Travelling more than 3,000 miles to show the culture of their island nation, performance group Cook Islands National Arts Theatre have made a temporary village at the Polynesian Cultural Center for a six-week run from July 17 to Aug. 24.
Danny Mataroa, the main choreographer and chief for the village, said, “This is the first time that the Cook Islands has been in the PCC as a village. Most of the time we come as guest artists during break times, just 10 or 20 minute shows.
PCC Senior Manager William Mahoni worked the logistics for the group’s appearance and coordinated a temporary mini-village for the Cook Islands located between the Hawaiian and Tahitian villages. “This will be the first time we will have a group [from the Cook Islands] stay for six weeks,” he said.
Mataroa said CINAT is a government cultural dance team. “The members always change,” he said. “Whenever there is a special event happening overseas, the Ministry of Culture picks the best dancers and drummers to come and represent the Cook Islands. We are like Olympians.” He said the government sends scouts around the island to find the best dancers for the group.
“It’s an honor,” said Mataroa. “Yesterday we had a man who was one of the foundation members of the PCC. He was sharing how they would run on the road and stop everyone on the road to come inside the PCC, 50 years ago. He has always been trying to get the Cook Islands to be a part of the PCC. We dedicated our whole show to him.”
Teuira Napa, one of the performers and former Miss South Pacific as well as two-time Miss Cook Islands, said, “A lot of dancers in the Cook Islands are fairly good. If you lose one day of dancing, you feel unfit for dancing the next day. We try to just deliver culture rather than making it humorous. There’s no altering or customizing our acts.
“We have perfectionist coaches. If we do a mistake today, then we have to work hard to correct it for tomorrow.”
Mataroa said, “When the men dance, they give it all they have because they have got to impress the women.”
The dancing also conveys symbolism shared throughout the Cook Islands, Mataroa added. Napa said much of the dancing is similar to Tahitian and Hawaiian styles in regards to movements associated with the wind and the sea. However, she said the drumming segregates the island nations, even the different islands of the Cook Islands.
“A higher pitch sound means it is coming from the northern islands. Every island has its own unique style,” said Napa.
Spencer Haynie, a tourist from California at the PCC and 2008 alumnus of BYU-Hawaii, spent a portion of the day at the village with his family. He said, “I was really impressed with the male dancers, especially when they came out. They were doing the chanting, and you could see the energy on their faces. They were totally into it.”
His wife, Tyra Haynie, said, “I really liked the show. It was my first experience here at the PCC. The dancers put everything into it.” Spencer said his family made an extra effort to visit the PCC when he heard about the new temporary Cook Islands village.
Napa said the dancers gave their all to their first performance with hopes of someday being able to perform in a more permanent location at the PCC. “That is our hope... We hope to create some recognition for our tiny island,” she said.
“It’s been an ongoing endeavor for us,” said Mataroa. “Former students have always been wanting the Cook Islands to come to the PCC. This has been a dream come true today.”
The presentations take place Monday through Saturday with shows at 1 p.m., 3:05 p.m., and 4 p.m., with activities following each performance including a coconut passing game, weaving, and drum demonstrations for visitors of the village.
The group also holds evening performances at the Hukilau Marketplace. The group consists of 18 performers: five drummers, four female dancers, four male dancers, two weavers, and the group leaders.