Weekly Summit Interviews are an opportunity to get to know the artists behind the Pacific Arts Summit…
Headlining the entertainment at TRUE SOUTH, the Pacific Arts Summit’s premier event is Pacific Muse - a beautiful dance work choreographed by Otara-based Cook Island choreographer and dancer, Tepaeru-Ariki Lulu French.
- Tickets for TRUE SOUTH are $20 and available for purchase at Mangere Arts Centre – Nga Tohu o Uenuku or on EventFinder.co.nz
Tell us a bit about yourself… how long have you been choreographing, what are your inspirations and why do you do what you do?
I was born and raised on the tiny island of Aitutaki, and this is what gives me my drive, inspiration and grounding for everything I do in my life. I have been dancing and performing since I could walk, and so since joining Anuanua (Auckland-based Cook Island dance troupe) it has allowed me to explore movements and put them into practice. I would say I have been choreographing for almost eight years, and in the early years, it has been restricted within the Cook Island community and for Anuanua Dance Troupe.
The ‘tamure’ (Cook Islands dance) is something that is part of me, its ‘innate’ and it was something my mother and her mother before her did. We did not have proper training as they do now and with other dance genres, instead, we put on a pareu (sarong/lavalava) or a purou (grass skirt) and would just move, to the music, the drums and, to our feelings. That is what inspires me and I do it most probably because I cannot live without it. I have had ‘time-off’ during my dance life, for studying purposes, or to have a baby but I always felt incomplete, it is a part of my life, and I cannot deny its place in me. So I was back into it six weeks after giving birth. I do what I do because it makes me whole has it allows me to reconnect with the past the present and definitely the future.
TRUE SOUTH is a special event in the Pacific Arts Summit programme, speaking to, for and about a hugely under-represented sector of our community, plus size women. Your piece, Pacific Muse, is concerned with the Pacific body – can you tell us about the piece?
I wanted to incorporate different modes of traditional and contemporary Cook Islands dance to create an overall body of work which explores and challenges Western-colonial notions and representations of Pacific bodies. Particularly, the stereotypes and images of the ‘Dusky Maiden’ and the ideas surrounding a highly exoticised Pacific ‘feminine mystique’.
Pacific Muse focuses on the ‘white construct’ of Cook Island dance and the reclamation of the dance as a cultural possession that needs to be protected from further misinterpretation. What the dance therefore aims to achieve is to recreate an alternative position to the dance form and most important the pre-conceived perception of Pacific women. I would like to promote our dance as a way of socio-cultural expression; a reflection of everyday life entwined into a political action and challenge.
You are a true-blue Southsider, where did you grow up and what do you love about the Southside?
As we all know, Otara is the capital of the Cook Islands, so it was only natural that I can confirm that when my family and I moved to New Zealand in the late 90’s, Otara became home! It’s almost home away from home. I love Southside because of its colours! The colours of the different cultures and ethnicities, the colourful nature of the people and the surrounding! It is truly is an exciting place to grow up in.
What are your creative plans moving forward and how can people connect with you and follow your practice?
I plan to continue developing Pacific Muse and hopefully in the future be able to put it on as a full show. I would also love to take it internationally. I am still actively part of Anuanua Dance Troupe and therefore actively involved in the Cook Islands community. I can be contacted by email or follow me on Facebook for updates, dance projects or for some awesome randomness in Cook Islands dance.
- Tepaeru-Ariki Lulu French was one of three choreographers selected for the 2011 Pacific Dance Choreographic Labratory where the work Pacific Muse was first developed under the mentorship of well-known dancer and artistic director, Neil Ieremia.
- Pacific Dance New Zealand is holding their annual Fono on Saturday 19 May as part of the Pacific Arts Summit, click here to find out more.