“Kingdom of Lote” from a Samoan perspective

8 06 2011

I stepped off the plane in Auckland, was greeted at the airport by my girl Ema Tavola and promptly told that that night we would be watching a Tongan play called Kingdom of Lote. I was mildly intrigued. Like most Samoans, and having grown up in Hawaii, I can honestly say that I have “lots of Tongan friends” and consider myself quite fluent in the diverse PI world, but a play about Tongans? This was something completely new. I was prepared for the familiar Tongan references: meals featuring some form of domesticated quadruped (usually horse, possibly dog, but not cat), an unnatural obsession with rock wall-ing, infinite kava circles, and more than a few gold teeth. I was not disappointed. Add to that, though, a cast of unforgettable characters, a beautiful score, the most spatially intimate theatrical experience I’ve ever had, and you have Kingdom of Lote – the poignant story of Lote, the head of her small kingdom, which includes her brother Krak and teenage twins, Saia and Sela – a family balancing the demands of Tonga, and Tongan-ness, in current day Aotearoa.

Now, remember, I’m Samoan, so my idea of a great night out has never included taking in a bit of Tongan theater. That said, though, even I could not escape the charm and subtle brilliance that Kingdom of Lote, at its very core, is.

Much of the dialogue is delivered in Tongan, my favorite being the scene where Lote has a conversation with a nosey neighbor—in rapid-fire Tongan and at the top of their lungs. The unapologetic use of the Tongan language, and by extension the inclusion of traditional Tongan songs, works on so many levels: it identifies the primary audience, privileging those lucky enough to understand and speak Tongan. And it places that experience within the context of Pacific life so that someone like me, who may not understand Tongan, can easily identify with it because I’ve had nosey neighbors as well (except mine are mostly Samoan).

Woven amidst the drama of Saia’s burgeoning rugby career, Sela’s unsolicited political pontifications and Krak lamenting on wasted opportunities, is what I thought was the soul of this story: one woman’s drive to keep her family together. Lote represents the Pacific Everywoman, as comfortable in the kitchen as she is on the rugby sideline, as driven as she is humble, as skilled at picking up the pieces as she is at throwing down.

Kingdom of Lote is a testament to the unbreakable spirit of family, shared through the voices, lives and songs of Tongans, but it is also, to its credit, a Pacific tale. For me, Uncle Krak might be Uncle Junior, touchdowns replace tries, and I’ll take turkey tail over horse any day, but when it’s all said and done, these are simply details. The power in this story is that it brings us back to family, whether you call it aiga, famili, or whanau, and that’s something we all identify with.

Dionne Fonoti
May 2011

Dionne Fonoti was they keynote speaker at the Curating Pacific Art Forum, an event in the Pacific Arts Summit delivered in partnership with AUT University on Saturday 21 May. Fonoti is a Samoan academic and film maker based in Apia.


Vinaka vakalevu Tagata Pasifika!

22 05 2011

Very happy to have some of the Pacific Arts Summit events profiled on Tagata Pasifika [TVNZ] this week. Vinaka vakalevu Marama Papau and team!

“Kingdom of Lote” opens THIS WEEK!

16 05 2011

This week, the theatre component of the 2011 South Auckland Pacific Arts Summit opens for a 5-night season at Mangere Arts Centre – Ngā Tohu o Uenuku. KINGDOM OF LOTE is a brand new play written by Suli Moa and produced by Kila Kokonut Krew, Auckland’s premier Pacific entertainment company. This is Pacific theatre history making stuff! We have a chat with Producer, Stacey Leilua to find out more…

Tell us about Kingdom of Lote – how did it come about, what is your role and who else is involved?

Kingdom of Lote was created and developed through the Young Kila Writers 2010 Program.  Kila Kokonut Krew recognised the wealth of unrecognised talent and established the program with the goal of developing this talent and producing it into a full length, professional production that would present their unique stories to the community.

Over four months, three young Pasifika writers developed their original concepts into a third draft script which was then workshopped, dramaturged and directed by professional industry practitioners, and shown to an audience at Mangere Arts Centre – Nga Tohu o Uenuku.  The response was exactly what the company and its writers were looking for – recognition, praise and encouragement to further develop the plays into full length works, to be staged as separate productions over 2011.

