My Art Inspiration: Taiaroa Royal

20 February 2020

Ōkāreka choreographer Taiaroa Royal shares the kaupapa behind his dance work Hōkioi me te Vwōhali (From spirit eagles land). Hōkioi me te Vwōhali makes its world premiere at the Festival in March.

image credits: John McDermott

The inspiration for Hōkioi me te Vwōhali – from spirit eagles land – originated uniquely from meeting Missy and Andrew Hubbard and their company, Exhale Dance Tribe in May 2008. This meeting was at a benefit performance for cancer in Cincinnati, Ohio where they are based. I instantly fell in love with them and their company, and over the following four to six years I worked on how we could collaborate. This became a challenge since Exhale is not government funded and to be able to get them to New Zealand to tour was impossible.

So to Plan B: create a work together – but about what? In 2014 I was told about the New Zealand Haast Eagle, the Hōkioi, and how it was the largest eagle ever to exist, and ruled the skies of Aotearoa until its extinction in the 1400s. I knew that the Indigenous People of America have many animal spirits, and that the eagle is one of them. It was also revealed to me by Missy that she had blood ties to the Indigenous American tribe of the Miami People, plus childhood connections to the Duyuktv People of Cherokee, North Carolina. This was the connection – to make a work about the whakapapa or relationship between the Hōkioi and the Vwōhali, the Duyuktv name for the Golden Eagle.

The kaupapa (concept/intention) and inspiration for the work was born.

Both cultures consider their eagles to be the Messengers to the Heavens, sending and receiving messages between the heavenly and earthly realms. Also, the Indigenous Americans consider the Hōkioi to be the older sibling (Tuakana) to their Vwōhali (Teina), and so with this thought in mind, I have included the process of Tuakana/Teina throughout the entire production – the cast and crew consisting of many differing ages, creating the opportunity to pass knowledge from generation to generation.

While researching the Hōkioi, I discovered that it preyed on the flightless Moa. It would swoop down from a great height reaching a speed of up to 80km/hr, and would strike the Moa on its hind quarters, puncturing and breaking the Moa's hips and piercing its internal organs. This more 'raptor-like' behaviour has become a provocation within the work, showing a contrast between the spiritual side of the bird against its earthly qualities showing its predator/prey survival tactics. There are many legends from both cultures that have been used as inspiration to create movement for the dancers, and that have inspired the creatives for their various design elements, i.e. lighting, sound, set and costume.

This production has been in conception for six years, so to see it finally coming to fruition is a dream come true, not only for myself, but for everyone who has come on board.

May Eagles take flight, and from their Spirits, land.

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