Connecting through dance, close to home and far away

Two students in their third year at the Dance Studies Programme have been awarded a Prime Minister's Scholarship which will allow them to undertake research in Asia or Latin America.

Image from the 'Trip' by Ufitia Sagapolutele, from Pacific Dance Festival 2019, with Chas Samoa on far right.

Both will also be appearing at the School’s End of Year Performance in November before they go.

Alesha Wallabh has won a Scholarship to Asia and will be going to India for a month, while Chas Samoa, who has won a Scholarship to South America, will be travelling to Brazil.

The End of Year Performances will be held at the Mangere Art Centre, which will be close to home for the two proud South Aucklanders.

Chas Samoa discovered dance and its potential to bring people together after joining SOAR, a community initiative set up to support local youth from south Auckland. Through SOAR she met up with other young people to dance which she says “provided a family-orientated environment that I didn’t necessarily have in other places”.

Chas started out as a hip-hop dancer but would now describe herself as an emerging indigenous contemporary artist, who is reconnecting with her Samoan and Māori culture and heritage through dance and choreography.

In her end of year performance she has choreographed a work in which she explores what it is to be a woman of Oceanic heritage, which will performed by nine women of Oceanic or Māori decent. “It’s an exploration of who we are, as Oceanic women, through a decolonised lens of power.”

Chas is a champion of indigenous rights, and feelings of displacement have informed her dance and choreography. She says her four weeks in Brazil “will strengthen [her] understanding of similarities that I have with Brazilian indigenous people, but also our differences”.

“What I like about Bollywood dance is that anyone can do it," says Alesha Wallabh. "People feel good doing it.” Photo: Norrie Montgomery

Alesha will be going to India. She has visited there before, but only to Gujarat, which is where her family is from. She was born in New Zealand, and grew up in and still lives in Pukekohe.

Alesha was taught to dance by her mother, Trusa, who had taught herself to dance by watching Bollywood movies. “I fell in love with the movement,” says Alesha. “I’d spend hours after school dancing in our garage to the point where oil would stain my feet.”

She and her mother often performed Bollywood dances at Diwali festivals. “What I like about Bollywood dance is that anyone can do it. It’s about coming together, usually performed at weddings and birthdays, and about celebration. People feel good doing it.”

Her mother is delighted that her daughter is studying dance, although her own last performance was in 2012. “The reason being that there were a lot of people on phones and recording our dance, and my mum felt that disconnect between the dance and audience. She couldn’t see the audience’s faces.”

While the trip to India will involve students from a diverse range of disciplines, and will not be focused on dance, she hopes that she might better understand the contemporary Bollywood industry.

She has detected changes that she doesn’t necessarily like. If she had her way, she’d shift the Bollywood narrative back to the movies she grew up with in the 90s. “There was less objectification... it was more joyful.”

She will be performing in other student’s choreographed dances in the end of year performances, but in her own choreographed work she is exploring expressions of femininity, sensuality and power, through snakes and serpents. “I’ve always been fascinated by snakes,” she says. 

End of Year Performances are open to the public, on November 6, 9, 13 and 16, at Mangere Events Centre. Register through Eventfina. 

Media contact

Margo White I Media adviser
DDI 09 923 5504
Mob 021 926 408