Kingdom of Lote is the second of these plays, invited to be staged as part of the annual Pacific Arts Summit.  I was one of the mentors of the Young Kila Writers Programme, and am producing the debut season of it for the Pacific Arts Summit.  I am joined by Vela Manusaute and Anapela Polataivao who are directing the play, and Suli Moa, the playwright who also acts in Kingdom of Lote alongside a very talented cast of actors, singers and dancers.

How important is it to present this work in South Auckland?

It’s important that this work is put on, full stop, it’s the first of its kind, being written by a Tongan, starring a full Tongan cast speaking English and Tongan dialogue and performing traditional Tongan song and Dance.  The fact that it is being staged in South Auckland gives the community added accessibility; there is not the long haul to the city, the hassle of traffic and parking etc.  Mangere Arts Centre – Nga Tohu o Uenuku is in the heart of South Auckland.  I love the fact that there are carparks, markets and A-Way a stones-throw away from where we are putting on the show.

What can audiences look forward to in this unique work?

For Tongan audiences, it’s the chance to see their culture, their language, their stories played onstage.  For non-Tongans, the chance to get an insight into the richness of the Tongan culture.  The story has the perfect mix of comedic and dramatic moments, song, dance, everything! Come and find out!

It has been so exciting to see the Young Kila Writers programme evolve, what does the future hold for this exciting initiative?

Young Kila Writers was such an amazing project, it enabled us to create work for actors and playwrights, expose raw talent, and collectively grow as a company.  The third installment of the Young Kila plays, Fatu to Fatu by Tavai Faasavalu, is on at Mangere Arts Centre – Ngā Tohu o Uenuku in December.  The plan is to run another season of Young Kila Writers in 2012, and as for the work that has already been created, in terms of further developing the work, touring it, the sky’s the limit.

Vinaka vakalevu Stacey!

What: KINGDOM OF LOTE – A new play by Suli Moa
Mangere Arts Centre – Ngā Tohu o Uenuku, Corner of Bader Drive and Orly Avenue, Mangere, South Auckland
When: 7.30pm, 17-21 May
$15 / $20
Enquiries + Bookings: Call Mangere Arts Centre – Ngā Tohu o Uenuku on 09 262 5789

Dancer of the Year 2011

11 05 2011

Supported by Toi o Manukau, Cook Islands-based visual artist, Ani O’Neill opened her solo exhibition, Dancer of the Year 2011 in Gallery 2 of Mangere Arts Centre – Nga Tohu o Uenuku on Friday 6 May as part of the 2011 South Auckland Pacific Arts Summit. The exhibition, featuring objects and video, runs until 19 June.

Ani O’Neill travelled to South Auckland to participate as a tutor for Toi o Manukau’s annual youth exhibition project, Ka Pu Te Ruha, Ka Hao Te Rangatahi. For the first time, students from Tereora College in Rarotonga, where Ani teaches art, featured in the exhibition. Ka Pu Te Ruha, Ka Hao Te Rangatahi runs until 29 May in Gallery 1 of Mangere Arts Centre – Nga Tohu o Uenuku.

Ema Tavola (Pacific Arts Coordinator, Arts and Culture South, Auckland Council), Donna Tupaea (Co-Curator for Ka Pu Te Ruha, Ka Hao te Rangitahi), Ani O’Neill and Nigel Borell (Kaiwhakahaere – Toi o Manukau / Maori Arts Advisor, Arts and Culture South, Auckland Council and Co-curator for Ka Pu Te Ruha, Ka Hao te Rangitahi)

Ani O’Neill with Jim Vivieaere

Shigeyuki Kihara, Rosanna Raymond and Lisa Reihana

Henry Taripo and Ani O’Neill

Ani O’Neill with guests

Exquisite catering by John Oyagawa, the official caterer of the 2011 South Auckland Pacific Arts Summit.

Linda T and Ani O’Neill

Pacific Sisters SOUTHSIDE: EyeKonik crew

Photography by Vinesh Kumaran, courtesy of Mangere Arts Centre – Nga Tohu o Uenuku.

Tonight is going to be… Herstoric!!

7 05 2011

Tonight is a very special custom made Pacific Sisters event right here in South Auckland!!

Pacific Sisters SOUTHSIDE: EyeKonik is only $10 on the door and promises to be a truly herstoric event! Doors open at 6.30pm, show starts at 7pm. Very limited seating! Get in early or buy your tickets TODAY from Fresh Gallery Otara or Mangere Arts Centre – Nga Tohu o Uenuku!

