TE HAU WINITANA

Fire In The Water, Fire In The Sky

Early 2016, its summer time in Wellington. I had been working on a piece that was about to be shown at Pūtahi Festival held at Victoria University of Wellington. Mīria asks to catch up outside in the amphitheatre. Just a casual chat about how the show is coming along and stuff. She mentions she wants to work together on a project that she wanted to explore further. The project being Fire In The Water, Fire In The Sky. We start chatting about her vision and ideas she has for this work. Off we go talking about culture , family, ‘ura, stereotypes, ideals, the usual artist conversations. Fast forward 30 minutes or so and it was abruptly cut short, Miria having to race off to her Papa who was very ill at that time. We finish with ‘lets catch up soon!’.

This was one of those conversations that will always stick with me because through all the kōrero we kept coming back to the keyword… whakapapa. At the time, we cracked up at the potential of us being related (like most Kuki ‘Āirani).

This connection is how I began my Fire In The Water, Fire In The Sky journey and with everything that was going on with Mīria’s whānau, it kept bringing me to that old saying “as one door closes another door opens” 

Her Papa’s final journey to Hawaiki Nui, her beginning this new journey of Fire In The Water, Fire In The Sky and us finding our whakapapa connection to each other.

Was this some sort of message? Of course! The timing of it all was perfectly aligned for what was to come. 

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I have been fortunate enough to be involved in the creative journey of Fire In The Water, Fire In The Sky as part of Kia Mau Festival in 2017. The cast was myself, my talented beautiful kare Mapihi Kelland and the ever stunning Manarangi Irie. I was really excited to be working with these powerhouse wāhine, even more so because Mapihi, Manarangi and I all came from Whitireia Performing Arts – so the flow between us was easy and organic. This flow between the three of us was always encouraged by Mīria, she was always open to our offers, supportive of our ideas and made us push the boundaries. Her emphasis on exploration in our character work was always reassuring for myself because that’s an area I’ve always felt a little uneasy about.

I remember one time during rehearsal Mīria give us a brief to workshop movement as if we were floating on clouds; we began creating our movement and we gave our offers. She tells us to stop! Closes the curtains to the rehearsal room mirrors and tells us “its not the movement I’m looking for its the FEELING and BEING on the clouds” . She would use these little exercises and techniques to help us dancers understand acting character work and it helped tremendously for myself in becoming more confident with acting. She made the unfamiliar, familiar.

In 2017, at Pataka Art + Museum and Te Papa Tongarewa, two very different audiences and venues. I remember our first series of shows at Pataka and feeling frustrated after a show at the audience sitting in the cafe area where we performed a segment called Digging For Water. In the world of Fire In The Water, Fire In The Sky water is a precious commodity then contrasted by looking at people in the REAL world sitting there gawking at us whilst sipping on their chai lattes and coffees – looking at us strange! I used this as motivation to help drive my character journey within the work and help me settle into being my character.

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Two years later and the second season was in the works, this time with a new cast member Amanda Noblett – triple threat artist and good friend who was my senior at Whitireia Performing Arts back in 2010. I’ve worked on numerous projects with Ama, her professionalism and work ethic is out of this world! I felt very lucky and privileged to be working alongside her and original cast member Mapihi again. I felt comfort in knowing that Mīria had once again created an environment where we could explore freely and flow together with familiar faces and characters. 

Rehearsals for Season Two were so much fun. We began sessions with character building games and lots of kōrero to help fuel our character journeys. This time around, the feeling amongst everyone was that of maturity, not only with our characters but with our kōrero, our whakapapa, our relationships and ideas for Fire In The Water, Fire In The Sky Season Two. Mīria threw me a character that I was scared of at first because it came across too serious and rigid for my liking. However after a few reads I ended up really enjoying her, and I found a comical side to my acting I never knew I had.

Character building during rehearsals was entertaining and being able to watch and feed off Ama was very inspiring. I admire how she commands and holds herself in the works , I looked up to her as a mentor during this season and she provided some really valuable tips and techniques to help Mapihi and I build on our own characters. Thank you Ama!

As we began to wrap up our rehearsal season and prepare for touring in Tāmaki Makaurau, tragedy struck us once again with the passing of our honourable wahine toa and kuini, Nan Brunning. Our shows were postponed but oddly enough it didn’t feel that way! 

It felt like we had been invited to the most special show of all! Nan’s show!

We were in the presence of Nan, her whānau, her art, her mahi, her whakapapa as the entire creative world gathered at this devastating yet special time.

Then it dawns on me, that old saying, “as one door closes another door opens”.

I’m not sure what the future holds for Fire In The Water, Fire In The Sky, even though the show has now been postponed three times – with the South Pacific Arts Festival twice postponed, now ’til 2024. I feel something really momentous is coming. Maybe this is a time to allow us more time to reflect, grow and cultivate our story. Things happen for a reason and all in good timing. Our whakapapa, our relationships, our kōrero and our journeys will be strengthened once more.

This show will always stay with me – like ta’tatau – the ink may fade and wear away but the story will always be there. 

Moe mai rā ki a kōrua ko Papa Ian George raua ko Nancy Brunning. 

Image Credits Kahu Kutia & Maarire Brunning-Kouka


Fire In The Water, Fire In The Sky by Mīria George, World Premiere Season 6 June 2017, Pataka Art + Museum, Wellington, New Zealand.

Te Hau Winitana (Ngāti Ruapani, Te Ati Awa, Kuki ‘Āirani) is a performing artist, dancer, teacher and choreographer of pacific dance, and currently the director and co-creator of Pacifit Group Ltd and Inano Dance School.

In 2017, she officially launched her own dance school, Inano Dance, specialising in Cook Islands art, music, dance and culture. Winitana also was the first New Zealand dancer to compete in the 2017 Heiva San Diego International Tahitian Dance competition, placing second in the advanced female soloist category.

Since graduating from her tertiary studies at Whitireia Performing Arts in 2013, she has toured, performed, choreographed and taught on an extensive range of national and international artistic projects, dancing for companies such as Le Moana and Tawata productions, and has toured as far as Europe, Oceania, Canada and USA.