The role of dance as a tool for recovering important cultural knowledge and strengthening traditions in contemporary society is being examined by Dr Ojeya Cruz Banks.
"Dance embodies a cultural world view in which histories are documented and principles are activated," she says. "Through dance, people connect to their ancestors, their language and their land. In that regard dance becomes important to cultural revitalisation."
The School of Physical Education Dance Studies lecturer and choreographer is, for example, particularly interested in how dance, as practised by the Atamira Dance Collective, a Mäori contemporary dance theatre based in Auckland, responds to the postcolonial context of New Zealand.
"Atamira's about expressing their experience as Mäori and drawing from their history, their legends and their contemporary personal whakapapa," says Cruz Banks, who has spent time watching the collective's rehearsals and performances. "I'm really interested in what their creative process reveals about cultural approaches and how this influences their movement quality and choreography, and how they decide to compose certain dances.
"I find the journey that they take to get to a particular dance more interesting than the actual end product because the creative process is the foundation of the dance produced," she says.
"It is in the work leading up to the dance performance that one sees the details of the distinct cultural references, the diverse voices within the company and also the whakapapa and the kaupapa of the collective. This cultural energy guiding the work provides the main ingredients for the choreography."
"My notion of decolonisation is informed by the work of Linda Tuhiwai Smith. It is about reclaiming of knowledge that was suppressed in the colonial context – reaffirming the knowledge and using it to heal from the consequences of the colonial power," she says. Cruz Banks will also visit a dance company in Senegal at the end of 2009 to examine the role of dance involved in the work of decolonisation there.
"I am looking at how dance reflects the continuum between traditional and contemporary societies."
University of Otago