IN TOUCH - In / You

Watch Paul Mathew's IN Touch Arts Commission work In / You. We talk to Paul about the work, which he performs with his wife, and fellow dancer, Mayu Tanigaito and is filmed beneath the pohutukawa tree under which they were married in 2017.

Watch Paul's work In / You

Can you describe the work and its themes?

The work is about my wife Mayu Tanigaito and I reflecting on our life together and love for each other, and the effects of the pandemic on us.

The other theme, which is also a big influence on the choreographer Jo Funaki, is Yin Yang. The title is therefore both represented in English with the word 'You' – meaning the other piece of ourselves that we represent for each other – and いんよう, which is the Japanese translation for Yin Yang.  (いんよう  would be spelt 'in you' if written in Romanji – which is spelling the sounds of Japanese with English letters).

 [The isolation we experienced through the pandeic] made us closer to each other, but we felt further away from Mayu’s family.

We dance among the roots of a pohutakawa tree, which is where we were married in 2017. These roots are becoming deeper and stronger, but there is a desire to reconnect with the Japanese side of our family and the land itself.

When it comes to Yin Yang and the complementary opposites that can’t exist without each other, there are many represented in the film and also embodied by the two of us.

What inspired it? How did it evolve?

Both Mayu and I have worked with the choreographer Jo Funaki before and enjoyed doing so. He and his wife Yu Takayama were in the Royal New Zealand Ballet when I joined in 2006.

We danced together for three years and have remained close friends ever since. Mayu and I have visited them in Japan and they have visited us in New Zealand.

This is my last year dancing with the Royal New Zealand Ballet. I saw this as a great opportunity to begin to reconnect more with Japan, to dance with my wife, and to work once again with Jo and Yu.

We spoke with Jo about the themes and also sought his perspective and ideas. I wanted to give him as much freedom as possible.


Paul and Mayu standing on the limbs of a pohutukawa tree

Paul and Mayu dance beneath the pohutukawa tree under which they were married

We created the pas de deux [a dance for two] over zoom, which was challenging.

Dance is a form of communication and this was filtered through a computer screen - the dynamic and rhythm of the creative process is not something that can really be replicated through technology yet.

Jo was originally going to direct the film as well; however, this proved too big a challenge. Where we danced was very challenging as ballet dancers; we are used to a very flat and smooth floor, but we really wanted to dance under the tree as it is very meaningful to us.

We agreed for Loughlan Prior to direct the film, as he was familiar with the site where we would dance - having attended our wedding in 2017, and we also needed to be flexible on the day of filming.

Can you explain the feel you were going for with the videography?

The camera plays a role of a third dancer in the film, with the video-graphic style blending simple nostalgic shots with dynamic sweeping actions. The camera reflects the joy, tenderness and love expressed through the dance.

What’s it like creating a work with your spouse?

Mayu and I have been working together for over 10 years and we have also danced together on many occasions. We have a lot of trust and respect for each other and mostly things go very well.

We have a similar approach to work, and we don’t like to stop working on something until we have made progress in some way.

She is one of the most talented and hardworking dancers I have worked with, and sometimes I get frustrated with myself for not being able to match her, but I am always grateful when I have the opportunity to dance with her.

A photo of the screen of a camera on which Paul and Mayu can be seen standing near the limbs of a large pohutukawa tree

Paul: "I am obviously deeply connected to Asia through my wife, and this project was in part a formal reflection of this."

What role has the Foundation played in developing your connections to Asia?

In 2014 I received a grant from the Asia New Zealand Foundation to assist with my guest performance in Tokyo, where Jo created a piece for six other dancers and myself.

I spent three weeks in Japan learning and rehearsing the piece before the performance. The three-week immersion in Japan without Mayu by my side to translate and give me confidence was intimidating to begin with. However, after a very short time, it galvanised my love for the country and its people and my ambition to spend part of our life there.

I made Japanese my minor in my business degree, which I have studied towards opposite my dance career. I have just completed the degree this semester. 

How did this project further develop your connections to Asia?

Reconnecting and working with Jo and Yu again was great. I have not worked with them since 2017 when they came to New Zealand and choreographed on the Royal New Zealand Ballet.

I am obviously deeply connected to Asia through my wife, and this project was in part a formal reflection of this.

Thinking about the sacrifice that my wife has made for me, having not been able to see her family for over two years, has motivated me to continue to find ways to collaborate with Japan.

I hope to continue to learn more about Japan and intertwine our lives to deepen my understanding and love for her and her roots, hopefully living there at some point in the future.