Fishing skills

MĀUI: teaching life skills to young people

A nearly sold-out show for Matariki educates hundreds of Auckland students about vulnerability and leadership, resilience and joy.

Hadleigh Pouesi, youth worker, choreographer and dancer, challenges troubled youth to turn away from crime and live a better life by expressing themselves through dance as a physical expression of culture.

Her dance-theatre work MĀUI is presented in three shows at the Aotea Center on Friday, as part of the program of the Matariki Festival and the Pacific Dance Festival.

Photo: Provided

Hadleigh tells Kathryn Ryan that the show is a creative arts extravaganza, bringing the story of the demigod of the Pacific to life.

“As I said, we have dance and it’s a range of genres, whether it’s hip-hop dance, contemporary dance, Pacific movement, kapa haka, as well as live music all throughout the show, we have We have original songs as well as headliners, we have spoken words in there, we have beautiful animations that push the narrative of the show.

The story breaks down the characteristics of this legendary character, he says.

“We go through the stories of Māui and the sun, Māui fishing the islands from the sea, we go through the stories of Māui capturing the fire of hell and bringing it back to Earth.

“So we go through a lot of the tales that we grew up listening to.”

Ushering in the new official holiday, a cast of over 30 artists, including Hadleigh, who also participates as director and choreographer.

“For us it’s huge to be at the Kiri Te Kanawa Theatre, one of the biggest if not the biggest theater in New Zealand, it’s huge.

“It’s huge that an indigenous performance by Pacific and Maori youth will occupy such a prestigious space as this on such a historic date, given that it is Matariki’s first public holiday.”

The MĀUI project was set up by the Fresh Movement Arts Trust and the Freshmans Dance Crew, of which Hadleigh is also a director.

“We were very lucky at the beginning of my career to go to the World Hip-Hop Championships in Las Vegas. We were able to bring home New Zealand’s first gold medal at this prestigious event, but at At that time, I was like fine now, what do we do?

“So we thought why can’t we start a trust, why can’t we start an organization that creates careers for young people and for young dancers who want to do this full time?”

In addition to school and community programs and mentorship in higher education, they help create employment opportunities for more than 100 young artists.

“So we have a few dancers now dancing full time in Japan, we have a few dancers teaching in Melbourne and Brisbane.

“We have been able to launch a large number of young people into careers that not only give them national success, but also international recognition.”

Hadleigh believes the creative arts offer young people a method of positive engagement and links to her work as director of Zeal West Auckland Youth Centre.

“For some young people, they need to be connected to sports, arts, music, or just have a good adult role model by their side to keep them busy and involved in positive engagement.

“For us, our language is dance and we’ve seen a lot of young people change their lives, change their lives, be able to tell a different story, because they get involved in our programming instead of doing stupid things that are which we see a lot in the media right now.

Lockdowns have deprived developing youth of such positive engagements, and free time has instead been spent on mischief, he says.

“They take their social cues from what they see on their phones and what they see on their laptops and whether they’re able to get that kind of attention by getting past those ram raids or getting past the youth crime, I understand why they’re using this as a way to get attention – I don’t agree with that, but I can understand how we ended up in this space.

“We get a lot of young people who have been forced out of school and have been forced to earn a living due to Covid lockdowns and due to the high price of living at the moment and so if you need make ends meet, I can understand why some also do it out of sheer survival.

Mainstream media also have a role to play, he says.

“Every day you turn on the TV or every time you turn on the radio, this stuff gets covered and so it’s not just a social media issue, I think it’s the mainstream media that devotes so much of time giving a negative image of youth Culture.”