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Tanemahuta Gray

Tanemahuta Gray.

Tanemahuta Gray is one of the creators of the show Maui – One Man against the Gods . The show combines opera, theatre, ballet, kapa haka, and aerial dancers and it is all in te reo Māori. Watch a clip of the show.

Why are you doing a show on Maui?

Maui is such an amazing ancestor within Pacifica and he is relevant to all of us. We all connect to Maui in one way or another, which is why I wanted to build a show about him. His story is one that can help us to continue building the bridges of understanding and awareness between New Zealanders and our Pacific cousins. Finally he is such a superhero in his achievements, yet he is a fallible human being also, which makes him a great personality to write about.

How did you put the show together?

Building Maui – One Man against the Gods was a lesson in going slowly but surely, step by step. Big dreams take time to develop properly. Firstly, finding the right team to help make the vision into a living and breathing production is vital to any project. I have been lucky enough to work with some of New Zealand’s best producers, designers, writers, choreographers, composers, technical crew and performers in creating this production. We have also created a strong whanau (family) within our working philosophy and from there we have built a strong story and tried to tell that story in many different forms to the audience. We combined aerial skills with kapa haka and te reo Māori; contemporary dance with dramatic and narrative skills to bring Maui’s epic legends to life.

Where did you get the idea to do the show?

After building a few smaller shows in New Zealand, I always felt that we could create a big New Zealand show that showcased our Maoritanga and share it with the world. I then headed overseas to learn from overseas directors and that is where I learnt the skills to fly (like the Matrix films only live!) It was while performing in this wonderful show, called De La Guarda around the world that I got to thinking… why can’t I come home, teach us kiwis to fly, and realise the full potential of Maui’s fantastic feats.

How do you get a show from its original idea to being on the stage?

Many hours were spent with my fellow writers, Andre Anderson and Geoff Pinfield, to get the story we were trying to tell clear in our minds. Then we had to pass that vision onto our choreographer (my sister Merenia Gray), composer (Gareth Farr), and the rest of the design and technical team – too many people to list in this column. Whilst this was happening, we had to raise the money to put on the show that Richard Boon, Andre Anderson and myself had worked so hard on. On top of that, we had to find and audition potential cast members with the skills needed for the first full length season of Maui that played in Wellington.
Now we are learning to tour the show with the number of people viable to tour the show overseas.

What’s your favourite part in creating a show?

Seeing the wonderful ideas come to fruition and also seeing how the team can take my original vision and make it even better than I could imagine. It is a real team effort from so many people, and harnessing that energy altogether is a great process. Finally, getting the reaction from the different audiences who see the show, and talking to them about what they got out of the production completes the show’s journey for me. People’s lives have certainly been transformed from watching this production which makes all the hard work so worth it!

What other shows have you been involved in?

In New Zealand I played Riff in West Side Story, and the lead dancer in Song and Dance (choreographed by my sister Merenia). I have also loved playing Puck from A Midsummer Nights Dream at Wellington College, and Horatio from Hamlet. Overseas I performed in my ultimate dream show Villa Vill by De La Guarda. I performed over 850 shows of this production around the world and I was trained to perform in all the roles that this show offered. Flying above the heads of thousands of audiences and dancing with them in the show was always such a great thrill!

How did you get into theatre?

I started doing classical ballet at age six (after watching my sister Merenia on stage I knew I wanted to be up there with her). My teacher was Lynne Harrison. She taught me for 12 years establishing my technique, and then Kevin Baddiley was able to really develop my artistry as a dancer. Kevin was my mentor also.

I also performed in plays at school to build my appreciation of theatre and as a 10 year old I performed the lead child role in a Maori Opera called Waituhi (written by Witi Ihimaera, Ross Harris and Adrian Kienander). This part put me on the path to building Maui later in life.

My professional dance training was at the New Zealand School of Dance, which is a great institution that is now combined with Toi Whakaari the New Zealand Drama School. I was a bridging student when those schools were first coming together and did classes with both schools, so was very lucky! Finally I have watched over 600 productions in my life from professional shows on London’s West End, to amateur school productions. You always can learn something from watching any show, even if it is how not to do things.

What kind of music do you listen to?

I like all sorts of music, from U2 to Evermore, Manu Chau to David Bowie, Queen to Beethoven. As a choreographer, one must be open to all sorts of music, whether it is commercial rock and pop, R&B, rap, blues or opera. One never knows where the inspiration for a piece comes from and all forms have pieces of genius. I also love New Zealand bands like The Black Seeds, Fat Freddy’s Drop and artists Dave Dobbyn and Bic Runga.

What kinds of books do you like reading?

When I get the time I like to read fantasy books like The Magician (Raymond E. Feist) and The Lord of the Rings (J. R. R. Tolkien). The History of New Zealand by Michael King was a great read and I have just finished reading London (by Edward Rutherfurd) that is a great tale about how the city of London was established. There is so much writing talent out there, that I wish I had ten lifetimes so I could read more of it! In terms of completing epic journeys, you should read my twin brother, Nathan Hoturoa Gray’s, book First Pass Under Heaven. Walking 4,000 kilometres along the entire length of the Great Wall of China is an immense Kiwi achievement!

What are you doing after the Maui show?

We hope to have Maui travel out of New Zealand in the near future. Our dream is to take the show overseas and find international theatres to perform it in. However, as is the reality in the risky business of theatre, we could also be out of a job if no-one comes to the upcoming three-city tour to Auckland, Hamilton and Wellington in April and May 2007. Tell your friends and parents to come and see it and help keep New Zealand performing artists alive and in employment!

After the show however, I am definitely going to spend some more time with my wife Yumiko and my darling daughter Keilani. She is only 6 months old, and changing so much, that my wife and I want to capture as many of her discoveries and achievements as possible.

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