TBI Q&A: Choreographer Louise Potiki Bryant

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Taonga choreographer Louise Potiki Bryant answered questions from The Big Idea members about Maori contemporary dance and the Atamira Dance Collective, belonging to the land, cultural change, what…

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Taonga choreographer Louise Potiki Bryant answered questions from The Big Idea members about Maori contemporary dance and the Atamira Dance Collective, belonging to the land, cultural change, what remains a taonga (treasure) and being inspired by stories from her whanau, hapu and iwi.

"As a kid I remember always asking my parents questions about people from the past. However I do think it is also my way of trying to contribute to the telling of our collective stories and a passion for wanting to see the connections between the ancient past, the recent past, and contemporary life. I'm always interested in how people cope with cultural change."Taonga choreographer Louise Potiki Bryant answered questions from The Big Idea members about Maori contemporary dance and the Atamira Dance Collective, belonging to the land, cultural change, what remains a taonga (treasure) and being inspired by stories from her whanau, hapu and iwi.

"As a kid I remember always asking my parents questions about people from the past. However I do think it is also my way of trying to contribute to the telling of our collective stories and a passion for wanting to see the connections between the ancient past, the recent past, and contemporary life. I'm always interested in how people cope with cultural change."Taonga: Dust, Water, Wind plays as part of Auckland Festival 2009 and is inspired by Louise Potiki Bryant's Aunty Rona and her 80 years of life on the South Island's East Coast, as well as the story of Rona and the Moon. The work is a poetic display of dance and taonga puoro (traditional Maori instruments) accompanied by Richard Nunns.

During what hours of the day do you feel most inspired?
When I first wake up I often have great ideas and images that pop into my brain. I also find early morning a good time to day dream or to work through choreographic ideas in my mind. However any time of day when I am working with dancers and we have a break-through with a choreographic idea I find inspiring. I get very exciting within the choreographic process when things suddenly find a synergy with one another. Another time I have lots of ideas is when I am driving through the Waitakere Ranges on my way home to Piha.

How would a good friend describe your aesthetic or style?
Influenced by different Periods of time, bi-cultural, sometimes steam-punk.

What aspect of your creative practice gives you the biggest thrill?
I enjoy many aspects of the choreographic process from choreographic discoveries which occur in the rehearsal studio, to working with talented dancers, to collaborating with musicians and lighting designers, to thinking about costume design and the integration of the set elements and video design. I get the biggest thrill possibly from when all these elements come together to create magic. I also enjoy when the unexpected happens in rehearsals taking the work to a whole new place. I also enjoy researching and spending time developing concepts for the work and the process of finding connections between seemingly unrelated things.

How does your environment affect your work?
I live in Piha and I think living by the sea amongst bush has definitely had an affect on my work. I often incorporate natural elements into my work and I consider the natural cycles of things a lot more. I think this filters into my work.

Do you like to look at the big picture or focus on the details?
I do both at different times within a process. I might begin a work with a small detail such as an object, which will lead me to conceive a whole narrative for a work.

I am very open to serendipity and finding things to enrich my art-work via intuition. However once I have the overall seed of idea for the work, I do a lot of research before working with the dancers and along the way (once I have workshopped some material) I can often visualize whole sections of dance in my mind. I do see the big picture and am very interested in the overall design of the work as well as the choreography. I design the video for my work as well, so often I am thinking of the big picture of how the video and the dance will fit together.

What's your number one business tip for surviving (and thriving) in the creative industries?
Work hard. Be true to yourself, Be passionate. Get excited. Have a vision - and work hard to achieve it. People will naturally gravitate towards your passion to support your vision. Feed your creative soul.

Which of your projects to date has given you the most satisfaction?
There have been lots or projects I have found satisfying for different reasons. I was very satisfied with a work I made in 2003 with Atamira Dance Collective called Te aroha me te mamae. It was a work based on the story of a Ngai Tahu women I met called Greyanna Barrett.

Back then at a Ngai Tahu artist hui I presented a work - in - progress video of ideas for a dance piece about how Maori women coped with life during World War Two. Greyanna was at the hui and she very much related to the ideas of the work. She passionately wanted to tell me her story and the story of her mother and grandmother. She was interested in the different affects of colonisation on these women in her family. I interviewed her and recorded her story. It was a very powerful story. The work became a metaphoric representation of aspects of her life. I found this a very satisfying process and it has led me onto a way of working - to develop works based on real-life stories, whakapapa and history.

I do also enjoy working with students and recently made a work called Singing in the Pain on Year One dance students at Unitec School of Performing and Screen Arts. It was a chance to try other choreographic ideas and to take some risks.

