Julia Mage'au Gray Shifting the Maiden
By Aaron Taouma
Imaginings of the Dusky Maiden, you know the ones; the maiden on the beach by the moonlight, long black hair draped down a slender half-nude body with waves rolling in. Or, splayed on velvet canvases again half-nude, smiling with innocent abandon, hibiscus in ear - 'soft porn for art connoisseurs' (as exemplified in Samoan filmmaker Sima Urale's Velvet Dreams,1997). Images of the Nesian maiden were deployed by artists in the early days of contact, fascination and exploitation - artists such as; William Hodges, John Webber, and later Paul Gauguin; further peddled in the modern 1950's kitsch era.
(Reference A Marata Tamaira for more - https://scholarspace.manoa.hawaii.edu/bitstream/10125/19980/1/v22n1-1-35.pdf)
But, what happens when you take the maiden out of that context, when you shift the maiden into the modern reality of urban Auckland and they are dressed and presented as they appear in everyday life?
That's the central question asked by Pacific Dance Artist in Residence for 2017, Julia Mage'au Gray, as she embarks on her two-month residency in place at Te Oro Arts Centre in Glen Innes Auckland, Aotearoa.
Julia knows a thing or two about working out of context and transposing multiple imaginings into other environments. She spent most of her arts career living and working in Darwin, Australia, where as a founding member of Sunameke Dance Company, presenting multicultural dance with multicultural participants was a norm. As this descriptor from their website explains:
"Embracing cultural dances and adapting the techniques and their
meaning in providing a new purpose for a modern audience is the
driving force behind Darwin performance group, Sunameke."
"I've had to deal with a really diverse community and pulling them together; multiple communities from Greek to Irish to all of our Nesian groups and more. This is one of the things I think I can share during my residency. It's my experience in bringing those different groups and cultures together, knowing there's more than one way to work and get a message across."
Since moving to Auckland in the early part of 2016, Gray has worked on that central idea of embracing the multiple, adapting contexts, transposing environments and repurposing meaning. Her work ‘Wearing My Map’ in the 2016 Pacific Dance Festival (Mangere Arts Centre, June 2016) transposed Melanesian movement, dance and heritage costuming into the modern urban context seeking to bring light to the fact Aotearoa has 8 million neighbours in the Pacific, of which Melanesia makes up a huge part.
Presenting her solo work 'Found Words' at the 2017 Pacific Dance Festival although largely a tribute to friend and muse Dr. Teresia Teaiwa, who passed earlier this year, the piece once again presented multi-cultural and multi-gendered movements out of context and within a theatre space. The addition of Teaiwa's beautiful and stirring poetry audibly illuminating the movements on the floor:
I think I know what a coconut feels like after floating for so long in salt water
And suddenly entering an estuary
This sinking feeling I’m feeling it again
This sinking, sinking feeling
(excerpt Fear of an Estuary, Teresia Teaiwa)
Both of these works also combined video work, shown in backdrop and danced to, the otherside of Gray's creative passion - photography and film. But, she does not call herself a choreographer, a filmmaker or other descriptors like 'multidisciplinary artist' for her 'Artist' is it:"
"As a Pasifika artist you do everything; you can't just say you're a dancer because you also have to sing, you have to make the costumes, the backdrop, the video, what ever needs to be done. So, artist or Pasifika artist - that's me."
Within this multi-hyphenated space - - multinesian, multicultural, multidisciplinary, multigendered, multicontextual - - Gray wishes to explore ways in which all of that is applied within one neighbourhood, one community and to express or present what comes out the other side in an artistic way.
"I don't want to preempt it too much but my initial thoughts were to work with the community, teach what I know through classes, settle into the neighbourhood, meet people and then create five short films with participants from there. I'm particularly looking at women and I'm teaching female movements from around the region, basically everything I've ever learnt. I'm not teaching culture, it's purely physical but through movement I think you can understand a part of a culture. This isn't to say that this is closed to men either. The class is designed for women but men are most welcome."
Her residency is a chance to explore and engage,
"giving voice to the women presenting, really looking at how they are in their surroundings, stylised using dance within the space, within their own everyday location around Glen Innes. What we'll be doing is working out what their own movement is and why it is. They might love hip-hop or ballet or ori, what ever it is we'll incorporate it somehow. I also want to look at how they dress and why they choose to dress that way. I'm liking it to Pasifika cultures where they have their traditional dress and how they present themselves where how they move expresses their surroundings and experience."
The public are welcome to attend Saturday classes with Julia Gray at:
Where: Te Oro Arts Centre
When: Saturday 12th August 2017 - 7 October
Time: 4pm - 530pm
Presentation showing to occur in early October.
To enroll in the classes click the link below:
For media enquiries please contact Pacific Dance NZ:
Phone: +64 9 376 00 60
The Pacific Dance Artist in Residence is supported by PDNZ, Creative NZ, Te Oro Arts Centre, Tamaki Local Board