Sep 21, 2023

Interview with Seidah Tuaoi

A fusion of street, Siva Samoa and storytelling

Seidah Tuaoi’s Ko Au: Malosi


International hip hop sensation Seidah Tuaoi sits in the Karamu High School dance studio, where she’s taught since 2021. She’s deep in planning for her upcoming production of ‘Ko Au: Malosi’, to be performed for the first time at the Hawke’s Bay Arts Festival in October. Incredibly humble, the love and pride Seidah has for her culture, her dance and her students shine through as she chats about her experience as a Samoan hip hop dancer who combines street with tradition, and what audiences can expect from her latest work. 


Famous for her fusion of street dance with traditional Siva Samoa, juxtaposition has been a common theme through Seidah’s life and career. Her love for movement traces back to her childhood, where she spent hours in church and at home, performing for friends and family. “Our family would force me and my cousins to put on shows,” laughs Seidah. “And when I think back, I can see that those shows we performed as kids really set me on my path to become a dancer.” That, Seidah says, paired with the influences of Michael and Janet Jackson, whose music videos she devoured as a girl. “The amalgamation of traditional dance alongside what I was seeing on TV really interested me.”


“I’ve always been keen to see how far I can push myself to create. I joined Hopskotch Dance Company during my Uni years which took me to Japan to train. The Japanese are at the top of their game in hip hop, and it was incredible to be exposed to that, and the way their dance plays out alongside local tradition and culture.”


Seidah says her experiences in Japan, along with subsequent journeys to China, Australia, and the United States, broadened her perspective of how far she can extend herself. A highlight was the time she spent in Los Angeles, training under Jaja Vankova, known for her role in the ‘Step Up’ movie franchise.


“The arts still isn’t really accepted as a thing you can go out and ‘do’ – not as much as it should be, and I’m thankful that my travel installed me with the confidence to try. I want to be able to do the same for the kids that I teach.”


Having grown up in Auckland, Seidah observes that the exposure rangitahi have to dance in Hawke’s Bay is very different and appreciates that she learns from her students as much as they learn from her. “Kids here have so much going for them! They’re hungry to learn. It’s really cool to be able to introduce them to global choreographers and show them pathways that they didn’t know existed.”


“Dance is a lifestyle for some of the kids that I teach. They’re building their own sense of culture and belonging in the dance community and for me, it’s important that they find ways to enjoy and express themselves through movement in school. It’s about the whole experience, not just a ticking of boxes set by a curriculum.”


The direct link between community wellbeing and storytelling through dance is integral to Seidah’s style and has driven the direction of ‘Ko au: Malosi’.


‘Ko Au’ is a concept that was created by Seidah and Josh Mitikulena in collaboration with members of Projekt Team. Seidah is also member of this crew. Projekt Team are known for impacting New Zealand street dance through battle events, workshops, featuring a variety of performers who live in different parts of New Zealand. The show concept was created in 2020 before lockdown and is focused on the stories and journeys of cultural identity.


“I’ve always enjoyed listening to other people’s stories and that inspires what I do in my own practice. Ko Au: Malosi is a live installation work that’ll be created by the creatives themselves. I’m setting the theme, but the dancers are joint directors of the show.”


“The whole concept of Ko Au: Malosi is to show joy, strength, and hope through dance. The dancers performing will all have different versions of what joy is, and what hope means to them, and I’m looking forward to extracting that out of them when we workshop the show’s choreography.”


“Part of me is a bit scared, because I don’t know what’s going to happen at the end of the week before the show performs, but as a creative I’m excited to see how it’s going to come together.”


A unique fusion of dance, music and spoken word, Ko Au: Malosi reflects Seidah’s own identity, deeply connected to her cultural heritage, and will explore the themes of inner strength and resilience. Led by Seidah and dance team and colleague Joshua Mitikulena, most of the cast of 21 comprises Samoan and street dancers, allowing those involved to authentically connect with the cultural elements of the show including popping and Siva Samoa. Almost half of the cast have roots in Heretaunga, with others are travelling in from Sydney, Beijing and Auckland. Seidah stresses that the skill level among the dancers is high, and she’s grateful they’re making the time to perform.


It’ll be the first time Seidah’s original dance form, ‘Popping Pulatasi,’ is performed as part of a live, full-length show blending a unique fusion of street dance and traditional Siva Samoa. Seidah hopes to take it back to Samoa, to explore its potential within its home cultural context.


“For me, Ko Au: Malosi is more than dance; it's a showcase of memories and emotions. The show is structured like a church service, with everything presented in dance form, complemented by music and poems.” White costumes worn by the dancers hold a special significance, as they connect to the Samoan tradition of White Sunday, a core childhood memory for Seidah. The fact that it’ll be performed in St Matthews Church makes it even more poignant.


“Church has always been a special place for me. The language, the people and the culture all connect me to my roots.”


“It’ll be an immersive performance with everyone in the audience having their own unique viewpoint as to what’s happening – so no one gets the same show.”


“Hawke’s Bay has gone through something big this year and our aim is to connect the members of the audience back to their own joy and purpose, whether that be through the dance, the words, the music, or through seeing the beauty of St Matthews.”


“It’s extremely rewarding to be coming back in a full circle, performing in a church, telling stories from childhood through dance.”


See Ko Au: Malosi as part of the Hawke’s Bay Arts Festival, Friday October 27 at 7.30pm or Saturday October 28 at 9.00pm, at St Matthews Church. Tickets are available at www.hbaf.co.nz.

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