IN TOUCH - Kapowai Taiao

We chatted with director of contemporary dance/film production company Daniel Belton about his video/dance work Kapowai Taiao, which he produced as one of the Foundation's IN TOUCH arts commissions.

Kapowai Taiao

Can you describe the work?

Taiao (Kapowai Edition) brings together Māori, Chinese and Tibetan cultures in a new dance film. A dakini (Tibetan: khandro མཁའ་འགྲོ་མ་) is a tantric deity described as a female embodiment of enlightened energy. In the Tibetan language, dakini is rendered Khandroma, which means 'she who traverses the sky' or 'she who moves in space'. Sometimes the term is translated poetically as 'sky dancer' or 'sky walker'.  

In te reo Māori, Taiao translates as nature or environment. The dragonfly is kapowai. In this edition of the film, I have chosen to frame the work in a traditional Chinese fan form, which also is reminiscent of dragonfly wings. 

My new film features a great team of collaborators - the Good Company Arts digital and design team with special guest Xiao Ke performing a traditional Tibetan dance, as well as renowned taonga pūoro artists Dr Richard Nunns, Alistair Fraser and Ariana Tikao with her Karakia to nature. The karakia is heard in a longer edition of the mahi. 

The TAIAO dance film is a digital prayer of healing for Papatūānuku. It is a call to nature, a reminder and a protection blessing to all life, all beings, and our Mother Earth.  

As Vietnamese Budhist monk and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh says, "You carry Mother Earth within you. She is not outside of you. Mother Earth is not just your environment. In that insight of inter-being, it is possible to have real communication with the earth, which is the highest form of prayer."

What was the inspiration behind the work? How did it evolve?

Last year, Good Company Arts( GCA) completed our first dance and virtual reality project "Astrolabe–whakaterenga", which launched at the National Museum of Singpore as an interactive exhibition/installation. During filming, we captured movement artist Xiao Ke performing a traditional Tibetan dance. These beautiful sequences were not integrated into Astrolabe, and have been waiting for an opportunity to be shared. When the IN TOUCH commission opportunity came on our radar, I pitched an idea to the Foundation to utilise the material in an all new stand alone dance film short.

IN TOUCH funding allowed GCA to engage other artists, and I was able to create the film edit, adding in multiple layers, working the sound and visual design into what it has become.

The key message in the work is "nurture-nature". We are also  fascinated by the solo intensity of Xiao Ke's exquisite presence on film. During times of isolation that many of us are experiencing at this time, a theme of "travelling without moving" has arrived in the work – the mind travelling, and the dance as meditation for peace, for wholeness and the profound connection to nature.

Daniel Belton performing live with dancer Jill Goh

Daniel Belton performing live with dancer Jill Goh "OneOne" at XINTIANDI Festival in Shanghai June 2019

How did you connect and start working with Xiao Ke and Zi Han?

We met at APAM in Brisbane 2018, and the friendship grew from there. I was in Shanghai for China SPAF (Shanghai China International Arts Festival) and they invited me to the Yellow Mountains after this, which was an incredible experience. We stayed at Zi Han's father's place in a tiny traditional village (Nanping). The stills in the Taiao film are from my camera during a signifcant day in the mountains with them. 

Later we brought Xiao Ke and Zi Han to Aotearoa to work with us on our Astrolabe - whakaterenga project. We filmed in Pōneke and Ōtepoti, the Otago Peninsula. They loved being here and working with the GCA and meeting our family and friends. It was so great to reciprocate, after their wonderful generosity in China.

 Can you talk about the collaborative process of creating the work?

 All the elements were in dialogue via the web, so there is this slight dislocation in process, and new things came into play as the piece was built in our Dunedin studio.

What role has the Foundation played in developing your relationships with Asia?

The Foundation has helped us develop our connections in Singapore and China, which has opened more links with arts organisations, artists and producers in Asia. Good Company Arts is now collaborating with artists in Korea, Japan, Singapore, China, and Taiwan. These are very exciting projects that provide great learning opportunities. 

In 2017, we produced the world's first dance film for 360 planetariums, in collaboration with composers Joyce Beetuan Koh and PerMagnus Lindborg in Singapore. This work "AXIS - anatomy of space" has travelled widely and won awards. We were honoured to have the Asia New Zealand Foundation's support alongside Creative NZ and partners. 

Working with Arts Fission Company in Singapore has also forged a new dance film "Infinite Octagon". The Foundation supported me with a research residency exchange and this film is the result of that mahi.

I love working in Asia and also bringing Asian artists to Aotearoa to share their skills and enjoy this beautiful place in the South Pacific.

Why do you think it’s important for New Zealand artists to collaborate with artists from overseas, specifically Asia?

Finding the creative spark between artists is the key to good collaboration. As we bring ideas from our respective places of origin and culture, we raise these to a new blank canvas together. This is a kind of neutral ground where we gather concepts and combine our skills towards a shared vision. We are respectfully drawn to something that is original about each other, and this curiosity has immense energy for discovery, and for co-creation. 

Collaboration is like coding and creating with a network that keeps on adding more pieces. We create something unique together, that refines and evolves from our collective listening – dialogues across artistic mediums and practices. Cross cultural collaboration provides a powerful springboard for learning and for developing new work. Artists are constantly in communication with people from different places across the world – this is growing a new multi-cultural culture that expresses the human conscious creative.

What projects do you have on your radar?

Good Company Arts has projects continuing with Japan, China, Singapore, Australia and at home. We are currently in the making process of developing our new large scale work "Ad Parnassum - purapurawhetū" with music from Gillian Whitehead, featuring the NZSQ and Taonga Puoro. This work brings together nine female dance artists and will premiere later in 2021. Its a fantastic team.

About the Foundation's IN TOUCH arts commissions

Daniel Belton's work is the first of ten digital art works to be produced through the Foundation's IN TOUCH arts commissions. The commissions were offered to New Zealand arts practitioners who had previously participated in Foundation programmes to develop new works suitable for digital channels and which draw on the artist’s ongoing connections to Asia. The ten works are to be promoted through the Foundation's channels in coming months.