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Tensions and Possibilities. The Interplay of 'Traditional' Cultural Elements and the Creation of 'Contemporary' Rapa Nui, Māori and Samoan Diasporic Theatre

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posted on 2021-11-15, 21:59 authored by Fortin Cornejo, Moira

This thesis focuses on notions of ‘traditional’ and ‘contemporary’ theatre in two Pacific Island contexts, Aotearoa and Rapa Nui. It explores how notions of ‘tradition’ are imagined, recreated, and performed through the ‘contemporary’ creative arts, with a particular focus on theatre. It offers insight about culturally-situated understandings of ‘tradition’, and seeks to acknowledge diverse meanings and perceptions of theatre that exist across diverse Pacific Island cultures, languages, and epistemologies.   Ideas about what constitutes ‘tradition’ have been significantly impacted by colonial histories, and that these culturally and historically situated ideas have wide-ranging implications for creative possibilities in the ‘contemporary’ performing arts. ‘Traditional’ performances are often seen as acceptable and relevant to Indigenous communities in Aotearoa and Rapa Nui, contributing to processes of cultural reclaiming and revitalisation. Although cultural continuity is a significant theme in Indigenous theatre in Aotearoa and Rapa Nui, the different emphasis placed upon notions of ‘tradition’ across these comparative contexts has led to very different artistic possibilities being available. In Rapa Nui there is a general reluctance in the performing arts to deviate from ‘tradition’ or to declare work as ‘contemporary.’ The reproduction of ‘traditional’ styles and stories is one response to ongoing colonialism in Rapa Nui, and to the ever present demands of the tourist industry.  Māori and Samoan theatre practitioners in Aotearoa have developed theatre forms and processes that are based in cultural values and epistemologies while also being integrated with European theatre techniques, creating innovative approaches to ‘contemporary’ themes and understandings. These developments in the creative arts are supported by the availability of a wide range of theatre education opportunities. Culturally reflective and situated approaches to theatre education have enabled Indigenous theatre practitioners in Aotearoa to use theatre as a forum to express ideas and issues to the community weaving in a variety of different cultural influences, and techniques.  This thesis utilised a case-study methodology and open-ended interviews, framed under the research methodology of talanoa, to interact with Māori, Samoan diasporic and Rapanui theatre practitioners, in order to explore their perceptions towards ‘traditional’ and ‘contemporary’ practices. This research focuses on the positives of cultural dialogue, and it emerges from a desire to support intercultural theatre practices in Aotearoa and Rapa Nui.


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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Doctor of Philosophy

Victoria University of Wellington Unit

Va’aomanū Pasifika

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Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



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Tensiones y Posibilidade: La Integración de Elementos Culturales ‘Tradicionales’ en la Creación ‘Contemporánea’ de Teatro Rapanui, Māori y diasporico Samoano

Victoria University of Wellington School

School of English, Film, Theatre and Media Studies


O'Donnell, David; Henderson, April

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