Māori Television premiered The Stage – Haka Fusion last week. Madeleine Chapman went along to the auditions and saw the bones of a potential dance revolution.
In the past 10 years New Zealand has embraced reality television talent quests. New Zealand Idol, X Factor: NZ, New Zealand’s Got Talent, So You Think You Can Dance? All these shows searched for and promised the next big thing in New Zealand music or dance, and all have comprehensively failed to deliver just that.
The Stage – Haka Fusion, which premiered last Thursday on Māori Television, has avoided such promises and has instead narrowed the script to find and promote groups that are able to fuse contemporary dance with haka. The grand prize hasn’t been narrowed down though, with a cool $50,000 cash up for grabs.
It seems like a simple concept. Little bit of this, little bit of that, little bit of krump, little bit of haka. One simple rule and the world’s your oyster. But as each hip hop crew performed and tacked a pukana onto the end of their dance, it became increasingly clear that fusing haka into a contemporary dance routine is hard.
A world renowned hip hop dance crew called Identity auditioned with high expectations, choosing to completely ignore the brief by performing a straightforward hip hop dance. Seeing as the title of the show includes the words ‘Haka Fusion’, I figured they would be immediately eliminated for having a grand total of zero haka elements in their routine and the gall to perform it anyway.
But the judges are far more generous than I, and put them through to the next round on the condition that they actually listen to the instructions from here on in.
It wasn’t lost on the judges that the auditions lacked the fusion elements they had hoped for. Entertainment judge Luke Bird believes it’s time New Zealand saw something different. “New Zealand are used to the norm, I think,” he told me while on break from auditions. “Show them something totally random. Something that makes people go ‘wow, how did you do that? How does this exist?’”
20 minutes earlier I had sat backstage as two young sisters, Grace and Lola, auditioned with a dance routine made up of ballet and contemporary with the use of poi. I was impressed and figured if these kids could perform that, the adult groups would blow me away. Only one group outshone Grace and Lola in last week’s premiere: Toka Tu, a kapa haka group who have been performing together for years.
Their fusion of contemporary and haka was incredible, if a little rough around the edges. It took until the end of the episode but I finally saw exactly what the creators of the show had in mind when they came up with this concept. It was a small glimpse into the endless possibilities that arise when traditional culture and modern trends come together.
Te reo judge, Jeff Ruha, had one piece of advice for nervous performers, that incidentally completely encapsulates the drive behind the show. “Don’t sit back because you’re scared of the challenge. Just run with it and see where it goes.”
The Stage – Haka Fusion airs Thursdays at 9pm on Māori Television.