Hilary Halba – Fission/Wēhenga: Staged Encounters with Quantum Physics through Mātauranga Māori


Hilary Halba

Otago University

Fission/Wēhenga: Staged Encounters with Quantum Physics through Mātauranga Māori

From the smoke-and-mirror illusions of the Victorian stage, to the nineteenth-century surgical amphitheatre where hordes of spectators watched surgeons perform operations, from contemporary biographical plays about scientists to ‘science shows’ where experiments – often spectacular to behold – are carried out before an audience often comprised of children and young people, science and the performing arts have long been drawn together as mutually constructive forms of storytelling and critique. Science tells us the story of our world and universe through practical experiments and new theoretical debates; the performing arts, of course, is also a storytelling medium which tells stories through embodied action.  Likewise, Māori knowledge of the environment and the universe has long been communicated through story, song, performance, and oratory which both reinforce and complement the transmission of knowledge”. More recently Māori storytelling has been interwoven into theatrical performance by generations of Māori and non-Māori theatre-makers, working in partnership.  

In 2016 New Zealand performance company afterburner partnered with researchers, physicists and experts in mātauranga Māori (Māori knowledges) to develop a new stage work, Fission, which took conversations between scientists and artists in a fresh direction. Drawing on a southern Māori epistemology, tū taha kē ai, which translates as “to stand at the side of or be an adjunct to”, the partners in this project initiated a syncretic process for experiential research through the development of performance practice that sought to be collaborative, productive, and open to a range of ways of knowing and seeing the world. This paper discusses and analyses aspects of that project.

Hilary Halba is Associate Professor of Theatre Studies at the University of Otago. Her research specialisms include actor training, verbatim theatre, bicultural and intercultural theatre and performance, and the theatre of Aotearoa/New Zealand. She is also an actor and director with over 25 years’ experience in professional theatre.

Nicola Hyland – Te Taenga Mai/The Arrival: ‘Singing Back’ to Cultural Imperialism in the Arrivals Lounge


Nicola Hyland

Victoria University Wellington

Te Taenga Mai/The Arrival: ‘Singing Back’ to Cultural Imperialism in the Arrivals Lounge

We’ve been welcoming strangers to our home for over 250 years. 

I say “welcoming”, yet the earliest visitors to Aotearoa were not only technically not invited, their mis-readings of Indigenous hospitality ended in the murders of their hosts, and in generations memorialising these moments as the [plagiarised] discovery of [an already occupied] southern land of plenty. Much has been already been written about Māori rites of encounter. These are tales told from the accounts of those being welcomed –the manuhiri–and the more muted perspectives of those playing hosts, the mana whenua. The performative dimensions of pōwhiri are recognised as expressions of contemporary Māori connection to ancestral forms, of manaakitanga (respect, generosity, hospitality), and a ceremonial ritual in unique, authentic, tourism packages. 

This paper explores performances of welcome by Hātea kapa haka roopu to celebrities in the Auckland Airport arrivals lounge. These performances exemplify the dynamic evolution of pōwhiri even within traditional forms and frames. Yet, these displays also express – through their remixing of the artists’ own work in Te Reo Māori language – something more complex about welcoming as a reciprocal experience. In this discussion, I tease out concepts of affect through a Te Ao Māori lens, contextualized within the fraught history of arrivals (as more-than-performance) in Aotearoa. I connect my own emotive response to these performances with a not-so-local history of traumatic betrayals to Indigenous hospitality.

Nicola Hyland is a Senior Lecturer and Poakorangi/Programme Director in the Theatre Programme of Te Herenga Waka/Victorial University of Wellington. Of Te Atihaunui-a-Pāpārangi and Ngati Hāuiti descent, Nicola’s research explores representations of indigeneity in contemporary performance, intersections of youth, gender and race in performance, and devised theatre practices. Nicola is currently co-editing a monograph on devised theatre in tertiary education and co-authoring a book on the history of Māori theatre company, Taki Rua.

Ryan Hartigan – Breaking Bureaucracy: Ngāi Tūhoe, Performing Time and Home, and the Waitangi Tribunal


Ryan Hartigan

University of Otago

Breaking Bureaucracy: Ngāi Tūhoe, Performing Time and Home, and the Waitangi Tribunal

In the multiple temporalities of the postcolony, the wasteful time of the Indigenous, which is deemed to be past-ness, is the exemplar of ‘chronopolitics’: the systems of power that privilege particular narratives of history and are enfolded in performance. Time’s construction and circulation lie in the quotidian, sedimenting in bodies and encounter. This played out vividly in 2007 when heavily armed paramilitary Special Tactics Group operatives conducted raids across Aotearoa-New Zealand, with the brunt falling hardest upon the Urewera homelands of Ngāi Tūhoe people. The operation was authorized by the mechanics of the Terrorism Suppression Act 2002, modeled upon the Patriot Act and passed under urgency by Parliament in response to United States pressure. One of the most haunting markers of the 2007 Urewera state terror raids is not the scale of intervention, nor even the disproportionate use of force against civilians: it is a battered shack standing sentinel over the staging point of the paramilitary forces, across the historic confiscation line on Ngāi Tūhoe homesoil, where jagged lettering scrawls one child’s fear:

I cried because we were hungry & scared 
5 years old Oct 15, 2007 (Morse 2010) 

As I once bitterly quipped, in this moment, a country invaded itself. Brought into its wake was the legal instrument known as the Waitangi Tribunal, a meeting point of history from above and history from below. It is not a court. It is not a judicial body. It is not a legislative body. It is not a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It is a bureaucracy. The word “bureaucracy” strikes fear into the hearts of the academic: but could it be, that this hybrid creature, breaking the normal flow of bureaucracy itself, short-circuits pastness and futurity?

Ryan Hartigan is an artist and scholar from Aotearoa-New Zealand and Teaching Fellow in Theatre at the University of Otago, having relocated home after a number of years as faculty in the USA. His book project considers Indigenous performance, temporality, history, and the law in Canada, Australia, and Aotearoa-New Zealand, a chapter of which appears in the recent volume Law and Performance. He is also working on a long-term project on the scapegoating of mental illness vis-a-vis active shooting incidents in the USA. His research has won awards from ATHE, UCLA, UCSB, TaPRA (UK) and ADSA; he is an internationally award-winning director, and is a veteran of a plethora of improv festivals globally, including an evening of dystopia in Juneau, Alaska.