17 July 2008
THE ONLY insight most of us get into the indigenous cultures of the Pacific is when we see the New Zealand rugby team do their pre-match ritual dance, the Haka, usually before unleashing all kinds of pain on the England side, by Damien Gayle...
But this July Southwark's Pacific Playhouse will host London's first ever New Zealand and Pacific Isles Art Festival, the Shaky Isles Festival of Aotearoa, New Zealand, showcasing the cultural life of the island nation. Festival promoter Emma Deakin hopes that the event will appeal not only to the massive ex-pat Kiwi community, but also draw in a wider audience of Londoners and teach them a little about the unique culture of New Zealand.
"It's all about being a New Zealander who isn't British," says Deakin, "we're now our own nation with our own unique stories and history."
The traditional culture of New Zealand and the Pacific islands goes back thousands of years, but has had to adapt significantly in the face of colonisation by the white immigrants.
According to Deakin: "there's interesting things going on between Maori writers, Polynesian writers and Pakeha [white] writers right now, it's a real melting pot."
The festival is the most ambitious project to date from the Shaky Isles Theatre Company, the UK's only New Zealand theatre company presenting cutting edge work in London. The group meet regularly and includes artists and performers from the full spectrum of the antipodean diaspora.
Throughout the festival they will showcase the full range of contemporary New Zealand and Pacific arts and culture: theatre, film, comedy, photography, music, arts and crafts all telling the story of what it means to be a 21st Century Kiwi. "It's all about discovering our own voice," Deakin tells me, "We're just discovering our own identity through the stories we tell."
The Shaky Isles Festival of Aotearoa starts Saturday, July 19 and runs through to August 2 at the Pacific Playhouse on Southwark Bridge Road. It opens with a free event featuring speakers, a traditional Maori welcome dance and a presentation of art exhibits. Other events are either free or cost £10/£7 concessions.
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