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Te Tangi a te Tūī is Decolonizing Theatre Through the Power of Storytelling

The Cultch Theatre’s latest production tells a story of Māori resilience in a magical circus theatre play. 

by Noémie Attia

Te Tangi a te Tūī is a hybrid performance, combining ancient fairy tales and modern storytelling through circus, theatrical and musical arts. It explores a time when Aotearoa (New Zealand) was still a vast ngāhere (forest) inhabited by patupaiarehe (fairies) and the choice a boy must face in order to reconcile his generational past with the future. 

“We were really inspired by the idea of ‘tangi a te tūī,’ the original song of the tūī which is one of our native birds here that have an amazing song. It mimics the world around it,” explains writer Amber Curreen in a documentary about the making of the play. “With that voice of the tūī, does it try to retain its original voice? Or is the mimicry and the change part of what is important of being a tūī?” Should we strive to search for a lost past or push for change? Te Tangi a te Tūī is an allegory of the third option, the escape route, and how it feels in our body to be faced with difficulties.

With this show, the creators are “trying to bring nature, or te taiao, from a natural space outside into this synthetic space of a theatre,” says Tainui Tukiwaho, director and co-writer. The circus apparatus are abstracted designs that resemble the movements of the ngāhere without bearing its appearance. The feeling is put first. “It’s this kind of approach where circus is adding to the feeling or the idea that’s on stage at the time and not just being there for tricks,” says Eve Gordon, the creative director.

Te Tangi a te Tūī is a story of generational trauma caused by past curses and wars, followed by resilience embodied by the youth. Tales are allegories, and this one is as much about love and family as it is about finding new ways to decolonize land, language, bodies and minds.

Te Tangi a te Tūī is currently showing at the Cultch Theatre until October 29 | TICKETS & INFO