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November 9th 2016

IDentity Dance Company Win $50,000 in Haka Fusion

A dance company eliminated from a Kapa Haka-themed TV talent show has made the most of being brought back as a wild card and gone on to win the $50,000 first prize.

WILD CARD DANCERS WIN $50,000

A dance company eliminated from a Kapa Haka-themed TV talent show has made the most of being brought back as a wild card and gone on to win the $50,000 first prize.

When Auckland’s Identity Dance Company (IDCo) was given a second chance in The Stage – Haka Fusion, they rose to the challenge, took on board advice given to them by the judges and stunned with their finals performance in the Maori Television talent quest, which incorporates dance and Kapa Haka.

IDCo’s director Josh Cesan says they were gutted when they were eliminated after the second round. The judges praised their dancing, but said there wasn’t enough Kapa Haka in their performance.

Not initially making it through to the finals was particularly hard because IDCo dancers have been enjoying a lot of success recently and set themselves high standards. In August one of the company’s all-male crews, The Bradas, won gold in the adult division at the World Hip Hop Championships in Las Vegas for the second year running. Both of the other IDCo crews also made it to the finals in their divisions in a competition that featured teams from over 55 countries.

But the Haka Fusion competitors, who’d had little time to practice together due to busy schedules that took some of them out of Auckland, accepted where they’d gone wrong, and vowed to learn from it. When Josh got the phone call inviting them back as the wild card, he says, “I knew it was an opportunity we couldn’t waste. We needed to step it up.”

Josh says despite IDCo having quite a few Maori dancers, they hadn’t really explored using elements of kapa haka in their choreography, other than The Bradas using motifs from haka in their world championship set. Senior dancer Taniora Motutere, who helped to found IDCo, took a lead role in helping the others understand protocols and features of kapa haka.

The nine dancers had to develop an understanding not just of the movements, but aspects of the culture behind the movements. They also had to learn the significance of weapons like taiaha in performance and how to use them correctly, and that was a steep learning curve for some of them.

“It took us out of our comfort zone but we went back to the competition with a renewed determination to learn as much as we could and do the best we could, says Josh, who admits IDCo only entered The Stage – Haka Fusion after being asked to dance in a TV promo for the show. “We loved the idea of competing and saw it as a creative challenge.”

He adds, “I have always loved to perform the haka and I studied it as part of my degree in performing arts, but this experience has taught us so much more and certainly made us much more aware of, and appreciative of, the culture of our tangata whenua.”

IDCo’s hard work paid off when they were named as the top group in The Stage – Haka Fusion final on Thursday November 3 and handed a $50,000 cheque. In a social media post the judges praised IDCo, saying, “Your journey with Haka Fusion hasn’t been easy but you have proven that you are world-class in anything you apply yourselves to”.

The win was another highlight in a very successful year for the dance company. As well as The Bradas world championship triumph, Josh and other IDCo members were asked to dance in a groundbreaking TV commercial for DBZ Steinlager’s new beer, Tokyo Dry. Six of them went straight from the world champs in Las Vegas to Japan to film the ad, which combines dance and special effects. Since being released last week, the commercial has had over 200,000 views on Facebook alone.

Josh says, “This year has been crazy – we have literally been in rehearsal, planning or performing seven days a week. We take as many opportunities as we can because we are trying to establish ourselves as a multifaceted company, not just a bunch of hip hop dancers.

“We love to involve ourselves in projects that help us to grow creatively while challenging us as dancers, and the process of getting ready for The Stage – Haka Fusion did just that.”

The very generous prize money will be used to establish infrastructure for Identity Dance Company, which became a registered company last year. It had no money in the bank and has operated on a shoestring while waiting for payment to come in from gigs and projects to fund marketing and other running costs. Parents have been enlisted to help with accounts and even getting a website up and running is having to be done in stages.

“When there’s a little bit of money in the account we do a little more,” Josh says.

Although they are one of this country’s top hip hop dance companies, IDCo has had to fundraise extensively – doing everything from concerts through to quiz nights and selling secondhand books at markets – to pay get their crews to competitions overseas. They have also relied on people giving their services for free, such as media expert Natalie Blucher, who is their company manager (a job she does for love) and helps with promotion, marketing advice and training company members to become more media savvy.

“This money will help to establish the website and social media platforms, hire an accountant and funding advisor, and assemble a team that will give us the best possible advice for the way forward,” says Josh. “As well as this we do want to ensure that we give back to the community that has supported us.”

IDCo’s two main goals are to provide creative and performing opportunities for their company members, and continue their work in developing young dancers. The company has a strong focus on education and the core company members all have tertiary qualifications in dance, which Josh says has been pivotal in helping them develop as all round creatives, teachers and managers.

While they’re best known as talented hip hop dancers, many of them have this year been involved in projects that include other forms of dance. IDCo members have also been core cast for the successful Out of The Box dance show, which has received excellent reviews on the festival circuit.

But they make sure they continue their focus on education, working in schools and the community encouraging young hip hop dancers to learn as much as they can, including embracing contemporary dance techniques and processes which can help to maximise their opportunities in the future.

“While we have a group of world class Hip Hop dancers, we want to do more that focus on competitions or commercial work here and overseas,” says Josh. “

Our vision is to develop our dancers to be versatile all-round creatives -performers, choreographers, teachers and managers, and to continue to encourage them to keep trying to be the very best they can be wherever their path takes them “

 

IDentity Dance Company Win $50,000 in Haka Fusion

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