through whakapapa and the way she did that was through the relationship with Kupe, who chased Wheke and Muturangi across Te Moana-nui-a-Kiwa to Aotearoa and it’s about connecting us all as people of Aotearoa.”

The Haka Party Incident - Katie Wolfe

Coming to Wellington for the first time, audiences at the festival have the chance to witness the must-see theatre event of 2021, The Haka Party Incident.

The production resurrects the eventful day in 1979 when a group of University of Auckland engineering students rehearsing their annual tradition of a mock haka were challenged by the activist group, He Taua.

Crafted by filmmaker and theatre director Katie Wolfe, The Haka Party Incident innovatively combines documentary and kapa haka to thrilling effect.

Boynton says the mock haka rehearsed by the engineering students was an insult to Māori and for at least 20 years Māori had asked the group to cease doing a mock haka.

So on the day in 1979, “He Taua approached them and challenged them and what resulted was a three-minute violent scuffle between those two parties and Katie wanted to really dig deep into that kōrero.”

Other performances at the festival include HIHĪ – A Song of Place. HIHĪ will showcase some of New Zealand's most remarkable songbirds and kaihaka (performers) alongside members of the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra.

Māori performance company Hawaiki TŪ will make its Pōneke debut with the award-winning work Taurite.  Featuring 20 kaihaka (performers), Taurite is a visually striking performance fusing kapa haka, contemporary dance, and 3D projections intertwined with ngā taonga tuku iho (treasures of traditional heritage steeped in ancestral roots).

Another dance performance, Pōhutu, by choreographer Bianca Hyslop and performance designer and artist Rowan Pierce, will feature in the festival. As a tribute to Bianca’s grandmother suffering from Alzheimer's, Pōhutu reflects on her story, and the human experience that navigates time, memory, place and loss.

Creative director Marnie Karmelita says next year’s festival is defined by artists with incredible skill, boundless imagination and artistic bravery.

“Exploring the most current ideas and emotions of our time in performances and installations from the perfectly sublime to the spectacular, the festival programme covers everything from the classical canon to cutting edge live art. These extraordinary artists will challenge and inspire you, as well as bring us all great joy.”

To see the whole array of activities available for tamariki, rangatahi and adults visit the website festival.nz