Who or what has inspired you recently?
The dancers I am working with currently on Taonga inspire me every day. My husband Paddy Free has always been an inspiration with his music and his love of life.

If you could go back and choose a completely different career path to the one you've chosen, what would it be?
Film Director or Painter or Musician/singer or healer.

What place is always with you, wherever you go?
Dunedin / Otakou and Kaka Point

What's the best way to listen to music, and why?
In the car on a road trip, because for me when its good music I can see dancers moving in the landscapes we pass (if I'm in the passenger seat!!)

You are given a piece of string, a stick and some fabric. What do you make?
Um, probably the worst kite you ever saw.

What's the best stress relief advice you've ever been given?
Live in the moment. The other good advice has been "Go to sleep"

What's great about today?
I'm living in a beautiful place, I work with amazingly talented people and I just had dinner from the Piha RSA kitchen. Awesome!

What's great about the Auckland Festival 2009?
The number of works from Aotearoa in the festival.

What's your big idea for 2009?
To many big ideas to mention. But mostly to stay positive and focused and to enjoy my work and my home.

  • The Big Idea member questions

    Tena koe Louise, As a choreographer, who focuses in on your whanau, hapu and iwi stories...
    Are these links...your commitment / contribution as an artist to retain, remember whakapapa through a collective memory? - Mei Hill

    Kia ora Mei! I think I make works about whanau, family and iwi stories primarily because I have always been inspired by these stories. As a kid I remember always asking my parents questions about people from the past. However I do think it is also my way of trying to contribute, as you say, to the telling of our collective stories and a passion for wanting to see the connections between the ancient past, the recent past, and contemporary life. I'm always interested in how people cope with cultural change.

    Taonga speaks to how we deal with change - what is staying the same and we are remembering that is important? - Carl Chenery

    Kia ora. I'm not quite sure I understand the question. But I think you're asking what is the constant thing that remains important to us through change. The question for me has been what is it that at the end of our lifes, (through all the changes) stays with us - what remains precious, what is a taonga to us then. In listening to my Aunty reflect on her life so far, she remembers the small precious moments of time spent with special people in her life - these are her taonga - and her life has been filled with many traumatic things and a lot of hardship but what remains are the details of memories which make her smile.

    What does it mean for you to belong to the land? - Carl Chenery

    That there is no separation. It does give me an identity and a sense of belonging, however it also keeps me humble. I am not separate from anything.

    What did you do on Waitangi Day this year? - Carl Chenery

    Paddy, my husband was leaving to Austrailia to play with Salmonella Dub for the weekend, so after dropping him at the airport I spent the rest of the day with good friends Mike Hodgson and Lara Bowen at their house with their two beautiful kids and a musician from Bristol.

    For new audiences to Maori contemporary dance, what is unique about creating and presenting your work with Atamira, as opposed thru a non-Maori company? - Sarah Hutchings
    Kia ora Sarah. For me what is unique is that generally we all come with an inherent understanding of the kaupapa (concepts) of a work I have conceived for Atamira. There is something in our shared experience, which makes for a strong and dynamic working process. Having said that we are all individuals and come from many different iwi so we do have differences but overall we seem to be able to understand each other on many levels.

    Who did the photography/art work for your promotional picture and what does it represent? - The Big Idea Editor

    It was a bit of a collaboration. Tony Nyberg shot the image of Pare Randall in front of the sheet. I shot the photograph of the lighthouse at Nugget Point (near Kaka Point on the Catlins Coast, in Te Waipounamu) and I put the images together as well as colour grading it. It represents my Aunty Rona as a young woman at Kaka Point in the 1930s on washing day. Washing day took a whole day back then, and was always done on a Monday. She said when the whites were hung on the line they were a "joy to behold". The wind billowing the sheets against the sky is an image in the work called WIND. The work is in three parts DUST, WATER and WIND. Each part relates to a different aspect of my Aunty's childhood growing up by the sea during the depression.

    More information

    Thursday 12th March - Sunday 15th March, 8pm
    SKYCITY Theatre: Corner Wellesley and Hobson Street, Auckland CBD
    Tickets: Premium Premium Festival Friend $39, A Res $39,
    A Res Festival Friend $35, A Res Concession $35, A Res Group 6+ $35, B Res $29,
    B Res Concession. $25
    Tickets available through TICKETEK: 0800 TICKETEK or www.ticketek.co.nz (booking fees may apply)
    Duration: 1 hour 15 minutes (no interval)

    Auckland Festival 09

    12/02/09

  • Written by

    The Big Idea Editor

    12 Feb 2009

    The Big Idea Editor

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