What: Pacific Sisters SOUTHSIDE: EyeKonik
Where: Mangere Arts Centre – Nga Tohu o Uenuku, Cnr Bader Drive + Orly Ave, Mangere Town Centre, South Auckland
When: Doors open at 6.30pm, show starts at 7pm, Saturday 7 May
Tickets: $10

Niu Sila’s celebrated all woman art collective the Pacific Sisters come together from all corners of the globe to reunite for a one night only, fresh and flash, South Auckland ‘Southside” performance.

15 years since they first formed, the sisters are reigniting their kaupapa of urban Pacific grass-roots collaboration to produce ‘Pacific Sisters’ EyeKonik, where fashion show meets performance art meets local artists’ showcase. Witness the ’21st Sentry Cyber Sista’ awaken the Po Ula…

The collective reminds their fans not to “Miss or Mister boat! – Get in with your best dressed for the legendary ‘freestyle frock action’ and after DARK funKtion.”

British Council and Toi o Manukau have enabled the core collective members to gather in New Zealand to present this unique one-night-only show.

This performance contains nudity. Children must be accompanied by a parent or guardian. Entry to the show is at the discretion of theatre staff.

Pecha Kucha Night went OFF!!

6 05 2011

The Pacific Arts Summit special edition of Pecha Kucha Night was a great success on Wednesday 4 May. 13 excellent speakers inspired a full-house at Mangere Arts Centre – Nga Tohu o Uenuku.

South Auckland video installation artist and educator, Leilani Kake discussed the inspiration of Pacific thinkers Merata Mita, ‘Epeli Hau’ofa and Ron Crocombe. Kake is the organiser of the Summit’s film event, Square Eyes

Mangere-based performance artist + graphic designer, Siliga David Setoga discussed his connections to South Auckland.

Filoi Vaila’au discussed the work of Pacific Dance New Zealand and the upcoming announcement of the 2nd Pacific Dance Artist in Residence

Fresh Gallery Otara staffer Nicole Lim discussed the inspirations for her graphic design practice.

Bruce Phillips, Curator at Te Tuhi Centre for the Arts discussed a fascinating project he was involved with in Chicago with New Zealand artists.

Martin Leung-Wai, a recent graduate from Unitec’s Architecture programme discussed “The Taualugā: A Spatial Study”

South Auckland film maker and visual artist, Tanu Gago discussed his three loves: Samoa, Film and South Auckland.

UK-based Rosanna Raymond discussed recent projects with Pacific diaspora communities in England.

Writer, Suli Moa and producer, Stacey Leilua discussed the upcoming production of Kingdom of Lote being presented at Mangere Arts Centre – Nga Tohu o Uenuku from 17-21 May.

Overall, we received overwhelmingly positive feedback from this unique Pecha Kucha Night! Thanks to everyone who came out to support!

Launched + ON FIRE!!

6 05 2011

The 2011 South Auckland Pacific Arts Summit was officially launched on Wednesday 4 May at Mangere Arts Centre – Nga Tohu o Uenuku…

Auckland Council South’s Pacific Arts Coordinator, Ema Tavola, introducing the programme and thanking excellent project partners, AUT University, British Council, Creative New Zealand, Pecha Kucha Night, John Oyagawa Catering, Mangere Arts Centre – Nga Tohu o Uenuku, Manukau Institute of Technology, NiuFM, Otara Music Arts Centre, Pacific Dance New Zealand, Papakura Art Gallery and Toi o Manukau!

Leilani Kake, Kolokesa Mahina-Tuai + Molly Pihigia

Pacific Arts Summit team with Councillor Alf Filipaina

Carla van Zon + Naomi Singer (Manager, Mangere Arts Centre – Nga Tohu o Uenuku)

Gareth Farry (British Council) + Vinesh Kumaran

South Auckland’s own Mr Gene Rivers!

Monty Collins, Stacey Leilua + Tavai Faasavalu

Vela Manusaute + Ema Tavola

Suzanne Tamaki + James Pinker

Grace Hakaria and guests

Martin Leung-Wai + Filoi Vaila’au (Pacific Dance New Zealand)

Shigeyuki Kihara + Vela Manusaute

Daren Kamali + Christina Jeffery (Tautai Trust)

Leisa Siteine (Manager, Arts and Culture South, Auckland Council) + Ema Tavola

Rebecca Hobbs, Luisa Tora + Melissa Cole

Good times, peeps! Vinaka vakalevu for the support!