My name is Navitalai Waqavotuwale and I am a dancer with contemporary Fijian Dance company VOU. I started dancing at the age of 16 at the VOU School and have since joined the company as a dancer, choreographer and teacher. I am trained in ballet, contemporary, jazz and traditional Pacific dance styles.
In August of 2014, I was given the privilege of representing Fiji in an indigenous dance residency programme in Santa Fe, New Mexico with world-renowned Native American choreographer Rulan Tangen and the Dancing Earth Company. This is an annual gathering of artists from indigenous communities across the world. In 2014, Fiji was represented for the first time amongst 12 other indigenous communities to engage in cultural exchanges and sharing for the incubation of choreographic ideas and inspiration. We would spend close to 15 hours daily on land dancing, site-specific improvisation, cultural sharing, feeding and travelling.
This intensive allowed for me to share space, time and thought with well established choreographers, performers and artists from all over the world. This was a great opportunity to observe and absorb the lifestyles and behaviour of professional artists. Through conversation and sharing, we acknowledged our individual struggles and celebrations and those of the communities we represented. As the youngest participant and relatively lesser experienced, I was so fortunate to be exposed to artists who did me the great favour of challenging my perspective of dance as a mere technical and physical activity. With each passing day I caught on to their reverence for the art form in its connection to the land, time, food, people, pain, memory, and much that I was not open to seeing prior to this experience. The volume and depth that this realisation adds to dance is phenomenal and necessary. With this, I have begun playing and experimenting with my own creative processes as a choreographer of contemporary Fijian dance and thinking about its importance and relevance to Fiji and Fijians.
I personally feel that not enough is known about contemporary Fijian dance, not by the general Fijian population nor by those of us that practice it. It is finding itself in its own way and process and this can’t be rushed. More people need to be thinking about it before they can start talking about it and eventually seeking it out within their own bodies by practicing it. However, they need to know about it first, and people can be educated to its existence through constant exposure in more local performances, workshops, curriculum in schools as early as secondary and so forth. This is important because it gives Fijians yet another medium, possibly even more familiar than the written word, to tell their stories and realities as young Fijians living in todays Fiji, as opposed to the postcard paradise that the world might see it to be. This is necessary, liberating and empowering for Fijian youths and can ultimately be a viable career path.
The residency programme in Santa Fe was such an enlightening experience, educational to the necessity of contemporary art, and was but one more step in this journey. My sincerest and heartfelt gratitude to the Ministry of Culture and Heritage for their support in making this possible and realising the credibility and potential of the arts in Fiji. Vinaka Vakalevu.