by Bianca Ohannessian
Earlier this month, dancers from all across the globe gathered in Paris for Europe’s largest Polynesian dance competition.
Linked to the Heiva competitions, the two-day Heiva i Paris extravaganza held at the Bobino Theatre in Montparnasse is now in its fifth year. It sees troupes competing in front of a panel of judges from Tahiti.
Participants perform original Mehura and Ote’a group dances as well as solo rounds, introducing the traditions of Tahitian dance to the rest of the world.
Krysten Resnik on the shores of Tahiti. Photo source: @londonhula via Instagram
Just a few decades ago, this beautiful art form was on the brink of extinction, forbidden in Tahiti. However, Ori Tahiti, which translates as ‘Tahitian Dance’, has seen resurgence in recent years. Since its reintroduction in the mid-1900s, performers are once again sharing the oral history and spirituality of Tahiti that the dance originally captured through its movements, drum beats and costumes.
Only this year, were the names of the Ori Tahiti dance steps standardised for the first time in an all-encompassing handbook for dancers, compiled by a group of celebrated dance experts in Tahiti. Many of the steps had been referred to by multiple names up until now.
Because of this relative newness, the dance is still evolving and it’s proving to be an exciting point in the history of Tahitian dance as modern influences combine with ancient tradition.
From Tahiti to Europe
With the island of Tahiti being so far away from Europe, taking on a dreamy and almost mythical spot in the minds of dancers who are yet to visit, events like Heiva i Paris makes this dance culture more accessible. For example, it’s not easy (or cheap) to pop over from London to Tahiti for a week, although dance performances like those seen in Paris are sure to spark up your wanderlust.
Although the majority of groups competing in Heiva i Paris are from schools based in France, the competition also attracts a cosmopolitan collection of dancers from all corners of the world.
Kanani Lokelani Asuega, Solo O’tea 2018 winner. Photo source: @heivaiparis via Instagram
The winner of the grand prize for top Ote’a Solo was awarded to Kanani Lokelani Asuega from California, of Lokelani’s Rhythm of the Islands. Other countries competing included Mexico, Japan, Guam via Germany and the UK.
London Loves Ori Tahiti
A Mehura performed by London Hula. Photo source: @heivaiparis via Instagram
London Hula is the UK’s first Polynesian dance group to compete in Paris, following their founder and director Krysten Resnick’s performance in the World Cup 2018 held in Tahiti earlier this year.
Here are Krysten’s thoughts on why global Ori Tahiti competitions are important:
“I’m incredibly proud to be part of the UK’s first Ori Tahiti dance group to have competed in both Paris and in Tahiti. The competition, camaraderie and culture wrapped up in these international events are so rewarding, especially for those who are far away from other dance groups. And it deepens the desire for students to continue their studies of Tahitian dance and culture, and even to go learn at the source. We’re excited to take on our next competition!” – Krysten Resnick, London Hula founder and director.
Heiva I Paris 2018
London Hula and Hula with Aloha troups. Photo source: @londonhula via Instagram
As well as dances performed to beats from live drummers all the way from Tahiti, audiences were also treated to performances by the French legend Jean Gabilou (who took France to the no. 3 spot during the 1981 Eurovision Song Contest).
Meanwhile outside the theatre, stalls offering Tahitian treats including pareos, flower hair clips and the enchantingly fragrant Monoi oil (a beauty oil for hair and skin, made from gardenia petals and coconut oil).
Look out for tickets to Heiva i Paris 2019 next year, which is set to be even bigger than ever. If you can’t wait until then for your fix of Polynesian dancing, then have a go yourself with London Hula’s weekly classes and workshops.
(Cover photo: an Ote’a performed by London Hula. Photo source: @heivaiparis via Instagram)
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