“o le la’au e toto nei e manuia ai tupulaga taeao.”
by Saumaeafe Vanya Taule’alo*
On Tuesday 27th June one day before his birthday Tuilagi Seuili Allan Alo lost his battle with an aggressive form of lung cancer.
I am sure today he is teaching new dance moves with a Pacific twist up in heaven with the angles.
Son, brother, mother to many, mentor to hundreds, friends to a devoted international range of people Allan’s death is untimely and a tragedy for those who know his gifts and creativity and driving passion for life and the arts.
We are all mourning his loss and we recognise the enormous loss his death will have on the art world regionally and specifically in Fiji and Samoa where he lived and worked intensively with our youth.
Allan spent fifteen years in Fiji at the Oceania Centre of the University of the South Pacific. While there he created many memorable works.
He returned to Samoa in 2012 to be with his family and he became the Director for the Outreach Programme at the University of the South Pacific. In late 2012 he launched The Samoa Arts Council (S.A.C.) with a group of like-minded people. S.A.C. was officially launched in March 2013.
As S.A.C. President Allan and the Board worked tirelessly to promote the arts and to be spokesperson for the creative and cultural industries in Samoa. Frustratingly he and S.A.C. were reminded continuously how undervalued the arts were in Samoa, and how S.A.C. was not respected as spokespeople for the arts. This was poignantly bought home to Allan when as President of S.A.C. he was not supported as a delegate to the last South Pacific Games at the end of 2016.
Allan really was in his element when creating extravagant events with thousands of school children to showcase Samoan culture and performing arts on a mega stage for the world to see.
He put in long and gruelling hours mentoring Samoan youth and bringing them to performance readiness. Be it the ‘Dream Shows’ during The Teuila Festival, The Hip Hop Challenges, The S.I.D.S. Conference (The Small Island Developing Nations Conference) the Commonwealth Youth Games, Allan was ready and willing to work with his fellow artists to develop something memorable and fantastic about our islands and our legends.
After the S.I.D.S. opening show Allan reflected that; “such bursts of creativity were injected into our community to enrich our lives and our collective sense of national pride.”
The creative process for Allan was based on solid research, consultation and vision and detailed scripting. He collaboration with so many I cannot list them here but in recent years Aerial Dancer Andrea Torres, Tuilagi Igelese Orikene Ete, Vilisoni Hereniko, and Peter Rockford-Espiritu were essential to the creative team involved in the bigger projects.
Allan admitted that the implementation process is just hard work.
All aspects of the production need to be considered, everything from the administration to the artistic side of the production: the costumes, the jewellery, transportation and food for the performers.
In his productions Allan drew from the past and made it relevant in the present. He frequently consulted with the Head of State and other elders in the community as he built his ideas into spectacular events that thrilled the nation. I will never forget the lyrical sensual ballet of the aerial dancers as they moved gracefully during the Commonwealth Youth Games 2015 opening and the powerful link between the performances and the enormous paintings by National University of Samoa students depicting the Samoan Creation story.
In May-June of 2015 the European Tour of the Pacifika Voices and the Oceania Dance Theatre took place in Europe. The tour travelled to Norway, Scotland, Copenhagen, Amsterdam and Brussels showcasing the performance “Moana Rua and the Rising of the Sea.”
The performance went global and Allan was invited to Paris in December 2015 to premier the movie made by Professor Edvard Hviding from the Bergen University. Moana was a collaboration between Vilisoni Hereniko the producer, Edvard Hviding the executive producer, Peter Rockford-Espiritu the director and choreographer, Igelese Ete the musical director and composer and Allan the cultural specialist and protocol.
Those of us who have worked alongside Allan in his capacity as a producer, performer and choreographer know of his keen sense for detail and excellence. As a friend and fellow S.A.C. Executive Board member I knew of his selfless dedication to the arts and the promotion of the arts. There was no reward, no allowances for his hours and weeks of training and mentoring the young performers and under the circumstances it was often hard for him to be chipper and positive when he felt so often the arts were underrated. Allan was repeatedly philosophically saying well… “Rome was not built in a day” as if to tell us to keep our chins up.
If anything remains of his legacy and love of his culture and people I can only hope that is is that the arts are central to our very core and spiritual wellbeing. Allan stated on numerous occasions…“The Arts get to the heart of the people, art transmits the soul and spirit of the people. The arts can transmit issues so much more effectively than word or science alone!” Although Allan is no longer a physical presence in our lives he lives on in every person he has touched, taught, mentored and engaged with.
*This personal tribute to Tuilagi Seuili Allan Alo was written by Saumaeafe Vanya Taule’alo, friend of Allan Alo and Vice President of the Samoan Arts Council Wednesday 28th June 2017