Special report: Southsiders' talent making waves in the wider world

By Vaimoana Tapaleao

South Auckland can sometimes get a bad rap. But many who have called the place home have gone on to make an impression internationally in their chosen fields - be they singing, dancing, acting or sport. Vaimoana Tapaleao profiles five Southsiders who are rising high.

Parris Goebel. Photo / Dean Purcell
Parris Goebel. Photo / Dean Purcell

JK says:This is my home so it gives me enormous pride to see so many people from South Auckland doing so well. There's a spiritual, cultural and geographical mix that's made a creative haven ... I think there's a real ability for people to grow through adverse conditions and be themselves and be strong individuals. Look at Sol3 Mio - everyone else at school was listening to hip hop and they were listening to Pavarotti.

PARRIS GOEBEL: Dance helps to forget life

She's one of the world's hottest and most sought-after dancers - and she's from the Southside.

Parris Goebel has done huge things since she started dancing as a youngster growing up in South Auckland.

"I've always loved dance, but hip hop is just what I'm strongest at.

"For me, dance just sets me free and make me forget about some of the insanity in life," she says.

The 22-year-old has lived in other parts of the city, but grew up mostly in Manurewa.

Now she's director of The Palace Dance Studio, based in Penrose and Hamilton, and known for her lead role in all-female dance crew ReQuest.

She also choreographs other groups that fall under The Royal Family dance crew - Bubblegum, Sorority, In-Laws and Misfits.

Her career as a choreographer has taken off in the last five or six years and her popularity has taken her around the United States, Europe and Australia, as well as New Zealand.

Last year, she choreographed sequences for US singer Jennifer Lopez's Dance Again world tour and performed with her on the season 11 finale of American Idol.

Hip hop queen Missy Elliott has praised her work and Goebel will make her movie debut in the fifth instalment of the Step Up franchise early next year, playing a dancer from New Zealand.

Speaking about her international success, Goebel remains humble: "It's a blessing. Jennifer Lopez is just a normal person. I got to know her as a friend and she's really nice."

Goebel says the "rawness" of New Zealand dancers makes them in demand around the world.

She hoped her success demonstrated that anything can happen, if you set your mind to it.

"I just had a dream - a big dream - and worked hard to make it come true.

"Most of the kids that I teach are from South Auckland.

"It's not the most fortunate place and it inspires me to help these kids and see them dance. It's a huge blessing."

Brothers Amitai and Pene Pati. Photo / Simon Baker
Brothers Amitai and Pene Pati. Photo / Simon Baker

SOL3 MIO: Opera all the way

Brothers Amitai and Pene Pati were known for an unusual taste in music at high school.

"Everyone else was into R&B and hip hop. We liked those too, but we were doing classical, mostly," Amitai, 24, says. "To be honest though, a lot of the kids didn't really take notice of us. We were just these casual guys who sang. We're way taller than a lot of our friends and people never messed with us," he laughs.

The pair grew up in Mangere and went to Aorere College.

Pene, 26, played prop for the school's first XV and Amitai was a self-confessed science geek.

Both went on to study towards a Bachelor of Music at the University of Auckland and have won a number of awards - Pene the 2010 NZ Performer of The Year and the 2012 Bel Canto Award in Sydney; Amitai the 2012 Lexus Song Quest award.

They formed Sol3 Mio with cousin Moses Mackay, who grew up on the North Shore. Pene and Moses sang in a choir backing Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli in 2008.

All three are receiving tutelage from esteemed Welsh tenor Dennis O'Neill and their self-titled first album debuted at No1 on the NZ Music Charts.

Their name is a play on the Neapolitan standard O sole mio, the first thing they sang on stage together. The digit 3 is for the trio and "sole" is Samoan slang for boy or brother.

"Our parents moved here from Samoa when we were very young and it wasn't easy," Amitai said. "The fact that we're from South Auckland doesn't come up usually and we sometimes forget to bring it up, but we're definitely proud of being from out South."

South Auckland dance crew The Royal Family.
South Auckland dance crew The Royal Family.

THE ROYAL FAMILY: The best

Being at the top of your game is important when you have the word "royal" in your name. There are high standards and people expect only one thing - the best.

That's exactly what South Auckland dance crew The Royal Family have delivered year after year.

The group's 27 members are mostly young people from South Auckland. Most are young people associated with Parris Goebel's The Palace Studio.

This year, their routine earned them gold at the International World Hip Hop Dance Competition in Las Vegas - for the third consecutive year.

"When we created this all those years ago, we just never imagined anything like that," said head choreographer Goebel.

"When we achieve these things, it just kind of happens and it's amazing."

The Royal Family is made up of members of the studio's other dance groups: Sorority, Misfits, ReQuest, In-Laws and Bubblegum.

