Spirit of Thanksgiving theme of Pacific Games opening ceremony

The Pacific Games opening ceremony choreographers have explored the concept of momoli laau i foga’a in designing the key performance of the event.

On Sunday, 7 July, Apia Park Stadium will be packed for the official opening of the 2019 Pacific Games, after just over a year of preparations. 

Choreographers Eterei Salele, Priscilla Ah Young and Valentino Maliko have been hard at work in the last month teaching and rehearsing over 2000 schoolchildren to perform the opening ceremony show and dance, after a month of training in China.

The group, which come from a variety of dance backgrounds, have developed a performance in three acts on the theme of thanksgiving to God, or momoli laau i foga’a. Valentino Maliko of the Samoa Performing Arts and Creative Excellence (S.P.A.C.E.) said it is a message for everyone.

“It is knowing that no matter how successful you get, no matter how big you may think you are, it’s good to be able to kneel down and give thanks to where this whole thing came from. Your strength alone is not enough to carry you,” he said.

Through a few storylines, including the introduction of Christianity to Samoa, the dancers will perform in unique formations in the calisthenics style, which is a form of exercise performed rhythmically.

Learning to design and then teach formations at this scale is new to the choreographers, and something they were trained in while in China, Priscilla Ah Young said. She organises an all-female hip hop crew called Re:present.

“We are so used to our small groups but through the training we learned to handle a larger number so in this case, we have more than 2000 students and we have never worked with that many. The training really helped, especially in commanding the attention of our students,” she said.

The group learned to measure their dance spaces like the open field of Apia Park, and organise where children should stand and perform in order to create shapes that add to the story when viewed from above in the stands.

Mr Maliko said during the choreography process they tried hard to make Pacific and Samoan formations that people will recognise as their own.

“Without giving away too much, there are shapes that when people see it they will say oh yes, that is Samoa, oh yes, that is specific to the Pacific, to set ourselves as different to Westernisation, to the Chinese, from modern times and modern formations,” he said.

“We are trying to keep our roots planted as well as incorporate modern choreography.”

The opening performance will also see a traditional Samoan set, performed by teachers and Ministry of Education, Sports and Culture staff.

The students have learned the dances quickly, in part thanks to their motivation to perform on behalf of Samoa. Mr Maliko said because as Pacific Islanders, dancing is in their blood, the only challenge is learning to stand in formations, which is one of the main learnings from China.

The Chinese government have also donated materials for the opening ceremony, which mostly include “piles and piles of fabric” for the costumes. But China is donating gear does not mean they have inspired the dances, he said.

“There aren’t any things that would show China but they are helping us with material, props… but I don’t think we will be bringing out a Chinese dragon,” Mr Maliko said, laughing.

Eterei Salele, who runs dance crew Le Tuimasalasala, said there is no doubt the performance will be beautiful, even if the process getting there will be challenging.

“I know this show is going to be very challenging but we have decided to come together and do our best and the people always say that nothing is impossible with God, and everything is possible with him.”

As well as having God in their minds, the choreography team remember dance and choreography legend Seiuli Alan Alo Vaai, who is Mr Maliko’s uncle.

He was renowned in the region and in the art world for his work, including choreographing the Commonwealth Games held in Samoa in 2015. 

“Hopefully during the show he will be with us watching us and helping us along. This is our way of saying a tribute to him because he is very important in our lives,” Ms Salele said.

The team have enlisted the help of Fijian performer Glenville Lord from the Oceania Dance Theatre at the University of the South Pacific to help with the final months of preparations. Mr Lord said after seeing the routines, the show will be very interesting.

“I think that this year’s [Pacific Games] will be very interesting in terms of the different choreographic genres used for the show and through the Chinese influence of different shape structures as the dance progresses and the whole theatrical aspect of it. 

“This show will be a whole new level, so I am really excited to be here to assist with that and work with these very talented choreographers.”

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