Matavai showcases Pacific pride in honour of cancer survivors

By Sapeer Mayron 11 October 2018, 12:00AM

Under bright lights and before nearly 400 eager faces, Pasifika people from across Australia performed their best and boldest cultural dances in a fundraiser concert for the Cancer Society.

The Matavai Pacific Cultural Arts group, led by Maryjane and Frederick Schwenke, are in Samoa to help celebrate Pinktober the way they know how: dance.

In their performance for Tuesday night’s fundraiser, ‘Love is Bigger than Cancer,’ the group performed dances honouring the cultural uniqueness of Samoans, Maori, Fijians, Tongans, Cook Islanders, Tahitians and more, as well as uniquely melting some cultures together to create new dances.

Despite heavy clouds promising rain, the group began their performance by spreading out throughout the audience and making their way to the stage slowly and deliberately, allowing everyone to admire their elaborate costumes.

They performed in several Pacific languages, with and without backing tracks, and a delivered a riveting variety of battle cries, and soothing songs. 

There were solo performances of ornate Siva Samoa, and Ori Tahiti, and rousing group performances of Maori Haka and Samoan Slap dances, to name a few.

In a brief interlude, the attending alumni, and current Miss Samoa got up to perform a siva, placed a large basket on the stage and called for donations.

Throughout the rest of the night, members of the audiences deftly navigated tables and chairs to make their way up to the basket and contribute money towards the Cancer Society, and even going up to stage to put money on the bodies and in the costumes of the dancers. 

With the money piling up before them, the dancers looked as humble as street buskers, but performed with the professionalism deserving of a world class stage.

The effort and energy was palpable. Even if it had not been a thick tropical night, hot and holding off a storm, the dancers would have still been sweating profusely, as they stomped, jumped and glided around the stage. The night ended with fire dances by one dancer only eight years old, and another who has competed internationally in the challenging skill.

Founder and director of Matavai Pacific Cultural Arts, Maryjane McKibbin Schwenke said bringing together Pasifika people through cultural arts is a way to reconnect disenfranchised youths with their root.

“Pacific people represent some really negative statistics in Australia,” she said.

“By letting them be themselves, and immersed in their culture, these kids regain their confidence and self-esteem.”

Ms. McKibbin Schwenke said many families bring their children and teenagers to Matavai as source of refuge, hoping the group can save them from jail, addiction and worse.

“The government departments send us these kids as a last resort, so between classes we help them get tutors, help them finish school, and help them learn to articulate themselves.

“Teenagers know a lot about this world, and we need to listen to them and give them the room to speak,” she said.

While Matavai boasts a roll of more than 300 students in over 10 different types of classes, nearly 70 dancers have travelled to Samoa for various performances and engagements.

Between preparing for the big concert at the Orator Hotel, the group has also performed for preschools and primary schools and visited the hospital. 

By Sapeer Mayron 11 October 2018, 12:00AM

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