Festival of Youth: Our Earth, Our Water, Ourselves

27 October, HBAF18
By Rosheen FitzGerald

One of the greatest barriers to engagement in the arts is a feeling of disenfranchisement. More than a poverty of time or money or information, it is the idea that certain spaces belong exclusively to certain sectors of society that prevents people from becoming consumers and participants in artistic endeavours. And the arts are far poorer for this lack of diversity.

Festival Educational Coordinator, Daniel Betty knows this all too well. Over the last four years, I’ve watched with a vested interest as he’s grown the Ambassador Programme. Widened the pool of free schools’ performances. Reached out into the community of rangatahi, given them his hand and said, “All this belongs to you, too.”

This afternoon, in a church hall, on the cusp of Camberley, a fire for the arts was ignited in the hearts and minds of ninety tamariki from seven schools as they took to the stage to perform the Festival of Youth.

The theme –  Our Earth, Our Water, Ourselves – is carried fluidly through a range of modalities on display. Illustrative artwork is projected in grand scale. Dance montages featuring gymnastic elements. Spoken word. Rap. Song. Mime. Tableaux. All combine to present a picture of a world in peril, a dystopian future, the kaitiakitanga and idealism of the generation to come.

Stand out contributors include the self-assured strut of a wahine whose composure marks her as a leader far more than her blonde wig and floral crown. The energetic dance stylings of a band of boys that I might describe as crump and shuffle, you might describe as body popping, but I suspect they might associate with the wildly popular video game Fortnite. The languid quartet of wahine in lavalava performing a Siva Samoa to whoops of appreciation, utterly at ease in their own bodies. The self-possessed kid with undercut and topknot who, alone, bathed in white light, performs a raw, open monologue about identity that has more than a few audience members dabbing at their eyes. It comes to climax with an a cappella finale held together by the pure, sweet voice of a remarkable young man. The amassed cast sway and clap, gospel styles, around him.

There’s a wealth of tautoko in the room – a kotahi of whanau in awe of what has been created, their aroha fed back to the performers. It’s an exercise in whakawhanaugatanga – the mentorship of directors Betty and Kristyl Neho feeding into both the tamariki and the Ambassadors who held this space – working on tech and āwhina. It is this kind of endeavour that will ensure a steady supply of audiences and performers that will sustain the festival after we’re all gone. Betty said it best in his concluding remarks, “Youth has a voice, we need to learn to listen.”

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