Oct 24, 2023

A peep into the creative process: Ko Au Malosi

Nafanua Kersel

The manuhiri side of Tānenuiarangi, the wharenui at Kohupātiki marae is full but quiet, aside from the rolling laughter that fills both sides of the whare at intervals. The powhiri is done and we’re listening to the story of the pou and tukutuku panels. The challenge is set, we are a ‘rōpū of dancers, so dance!’ Seidah Tuaoi steps forward, giving a solo demonstration. The calm in the room is punctuated by her pops and locks, and flows again through her siva Samoa silhouette. I can’t help but imagine how this tableau might look rendered in stained glass. John ‘Happyfeet’ Vaifale and Russell Morrell follow, the energy rising with each of their sharp solos before we close in the best of ways, with laughter and a call to the wharekai. Wānanga has begun.

The Heretaunga cast of Ko Au: Malosi has been rehearsing diligently for the past three days. We’re solid in the kaupapa and ready to meet the national and international cast, and the Projekt Team whose collective experience and creative sparks will elevate the next few days of rehearsal into a singular experience of craft and collaboration. All towards Ko Au: Malosi, a vision and collection of works, a decade in the making by Seidah Tuaoi.

‘Um, I’m a writer, not a dancer’, I kept repeating to Seidah in the lead-up to rehearsals. It seems though, that she has excelled in her craft to such a degree that she, along with fellow Creative Director Joshua Mitikulena, managed to get even me moving. Moving, physically (and beyond) in a way that is both challenging and comforting. 

This is the beauty of Tuaoi’s innovative and internationally acclaimed dance style, a hybrid of siva Samoa and hip hop, specifically popping and locking. I feel solace in the familiarity of siva Samoa, and the Pasifika sensibility which comes through Tuaoi and Mitikulena’s collaborative and open teaching methods. I put my faith in the collective genius of the cast and call upon every dance performance I had ever done in my life because, I remind myself, almost every Samoan has performance experience. It’s our culture. I just happen to choose to perform words, sometimes with gestures. 

On one hand, the challenge for me is a physical one—popping and locking not being a skill I picked up in my Gen X, desk-bound adulthood. On the other hand, the challenge is more than physical, it’s a challenge to the senses, to interrupt siva Samoa with pops and locks but still see flow, still see story, still connect with culture. To see these interruptions as potential, as open space, and ironically, not locked at all. Ko Au: Malosi asks me, and all of us in fact, to feel differently—to feel the past, feel the edges of a memory and how this flows, ticks, pops, and tuts through the present moment, and into the future. 

Tuaoi’s vision, to create a space to hold her memories and explore our collective sense of self, is the platform but ‘it’s the people’ who bring the work together, she affirms. The creative process is a shared one, which can only be actioned through wānanga, sharing space, food, stories and time together. Through this, I’m reminded that my art has a place here, as does the art of the exceptional musicians, singers, actors, and of course, dancers.

I can’t help but feel both humbled and grateful. I know I’ve been given a gift in this process—of experiencing my own poetry in a new form, and seeing it in actual motion. Words that I thought I had mastered, were encouraged to alter, to become embodied in dance. Through this collective effort I am suddenly aware of the isolation of my creative process, even as I feel this isolation disappear and watch my poems become something of themselves through faces, bodies and breath.

So, while you go about your week, spare a thought for your existentially challenged local poet, and for all of us over here at Kohupātiki. We’ll be working to finely craft an experience unlike any other, tailored by time and collective effort, for this unique moment.

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