Pressing issues of the day become the richly absorbing material for five intense dance works in Wahine Toa, the first of four programmes of contemporary Pacific dance in the two-week 2017 Pacific Dance Festival.

The effects of climate change on the land and lives of people in the Cook Islands are lamented in Tai Akaki by Tepaeru-Ariki Lulu French. The dance brings traditional patterns and gestures into new configurations, with movement and gestures providing a call to action, and is set against film by Tom Webb and short bursts of traditional drums, songs and chants.

Six staunch, grim young women come together in Ave by Tia Sagapolutele, sharing angry, bitter words about being abused. They prowl and manoeuvre in different groupings, keeping tight control over who can enter their territory. They share emphatic moves drawn from street dance and voguing as well as from Samoan traditions and a determination that things must change.

The denial of Chamorro indigenous identity by the US government, who administer Guam/Guahan as its territory, is the focus in Tano/Land. It's a short film by Ojeya Cruz Banks who drifts hauntingly through the shadows of a grove of trees on an ancient Chamorro burial ground next to a motorway, unseen, naming the significance of that site.


The urgent need to reclaim traditional heritage and connections to the past feature in Found Words, a sophisticated performance installation by Julia Mage'au Gray with poetry by Teresia Teaiwa, clothing by Dru Douglas and film by Gray. The layers of film, movement and text overlap and crosshatch as she throws out her net/dress to harvest reclaimed knowledge.

A once-lost Tongan story about the wedding of a chief from the South and a princess from the West is re-enacted in West Meets South, choreographed and directed by Losalio Miliaka Pusiaki. Ranging in age from 6 to 60, 25 or so performers present reconstructed dances, gloriously arrayed in richly detailed adaptations of traditional clothing.

There is a vibrant Pacific heritage in these works.

What: Wahine Toa, Pacific Dance Festival
Where & when: Mangere Arts Centre
Reviewer: Raewyn Whyte