A young Unitec graduate headlines a packed Pacific Dance Festival programme with a new work Goodbye Naughton, a full length solo feature dedicated to Pacific youth.

Aloali'i Tapu describes it as a coming-of-age-story.

"Naughton is my first name but I've never used it. My parents came in the 80s at the time of the dawn raids and gave their kids white names to keep them safe — but I've always been Aloali'i."

Keeping your name is an act of defiance toward the colonial system, and equally, a source of pride. For Tapu, who's been working with youth for almost a decade, it's an example to other Pacific youngsters to find strength in their culture.

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"I'm actively addressing the issues of colonialism in my work," he says, "I'm literally saying 'goodbye' to a history and legacy that has tried to define — and I hope others draw inspiration from this too."

Naughton grew up influenced by his local hip-hop crew and has trained formally at Unitec, merging different styles of dance and exposing himself to different opportunities including regularly working in Berlin.

"I've been travelling to Germany every year for the past two years. It's given me a chance to develop my work but also expand my creative thinking in different ways but this is home," he says.

"Like most Pacific people, I was born dancing. I dance to my past and my present and I want our youth to know that we're all on the same page, our stories are valued and they are told — this is contemporary Pacific dance and there are no borders."

Under the stewardship of festival director Sefa Enari, the programme continues to grow and develop in different directions. With theatrical dance works, film screenings, a costume exhibition and workshops, the festival places Pacific culture and all its offerings in a bold, brave and contemporary space and promises alternative stories which could soon become the norm.

Jacob Tamata is also passionate about invigorating Pacific youth and his show Bionica is a bold look at future possibilities for queer youth.

"I want us to start making progress for our community by telling stories that enables the us to live well and prosper — our coming out stories are important and have a place but we need to pioneer alternative narratives," says Tamata.

"This is our way to give back to our young people of queer identity. We want our youth to have the confidence to know that we can embrace different ways to explore who we are — and what we want to say."

Directed by Tamata and presented by the Coven Collective, Bionica is also a call to move beyond social expectations. While acknowledging the importance and legitimacy of coming-out narratives, Tamata looks forward to having more work in the public sphere that has normalised queer identity and is genuinely inclusive of the community.

Bionica is deliberately future-focused, set somewhere far more inclusive than the current world.

""We are a growing community of millennials who are queer, brown and indigenous — and we need to respond to the needs of our people to tell all our stories," Tamata says. "That's my goal at the moment.

"Ultimately, to make genuine progress, we need to ensure that we tackle the stigma that has kept us in our loop — our utopia does exist and it's a space where we have rights to be without question — and that's why we have forwarded our story into the future."

Tamata also explains that his progress, so far, has been because of the support of several artists who have guided and supported him in making this new work, including visual artist Tanu Gago. Gago is well-known as one of the founders of FAFSWAG, an arts collective dedicated to positive portrayals of queer brown identities.

Tapu and Tamata's works are just two of the works in this year's Pacific Dance Festival. Others to look out for include:

Moana — a range of different dance works: a collection of short works by Hadleigh Pouesi, Tepaeru Ariki Lulu French, Ufitia Sagapolutele, Lyncia Muller, Rikki Tofi, and the New Zealand School of Dance third year students.

Cloaks of Protection — international Pacific dance: Fijian-based Rotuman international dance troupe Rako Pasefika introduce a large multidisciplinary performance installation to open at the end of 2018 called MamaHanua.

Pacific Dance On Screen — short films and footage: Pacific Dance New Zealand and Pollywood Pasifika Film present a public screening of short films and archival footage at Auckland Art Gallery, June 10.

Lowdown:
What: Pacific Dance Festival
Where & when: Mangere Arts Centre — Ngā Tohu o Uenuku; June 2 — 23