Martial Dance Theatre: A Comparative Study of Torotoro Urban Māori Dance Crew (New Zealand) & Samudra Performing Arts (India)

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Theses / Dissertations
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Doctor of Philosophy
University of Canterbury. Theatre and Film Studies
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Hamilton, Mark James

This thesis examines two examples of martial dance theatre: Mika HAKA performed by Torotoro (New Zealand), and The Sound of Silence performed by Samudra (India). Both productions were created for international touring, and this thesis looks at their performance at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival (UK). The companies’ choreography integrates native and foreign dance with their hereditary martial arts. These disciplines involve practitioners in displays of prowess that are also entertaining spectacles. They have an expressive dimension that makes them contiguous with dance – a potential that Torotoro and Samudra exploit. The companies address their audiences with combative and inviting movements: Torotoro juxtapose wero and haka (Māori martial rites) with breakdance; Samudra combine kaḷarippayaṭṭu (Kerala’s martial art) with bharatanāṭyam (South Indian classical dance). Their productions interweave local movement practices with performance arts in global circulation, and are often presented before predominantly white, Western audiences. What is created are performances that are generically unstable – the product of cultural interactions in which contradictory agendas converge. In its largest scope, martial dance theatre might include military parades and tattoos, ritual enactments of combat, and folk and classical dance theatre. These performances propagate images of idealised men that create statements of national and cultural identity. They, and the martial disciplines they theatricalise, are also implicated in the performative construction of gender, ethnicity and race. Torotoro and Samudra’s performances, influenced by queer and feminist agendas, offer insights into martial dance theatre’s masculinist potential, and its contribution to the intercultural negotiation of identities. Prominent European theatre practitioners have sought to employ the martial arts to develop Western performers. If these culturally specific disciplines are expressive and performative disciplines, then what are the implications and complications of this transcultural project?

martial arts, dance theatre, haka, wero, kapa haka, breakdance, Mika Haka, Maori, kalarippayattu, bharatanatyam, Kerala, Torotoro, Mika, Samudra
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ANZSRC fields of research
Copyright Mark James Hamilton