Limits don't apply to dancer Aloalii Tapu's work

by Kate Richards / 17 August, 2018
RelatedArticlesModule - dance
 Aloalii Tapu. Photo/Meek Zuiderwyk.

Limits do not apply to Aloalii Tapu’s work. Combining myriad influences from hip-hop to contemporary dance — in which he’s formally trained — Polynesian dance and theatre, he hopes that if his latest work, Goodbye Naughton, does anything, it surprises.

Now 24, Tapu’s dance history harks back to his teenage years growing up in Otara, where he performed at school and with a neighbourhood crew, KRASH (Keep Real and Stay Humble). He describes the scene in the South Auckland suburb as one of community, where “everyone stays quite close to each other and everyone around the neighbourhood knows each other”. Otara’s a place Tapu feels deeply connected with, despite having lived between Auckland and Berlin for three years before returning home in 2017 to settle in Titirangi with his wife, contemporary dancer Tori Manley-Tapu. They met while studying at Unitec.

Tapu’s choice of career surprised his parents, who wanted him to be either a police officer or a teacher, “like my dad was in Samoa”. So did his move to Germany for work, far away from his close-knit family. Travelling between two cities on opposite sides of the world was tough for the young dancer. Living with Icelandic flatmates and meeting people from around the world, he noticed his upbringing hadn’t prepared him for moving in the same way his peers’ had. “Everyone in Berlin can speak, like, five languages. They’re all prepared to leave their homes, and I was sort of running on my charm.” Tapu could speak only one language at the time. “When I came home I started going to Samoan classes and brushing up on my te reo, because I was getting embarrassed about not being able to speak my mother tongue. I didn’t feel like myself.” He returned with a greater pride in his Samoan heritage and a better understanding of how his early experiences had shaped his dance practice.

Homecoming is a defining feature of Tapu’s latest work, which he performed as part of the Pacific Dance Festival at the Mangere Arts Centre in June. It’s a deeply personal retrospective, exploring themes such as manhood, youth suicide, cultural expectations and post-colonialism. “I’m a brown guy who’s been taught to dance by white teachers,” he explains, “and you can see that when you watch me perform.” He was once congratulated after a show with a back-handed compliment about dancing like a white guy. That’s addressed, too.

As a teenager, Tapu felt the hardships of growing up in a community with a strong gang presence. “When you come from a place like Otara there’s an expectation… you’ve gotta be good with your hands, fast on your feet, a sweet talker if the cops approach you. It’s an unspoken expectation, but you’ve just gotta know.” It was common for youth workers to walk the streets, searching for at-risk youth; Tapu and his friends were mentored by groups like these.

He’s carried this experience with him. “I’m a youth worker at heart. We were just neighbourhood kids around the park or the library and [the youth workers] put us in their sports teams and things like that. We were young; we were at the age where we could have swayed either way. We needed it, all these dudes needed it.” He now mentors kids like he and his friends used to be.

Suicide is rife in his community and, having been through his own low periods, he hopes this work can convey a message to anyone feeling the way he has.

“If I can be the bridge for [suicidal youth] to find healing or confidence, I think that’s mainly why I made the work.”

The work’s title refers to Tapu’s first name, Naughton, given to him by his parents in the wake of the dawn raids on Pacific Islanders in Auckland and beyond during the 1970s. They felt it would be safer and that he’d be at less of a disadvantage in life if he had a “white name”. Goodbye Naughton rejects that idea, leaving Tapu free to create his own identity through dance deeply rooted in the Samoan culture he’s so proud of.   

Goodbye Naughton was performed as part of the Pacific Dance Festival in June.

This article was first published in the May - June 2018 issue of Metro.


Daffodils is a charming, bittersweet and tuneful piece of Kiwiana
103864 2019-03-22 16:20:19Z Movies

Daffodils is a charming, bittersweet and tuneful p…

by Russell Baillie

Aren’t pop musicals meant to be all sweetness and light? No, not if Daffodils is anything to go by.

Read more
Bill Ralston: The keyword is tolerance – even of those we disagree with
103852 2019-03-22 12:37:05Z Social issues

Bill Ralston: The keyword is tolerance – even of t…

by Bill Ralston

Neither evasive nor hate-filled words are needed in the Christchurch mosque-killings aftermath.

Read more
How young New Zealanders are demonstrating their inclusiveness
103832 2019-03-22 09:47:50Z Social issues

How young New Zealanders are demonstrating their i…

by The Listener

Kiwi students provide an inspirational example of how to embrace diversity in the wake of – and even before – the Christchurch attack.

Read more
I never thought I could be in danger over my beliefs – until Friday 15 March
103824 2019-03-22 00:00:00Z Social issues

I never thought I could be in danger over my belie…

by Fatumata Bah

I heard the stories and anecdotes of racism faced by my fellow sisters in hijab, but it was never at the forefront of my mind every day.

Read more
How to enhance your dining experience – with water
103174 2019-03-22 00:00:00Z Dining

How to enhance your dining experience – with water…

by Metro

A stunning dining experience isn’t just about food and wine. Water plays a big part too.

Read more
Facebook won't give up its insidious practices without a fight
103856 2019-03-22 00:00:00Z Tech

Facebook won't give up its insidious practices wit…

by Peter Griffin

Facebook came under fire for its response to the live-streaming of the Christchurch terror attack, but it's digital nudging that's also concerning.

Read more
In photos: The world unites in solidarity with Christchurch
103800 2019-03-21 15:36:46Z World

In photos: The world unites in solidarity with Chr…

by Lauren Buckeridge

Countries around the world have put on a show of solidarity for the victims of the Christchurch terror attack.

Read more
The tangled path to terrorism
103777 2019-03-21 09:59:55Z Psychology

The tangled path to terrorism

by Marc Wilson

The path that leads people to commit atrocities such as that in Christchurch is twisting and unpredictable, but the journey often begins in childhood.

Read more