Te Auaha’s Māori Performing Arts tutor, Krystal Clarke, tells us about her journey, mahi and recent performance in the Te Matatini Kapa Haka Festival.
Born and raised in Wainuiomata Krystal was always drawn to the Kapa Haka scene. She was attracted by the sound, unity, fun, freedom and the opportunity to express herself and show-off her skills. This began when she was at primary and continued through high school, where she had her first professional Kapa Haka experience, to graduating with a Bachelor of Applied Arts (Performing Arts) from Whitireia.
We caught up Krystal to find out more.
What do you teach at Te Auaha?
I teach Māori Performing Arts. This includes basic technique and history classes around waiata, haka, takahi, wiri, toroparawae, poi, mau rakau to name a few. Students are expected to prepare a solo in their second year with the skills they have acquired on the programme. All students graduate able to confidently perform a full Māori repertoire and apply the appropriate technique and gestures that enhance the performance with the correct application of tikanga.
I also teach tikanga. This includes learning about powhiri processes, which Atua are present in certain domains, research and presentations on specific Māori events in Aotearoa which have helped shape the Māori Performing Arts, the origins and categories behind each item in a Kapa Haka bracket.
What are you passionate about with regard to teaching? What are your greatest professional strengths?
My passion lies in the development and growth of each one of our students.
Many of our students come from different backgrounds with different goals. They walk in the doors as individuals and after 3 years they become strong, confident leaders with transferable skills that will guide them, not only the Arts industry but in any area of the workforce.
I have the ability to understand every part of every movement and break it down in a way that all types of learners can understand.
My greatest professional strength would have to be that I lead by example in performance. I will never ask my students to do anything that I can not do myself.
What do you think makes Te Auaha a unique place to study?
Te Auaha gives students the opportunity of collaborating with multiple disciplines. We are able to provide students with opportunities that they would not usually have in their own line of work. Third-year students can network with one another to develop their major projects (Body of Work) producing higher and more enriched of work.
Tell me about your mahi?
I have practical and theory classes. In my practical classes, students learn waiata, haka, and have an opportunity to get a feel for Māori weaponry and poi.
We cover basic technique such as toroparawae, patu and rakau skills. We also spend a lot of time developing the correct singing skills for each type of category of waiata or haka.
Students learn up to five songs a week with choreography. For some, this completely foreign to what they’re used to.. We focus on synchronicity, not only in their movement but also in their thought patterns, energy and singing. Synchronized movement has no depth if it’s not complemented with the right mood and intention.
Students learn that performing arts is more than just song and dance. It becomes a lifestyle for serious artists.
Tell me about your involvement in the Kapa Haka Festival. What was involved?
This Te Matatini, my role was ‘Kaihaka’ for Ngā Taonga mai Tawhiti. I was fortunate enough to have earned a spot to represent Te Whanganui-a-Tara at the 2019 Nationals.
We are exposed to each others vulnerabilities, insecurities and dislikes quite early in the campaign. We all push ourselves and each other on the same floor towards a common goal. Blood, sweat, and tears definitely play a big part in the journey which can either ‘make’ or ‘break’ you, not only as a performer but also as a person.
I heard you had an input into the costume making process. How did your study at Whitireia prepare you for that?
Each kaihaka was responsible for their own costume. We brought our own tapestry, wool, lining, and needles and were given the guideline for our design. We used the cross-stitch method for our pari (bodice), straps, and tipare (headband). It took roughly 4 months to complete the tapestry work. If you did not complete your tapestry, you lost your spot to perform.
Once the tapestry was completed, it was handed to another member of the group who would line the inside of all the tapestry, attach the straps, zip, and hooks.
This lengthy process taught us to appreciate our costumes a lot more.
I was lucky enough to have been taught this stitch many years ago from my grandmother and mother so I had a head start compared to some of the younger ones.
At Whitireia, we do a costuming class which I am fortunate enough to have been a part of when I was a student. It taught me time management, perseverance, organization of materials, the importance of a guideline/template and to not judge or doubt an unfinished project. Had I not undergone that class, I probably would have given up part-way through and lost my spot on the national stage.
Has this experience forged any new relationships/widened your network?
Absolutely, I was able to learn new things and apply old teachings and show what I am capable of at Te Matatini. From that, I have had offers from high-schools to tutor their secondary Kapa Haka teams, I have made new friends, and most of all, I have a whole team of people behind me that I can go to whenever I am in doubt with my own work as a Māori tutor.
Key highlights from this experience
As tutors, we find ourselves forever giving, teaching, and investing our time and energy in our students. Towards the end of 2018, I hit a bit of a mind-block and was not sure what else to do with the students. After my experience with our roopu and Te Matatini, I feel revitalized, refreshed, and refuelled to come back into work with new ideas, standards, ways of thinking and teaching strategies. It was a really good feeling going to practices as a learner, not a teacher.
It was a great eye-opener and a reminder to me that there is an essence attached to our culture which requires a certain style of teaching. This was something I was aware of but had forgotten along my journey as a tutor. Matatini was such a humbling and grounding experience.