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'I can dance to anything - even silence'

Taiaroa Royal talks about dance and the show Tama Ma

The Body Festival has brought some spectacular dance performances to Christchurch. One of the most powerful is the show Tama Ma by the Okareka Dance Company.

Tom Hoyle caught up with Taiaroa Royal for a quick chat to talk about his show and life as a dancer.

Tama Ma tells the story of two men who travel from boyhood, to manhood, and the real life tale of love, life, joy and sorrow. The five part act moves from a short dance film projected on stage to a drag queen’s journey to femininity and the return back to masculinity. This is the first time that the celebrated choreography skills of Douglas Wright and Michael Parmenter have ever been presented in the same show.

There is some high-powered choreography in this show; between yourself and Taane, Michael Parmenter and Douglas Wright there is a vast amount of experience from New Zealand contemporary dance. What was it like bringing all those strong independent visions together into the one show?
It was an amazing experience working with Michael and Douglas. Apart from being our mentors, they are NZ’s elite choreographers of NZ dance and having them choreograph for us on Tama Ma was an honour. We also made NZ contemporary dance history in having them, Taane and myself work on the same project together.
You’ve been dancing in New Zealand for a long time, what made you decide to start Okareka Dance Company?
Both Taane and I decided it was time to tell our own stories. After so many years of dancing in other companies, it was the right time for us to start our own.
Tama MaTama Ma is a strong story about masculinity. Do you see the physicality of dance as a possible solution to the problem we have in New Zealand with males expressing themselves physically in inappropriate and often violent ways?
It could possibly help males express themselves physically in a more appropriate way … perhaps a chance to get in touch with their feminine side?
In your long career within dance you’ve been involved in a wide variety of shows, from ground-breaking New Zealand company Black Grace to spectacular aerial performance in the stageshow Maui, work on the World of Wearable Arts and everything in between. Care to give us some highlights and lowlights from your years in the performing arts?
Definite low was starting out as a freelance dancer back in the early 90s. Slowly gaining a reputation in the industry helped me go from strength to strength in having work. Apart from the few years full-time work with Black Grace, I have mostly freelanced here in NZ.
What’s it like being a full-time contemporary dancer in New Zealand?
I consider myself very fortunate to be in a career I love doing. Dance work here in NZ is very rare and most of the time one has to generate their own work. But that makes for exciting, new ways to keep yourself ‘alive’!
Can you explain your remarkable longevity as a dancer?
Comes down to one thing - maintenance! You must look after yourself physically, mentally and spiritually.
Do you feel that the New Zealand physical landscape impresses itself upon your dancing and choreography in the same way as the social landscape? If so, do you get something different from the South Island in comparison to the North?
Yes I do feel that influence. Unfortunately I don’t spend enough time in the South Island but when I do I always fell a sense of quiet, restful grandeur. The North Island seems a more faster pace, not to mention warmer.
What are you listening to at the moment?
Whirimako Black.
We don’t get many shows like this coming to Christchurch, is Christchurch seen as a tough audience to reach within dance circles?
A little. However one of the main reasons is it’s quite expensive to get down here. But we hope to make Christchurch a regular performance city for Okareka Dance Company.
What are your hobbies when you’re not working?
Well, when I do have the time I love watching movies, I love cooking and eating of course, I am a keen gardener with a passion for carnivorous plants and exotic orchids, knitting, stretching is always good too.
Do you dance recreationally as well as professionally? What styles of dance do you most enjoy?
Not much time for recreational dance but the rare times I do go out to a dance club, my dance style is usually influenced by the music that’s playing. But I can dance to anything - even silence.

October 2009