Students protest Challenge choice

By Cassandra Mason

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A group of Whangarei students is threatening to boycott future Stage Challenge competitions if this year's winners are not disqualified for letting their "professional" dance teacher choreograph their performance.

The Stage Challenge Fairness Group, made up of 21 students from Whangarei Girls', Boys', Kamo high schools and Bream Bay College, have written a formal letter of complaint to Stage Challenge organisers slamming the "deplorable" state of the competition because of this year's winning team.

Whangarei Intermediate School (WIS) secured the top spot at the Whangarei ASB 2013 Stage Challenge for the second year in a row on June 28.

Their performance, based on Witi Ihimaera's novel The Whale Rider, was put together by 98 students and their dance teacher, Susan McDiarmid.

But other competitors say the school broke the "golden rules", which require the performance to be student-led.

Group founder and Whangarei Boys' High School student Andrew Simpkin, 16, said the students were encouraged by teachers to lodge the complaint.

"[WIS] has had their teachers do everything for them. It's exactly the same as last year," he said.

The students rallied support on a Facebook group and wrote and edited the letter of complaint together.

"WIS' work has been entirely driven, directed and choreographed by their professional dance teacher while the rest of us have relied on the efforts and talents of our fellow students," the letter said.

The group also accused the school of using copyright scenes from the film adaptation of Whale Rider.

They want to see WIS disqualified from this year's event, and vigilance in the future for "this deplorable act being attempted again".

The school should also be forced to enter J-Rock, which is Stage Challenge's non-competitive division for primary and intermediate schools.

Whangarei Girls' High School Stage Challenge co-ordinator Jill Brien had not yet heard of the complaint, but agreed that the competition was unfair.

"We were not happy about what happened. It's not an even playing field," Ms Brien said. Her school had considered entering the Auckland contest, where they would be judged fairly, she said.

However, WIS principal Hayley Read is confident the judges made the right decision. "There is a panel of judges who know the rules ... so if they felt that we didn't meet the criteria they themselves should have disqualified us."

She denied the performance had ripped off scenes from Whale Rider, saying it was a "very good" interpretation of the film.

The complaint is being considered.

- Northern Advocate

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