During the Heiva I Tahiti great festivities, the singing and dancing contests are the greatest annual rendezvous of Ori Tahiti, Tahitian dancing. Presenting a show at this prestigious event is both a human and an artistic uncommon enterprise. Discover this adventure with Manahau, one of the groups that participated in the 2010 edition.
At the beginning is a totally blank page. For any group, the challenge is in the creation of a complete show with a theme, some text, music, songs, choreography and a wide range of costumes. All of this in only a few months while relying on dancers, musicians, authors and composers who are not professional performers. They do not therefore make a living from their art.
At the origin of this adventure, there is always the charismatic figure of the group’s leader, the ra’atira pupu, in Reo Tahiti, the Tahitian language. Personalities known and renown in French Polynesia whose names mark the history of Ori Tahiti and of its high moment, the Singing and Dancing Competition of the Heiva I Tahiti. Like other group leaders, Jean-Marie Biret, who founded Manahau, must be, at the same time, a creator and a leader capable of mobilizing all the energies necessary to put together a show involving about one hundred performers. Jean-Marie Biret likes to talk about his Manahau “tribe”, reference to his native land, New Caledonia, a French overseas archipelago located Northeast of Australia, where the tribe used to be and still is one of the foundations of the social organization. Under his initiative, the Manahau “tribe” jumped into the adventure.
Hours Of Rehearsal
The creation of a show is a complex process. Groups must perform specific styles of dances that belong in Polynesian culture: ote’a, aparima, pa’o’a, hivinau etc. The real difficulty is, from these “imposed figures” to create a new and original show.
In the case of Manahau, the choreographies and motions were first created and developed in restricted committee with the group leader and his most experienced dancers. These initiated performers then became trainers and trained the other dancers. In parallel, the orchestra worked on its side on all the musical creations.
After this phase of all-direction creation, came the time of rehearsals with larger and larger personnel. This lasted over three months, during which the ensemble choreography and the placing were worked on. On the island of Tahiti, over a dozen groups then are rehearsing in the rare available places: City Halls, schoolyards and sports halls, not to mention parking lots. At sunset, starting in April, the toere, or traditional percussions are heard a little everywhere and mark this very particular period of preparation for the Heiva I Tahiti
During that last week before the final date, from the end of June to early in July, work intensifies. Two to three-hour rehearsals are accumulated to the tune of five a week. It is then a difficult moment for members of the group who have to put a lot of time and energy into it. In parallel, the orchestras have refined their performance and costume design has started. Each show features a minimum of 4 or 5 costumes per dancer, this tells you the magnitude of the task! The most elaborated costumes are the “grand costumes” and the vegetal costumes. These have many constraints, as they must absolutely be made from freshly picked or dried vegetal products. Moreover, accessories or ornaments must come from the Polynesian natural environment. While some groups use teams dedicated to these types of work, for Manahau, the making of costumes by the dancers themselves was part of their training and their conditioning for the show. The interest was also to transmit the knowledge and know-how to the group’s newcomers. “Some don’t even know the plants I sent them to find in the mountain”, explains Jean-Marie Biret. “They had to learn everything!”
To start with,Manahau is a tight and experienced group made up of some thirty dancers and musicians. But it needed to be expanded to perform in the Singing and Dancing Competition. Its rules require the presence of a minimum of 80 participants, of which 60 are dancers,fei’a ori in Reo Tahiti, 12 are musicians,rohi upa, and one leaderra’atira upa. For its show,Manahau sets the bar even higher and featured 115 performers on stage, of which over 80 male and female dancers. In order to triple their numbers, members of the group went looking for new recruits. The already well-established notoriety of the group and the perspective of participating in the Heiva I Tahiti decided other performers to get into the adventure, whether as musicians or as dancers.
Manahau also brought together male and female dancers for whom this was the first time to perform in public. They made up a large portion of the performers! Their integration and their training were another challenge to meet. The whole group was a beautiful image of Polynesian society with all its diversity. Far from being the exclusive domain of one component of the population, theOri Tahiti now brings together all ethnicities: Polynesian said to be “de souche” with roots going back for many centuries in the islands, The “Demis”, as are called the mixed Polynesians born from the encounter of the first outside visitors and Polynesians, the members of the community of Asian origin who settled in Tahiti in the past 150 years or more, and also the newcomers in French Polynesia, mostly coming from Metropolitan France.
All On Stage!
In the last days and in the last hours, preparation is turning into a race against the clock! The general rehearsal on the stage of Papeete’s To’ata Square contributes greatly to increase the pressure. The last details, and mostly, the final touch to the costumes is taken care of at the last second in the backstage frenzy. For all the participants, emotion is running high as, finally the product of their work will be revealed. The emotion is even greater as they know that the Singing and Dancing Competition releases the public’s passion. But for the dancers, show time is, above everything, the result of the efforts invested and a moment of intense confrontation with the public. We could here evoke the words of Isadora Duncan, the great dancer who said about her students: “I was not teaching them how to dance, but I was opening a path to the spirit of dancing which spread over them”. On this Friday July 16, 2010, when Manahau stepped on stage, the spirit of dancing was indeed with them.
Created by Jean-Marie Biret in 2001, this dance group has always been looking for originality. Its name comes from the adjunction of the Tahitian word mana, a complexe notion referring to force, power, and hau, meaning peace and serenity. For its first participation this year to the Heiva I Tahiti, Manahau’s efforts were rrightfully rewarded with several prizes: the prize for best female dancer for Aruhoia Biret’s performance, the special price for the ote’a vahine (an ensemble dance performed exclusively by female dancers) and, also a special prize for the best ute are’area (satiric song).
Heiva I Tahiti Singing And Dancing Competition
To’ata Square – Papeete – Island of Tahiti – Early in July
Every year during the first half of the month of July, this competition of Ori Tahiti, Tahitian dancing, is undoubtedly the highlight of the great festivities of Heiva I Tahiti. During these evenings, groups from all over French Polynesia present their creations and hope to win the very coveted prizes. This is the opportunity to discover the best of Ori Tahiti, and of traditional songs, the himene.