AT 2am on 10 June 1886, Mount Tarawera, a volcano located in New Zealand’s North Island erupted blasting smoke and ash thousands of metres into the sky. Several villages within a six-kilometre radius were destroyed, and over one hundred lives were lost. People found shelter in Hinemihi, a carved ancestral meeting house.
“The fact that during the eruption she [Hinemihi] was able to shelter about 60 people inside her, when everything else around the area, and other tribes vanished that night was phenomenal,” says Victoria Hunt, an Australian-born Maori dance artist.
“She represents the spirit of the people, and the spirit of the survivors, and non-survivors.”
The story of Hinemihi, and the volcanic eruption is the inspiration behind Hunt’s new performance Copper Promises: Hinemihi Haka.
Using the principles of bodyweather, a contemporary dance form, which transforms the body through imags, in this work Hunt connects with the landscape of Mount Tarawera, her Maori ancestors, and the spirit of Hinemihi.
“I’ve got many images which I’ve placed inside my body based on the research, and I dance these images just as they’re becoming something…I can connect to the elements of mist, bubbling mud, the mountain, geological time, and the heat.
“My main idea about dancing is how to surrender, to be danced by something…a very different concept to the western idea of the body announcing itself in the space and dancing the space.
“For me it’s more important to be danced by the ancestral, or be danced by the light, by the mountain, or other worldly creatures and beings. It’s more in that kind of space, I place myself.”
In 1891 Hinemihi was dismantled and transported from the mountains to its current location in Clandon Park, Surrey.
In 2007, whilst touring the UK with a dance company, Hunt visited the National Trust site; an experience she says “was like coming home.” However she also recognised how out-of-place this wooden structure looked on the lawn standing opposite a Palladian-style mansion.
“This isn’t her land. This isn’t where she belongs. She belongs with her mountain. She belongs with the lake, with the birds and the insects, and the bubbling mud and the smells of sulphur, and the songs of people…that’s where she belongs, but here she is. And this has become a resting place for her in her current position.”
Copper Promises intertwines Hinemihi’s story with Hunt’s own journey of finding her family, and reconnecting with her culture. Hunt was raised by her mother in Australia, and for a long time felt displaced from her Maori roots, much like Hinemihi in the UK.
Over the last decade Hunt has been visiting New Zealand regularly to reconnect with her Maori culture, and her family. Copper Promises was developed through exploring ways of comprehending and understanding the complex ideas of belonging, home and ancestry through body, and through dance.
“It was about trying to understand how the practices and thoughts from an artistic and aesthetic point of view meet the cultural and conceptual space of Maoridom. And also within that my Australian born experience which has been one of fragmentation and disconnection, gaps and longing.”
Copper Promises: Hinemihi Haka is a part of the Origins 2013, a 12-day cultural festival bringing together artists and performance makers from ancient cultures.
Hunt says: “It was the perfect context for Copper Promises to come to the UK, and be surrounded by that kind of dialogue of indigenous practice and thought.
Through its 25 events, the festival examines how we can learn important values from indigenous First Nations in relation to the environment, human rights and community.
“I’m really looking forward to being in the space, with all of this material, with people in the audience, and then trying to connect across our differences and our distances. It’s about sharing the heat in the space between us.”
Copper Promises: Hinemihi Haka is on the 25 & 26 October 8.00pm at The Place (Dukes Road WC1). To book tickets visit www.theplace.org.uk.Origins 2013 runs from 23 October to 3 November 2013. For full event listings and to book tickets visit www.originsfestival.com/