Kuranui College were crowned inaugural winners of the Showquest Wellington final at the Opera House on Tuesday night.
The performance team of 60 students was led by Kuranui Year 13 student, A.J Southey, who composed and crafted a piece based around the Maori Battalion and Mehaka Rewi. “My great-grandfather fought in World War II and it wasn’t until he passed away that I realised I never really knew who he was,” explained Southey. “I used the platform of Showquest to tell the story of the Maori battalion, through the actions of my great-grandfather Mehaka Rewi”.
This set Southey on a journey of self-discovery and creating the central idea for the team’s Showquest theme. The students wanted to honour those that had fought in the war and come home, but especially those that had sadly not returned.
“I wrote a story structure around my grandmother and my dad as a kid at the grave of Mehaka. I wanted this to frame the story around the tombstone, with no one understanding, and then ending on the characters being changed through reading his war diaries, seeing the actions of the war unfold in dance and drama, and remembering the battalion with manaakitanga.”
“It’s a story that isn’t often told, as we do not honour the Maori battalion as much as we should.”
Southey acknowledged that working with choreographers Awhina Southey, Betsy Laybourn and Amelia Butcher was extraordinary. “I could tell them an idea, and they could communicate it with dance, working it into a moving dance piece. It was really cool to see them take my ideas and convert them to movements.”
Showquest judges noted that schools that showed a connection to family and friends were often the most powerful on stage. “The audience was moved to tears,” said Kuranui’s Performing Arts teacher, Juanita McLellan. “The whole entire piece gripped them all from start to finish.”
As part of the entry criteria, each school had to include all four aspects of the arts, as well as utilising technology in the form of a video backdrop to their performance.
“Kuranui’s video wall had to be carefully integrated within the whole entire piece. We used black and white photos of the Maori Battalion merged in with present day, as well as sand art,’ added McLellan. “It sent a strong message about who we are and where we’ve come from.”
Funded by the Ministry of Education, Showquest replaces the very successful Stage Challenge, which was axed because of mounting costs and dwindling sponsorship funding. Stage Challenge had become the highlight of the school cultural calendar and attracted more than 500,000 students over its 25 years. The Ministry has provided a one-off grant of $800,000 to the organisers of Rockquest to run the new event.
To reduce venue hire costs, the National Final of the new event will be judged on-line by a new panel of judges. Videos of all the regional finalists will be presented to the judges in September to determine the overall winner.
The Kuranui team were presented awards for choreography, theme, production, lighting, wardrobe and enhancement.