The choreographer for the extraordinary World of WearableArt Awards show for the last 14 years, Malia moved to Wellington in 2008 to take on the role of artistic director, bringing the garments to life through movement and dance. Malia also teaches at the New Zealand School of Dance in Wellington and at Unitec in Auckland. Malia flew to Wellington from rehearsals in Auckland especially to speak to FishHead at the Museum Hotel.
If it’s been a hard day at work and I’m in need of a drink I’ll be… Well, there are lots of places actually, but there’s Rogue and Vagabond, or here at the Museum Hotel — I like their wine!
The next day if I’m in need of a hearty feed and a cup of great coffee I’ll be at… Joe’s Garage — I’ve had just about everything from Joe’s. It’s just the atmosphere, and the coffee is great, plus it’s in a nice part of town.
If I’m in need of a slice of culture I can’t go past… Live theatre, but also the New Zealand Film Archive.
My favourite Wellington landmark would have to be… Eastbourne Hills. That’s where I go for rest and recreation, and the views over the harbour are awesome!
I think Wellington’s best-kept secret is… Lower Hutt (laughs)! The only reason I say that is because of all the great walking tracks. I moved to Alicetown just recently and I just didn’t know how many amazing walking tracks they have out there! They are just so beautiful, and in ten minutes you can go either side, up into the gorges, and find rivers, waterfalls, lakes, ponds and swimming holes!
Wellington has been home to many amazing shows and performances, but the theatre or venue I most love to view or teach in is… Well, I mean I just have so many memories of putting on the World of WearableArt shows at the TSB Arena, but I mean it’s the TSB Arena! So I have to say that, and also I really enjoy seeing the performances at Te Whaea that the dance students and theatre performers do in that space, I just love seeing their work.
One particularly memorable experience choreographing would have to be… There are billions actually, loads, but I think I’ll just mention one, which was Helen Clark in 2002 when I choreographed her when she was Prime Minister. She had a cameo role in the World of WearableArt Awards back then wearing a garment designed by Susan Holmes. I thought she was very brave, and even though she was used to public speaking and all of that, she was actually quite nervous and she missed her cue!
The highlight of being involved with Mana Wahine has been… working collaboratively with an incredibly lively group of artists, including the AV designer, dancers and other choreographers, but in particular working alongside Tui Ranapiri-Ransfield, who is a relative of Taiaroa Royal, one of the other choreographers. She has an incredible knowledge of history, cultural movement, kapa haka, Māori language and composition of Māori song and chant. She has basically just opened my eyes to new information and movement origins, which has really encouraged me to play and explore those things really openly.
The message we wanted to convey through Mana Wahine is… that collaboration is fabulous and working to the strengths of the group of people you are working and collaborating with will not set you wrong… The message we wanted to convey is about strong physicality in dance; it’s very much a movement platform that displays the personality of the individual dancers alongside their collective strength. Mana Wahine presents a dynamic range of choreographic energies and pathways that were inspired by a true story from Rotorua, where the strength and lateral thinking of one woman, whose people were about to be slaughtered in a historic battle, helped save her tribe. It’s an intuitive work that defies narrative but creates an emotional journey that is ultimately an uplifting experience.