Judith Kunzlé's work and studies of Cook Islands dancing has been a team work with dancers. Here is the inside story, the dancer and choreographer's point of view by Jackie Tuara-Newnham.
"Twenty years is certainly quite a period of time to have known and worked with someone. It has been a period of learning and discovering new things for both of us. Not only has working with Judith helped her learn about the technicalities of Cook Islands dance in order to make it look right on paper, but it has also been a great learning opportunity for me.
Having to explain to Judith why and how I swing my hips, how, when or why I lift my feet for example, I didn't have easy answers to her questions. In the beginning I really had to think about it – and by modeling for Judith she was able to see and tell me which muscles in the body were moving or being used for each movement. Something I never ever thought about, and I am sure every Cook Islands dancer never thinks about.
We grow up learning to dance from watching older dancers and basically teach ourselves to dance, no technicalities involved, you get up and swing those hips and keep swinging until you get it right – and that meant when it looked right!
The information that Judith required made me realise that there is certainly a lot more to our dancing than swinging those hips. It has enabled me to actually take my interest in dance further, to discover how we perform certain movements, which muscles we use, and how to use these correctly in order to perform a movement correctly.
This additional knowledge has become a new avenue for teaching others how to dance properly in the traditional way, but also to be more creative by using the right muscles in the body, in order to get that particular movement going we have in mind.
Judith and I have worked together over the years and the benefits have been mutual, learning more off each other about the one aspect of Cook Islands culture that interests us both – Dance. We are learning off and with each other in order to display these art forms in the ways we know best how – Judith with paint and paper and myself through performance, choreography and costume design.
Having worked with her from the very beginning, I have seen her progress and improvements in the way she has tried to bring dance to life. I have seen many drawings and paintings done by various artists depicting Cook Islands dancing and I guess any artist can paint or draw a dancer that looks somewhat like a dancer. But to depict Cook Islands Dance in a way that makes you actually feel the movement, feel the sway of the pareu kiriau, feel the gracefulness of the hips - this I have only seen and felt in Judith’s work.
As a dancer and choreographer, Judith’s work has a deeper meaning for me. Her art works are not simply drawings on paper hanging on the wall – for me they are expressions of what I am very passionate about, our Cook Islands performing arts. And to have an artist like Judith portray this so definitely and for the world to see and enjoy, and more importantly, in a way that we Cook Islanders can totally relate to, is awesome. And, as well, Judith’s work has become another important avenue of keeping our Maori performing arts alive."
Jackie Tuara-Newnham, Rarotonga, Cook Islands