Bubblegum, the winner of last year's junior division, was second in Las Vegas this year. ReQuest have won several world-class hip hop competitions and were the first New Zealand dance crew to appear on popular television series America's Best Dance Crew, in 2011.

Next week The Royal Family and its separate dance crews will show the crowds exactly why they're world-class talent at a special showcase at the Mangere Arts Centre expected to attract young, wannabe top-class dancers.

"That's what we want to see," Goebel says. "There's so much culture and dance talent here; especially Polynesian dancers. We like to see that Polyswagg."

Mark Hunt. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Mark Hunt. Photo / Brett Phibbs

MARK HUNT: Fight to fighter

The 39-year-old mixed martial arts fighter and former kickboxer admits he was a naughty kid. As a teenager growing up in South Auckland, he was angry.

"There was one night I got into a fight outside a club on K Rd ... and that's how it started my fighting career, basically. Someone saw me and approached me later and that's how the real fighting started.

"God has his plans and we don't know how He works ... and that's how it worked out for me," he says.

Hunt grew up in South Auckland before moving to Sydney where he lives with his wife and children.

He attended Otahuhu and Aorere colleges and has been back as a guest speaker to students.

That first fight outside a nightclub led to a K-1 kickboxing career that turned him into a huge star in Japan. His record is 30 wins in 43 fights, including 13 knockouts. He was K-1 World Grand Prix 2001 champion.

He has become a hugely successful mixed martial arts fighter and is a big drawcard for the Ultimate Fighting Championship tournaments.

On Friday he took on Antonio "Bigfoot" Silva at UFC Fight Night 33 in Brisbane. The result was a draw, but it was a barbaric match that had the 12,000-strong crowd on its feet.

Both men fought hard and left the cage bloody and sore.

Hunt said he often encouraged young people to get into mixed martial arts, but hoped to see more young people from South Auckland doing well in life - no matter what path they chose to walk.

"UFC is giving more opportunities for young people coming up. A lot of those young people are kids from New Zealand and lots of those kids are from South Auckland."

Vela Manusaute. Photo / Richard Robinson
Vela Manusaute. Photo / Richard Robinson

VELA MANUSAUTE: Create your own theatre

When drama school graduate Vela Manusaute found himself selling taros and green bananas at a supermarket, he knew he had to make a change.

"I like to think I was the promotions guy. I was selling the taros and bananas out the front and greeting people: 'Talofa'.

"I went to the best drama school and yet there I was with a supermarket job. I couldn't understand it."

That was about 15 years ago when, with help from wife Anapela Polataivao, he set up theatre company Kila Kokonut Krew Entertainment Ltd.

The idea was to help get more Pacific Island-focused theatre on to the stage and more Pasifika actors into the industry.

It's led to the Toi Whakaari NZ Drama School graduate developing New Zealand's first Pacific musical, The Factory.

The story is based on a migrant family's struggle to fit into New Zealand society. Set in the 1970s at a bed factory in Auckland, The Factory was one of the biggest drawcards at this year's Auckland Arts Festival. Its success led to a mini website series of the same name and shows around Australia.

The musical is set to tour Europe next year including an appearance at the Edinburgh Festival.

Manusaute is also known for being the brains behind the concept for 2007 international hit horror film The Tattooist, which looks at the cultural traditions and consequences associated with Samoan tattoos.

Manusaute says living in South Auckland has inspired him hugely over the years.

"It's the only place I can wear a lavalava and walk in bare feet and not get a second look," he laughs.

"This whole thing was dreamed up in a garage and taken out into the world. It started off as just a big dream and then we just had to start walking and then running towards the dream to make it happen.

"That's what I want for South Auckland. I want all the talent here to just explode on to the world audience."

From South Auckland to the world:

Sir Edmund Hillary: First man to reach the summit of Mt Everest.
Keisha Castle-Hughes: Hollywood actress.
Jonah Lomu: Former All Black inducted into International Rugby Hall of Fame in 2007.
Sir John Walker: Olympic champion who, in 1975, broke the world record in the mile run.
Pauly Fuemana: Singer-songwriter whose How Bizarre became an international hit.
Scott Dixon: Triple IndyCar champion.
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson: American wrestler and Hollywood actor who went to school in Mangere.
Dick Quax: Olympic medallist and former world record holder in the 5000 metres.
Savage: Rapper who became the first NZ hip hop artist to have a single - Swing - achieve platinum sales in the US.
David Tua: Boxing heavyweight and Olympic medallist.
Valerie Adams: Olympic shot put champion.
Sir John Kirwan: Former All Black, Blues coach, mental health advocate - and New Zealand Herald guest editor.

- NZ Herald

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