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Creative life

by  Nancy Swarbrick

Since the 1970s New Zealand has seen an outpouring of creativity from writers, film-makers, craftspeople, fashion designers, musicians and others. With vigour and originality, the country’s artistic community is breaking new ground both at home and on the world stage.

New Zealand creativity

Creative activities – music, literature, visual arts, design, architecture and performing arts – are central to New Zealand’s identity. Telling New Zealand stories is an accepted part of New Zealand art, but connecting with ideas from around the world is an equally strong feature. Cultural exchanges between New Zealand and other countries have been enriching both ways.

Different traditions

New Zealand creativity arises from distinct traditions: those of the indigenous Māori people, the mainly British immigrants who arrived after 1840, and post-Second World War arrivals from Pacific, Asian and European countries. In recent years interaction between these cultures within New Zealand has resulted in some distinctive art.

Support for artists

New Zealand has produced many artists of international stature – people like composer Douglas Lilburn, painter Colin McCahon and novelist Janet Frame. Once, such people struggled for recognition because of the country’s isolation and small population, and its focus on practical rather than creative skills. Many had to go overseas to make a living, and many still do. However, public and private support for arts and culture began to grow noticeably during the 1940s and 1950s, and gained pace in the later 20th century.

Suffering for art

A survey of New Zealand artists, including musicians, writers and craftspeople, revealed that in 1999 their median annual income from all sources was just $20,700, compared with the national median of $27,934. Two-thirds earned less than $10,000 from their art alone. Suggested reasons include the small audience, few jobs, and comparatively limited government subsidies. As one artist says, ‘In other parts of the world, if you were working as hard and consistently as a number of us are … you wouldn’t be struggling financially.’ 1

Post-1970s expansion

Since the 1970s the cultural sector – audiences, and artists and others who make a living from the arts – has blossomed. New arts organisations have been established, many with public funding. A new national museum, Te Papa Tongarewa, opened in Wellington in 1998. Increased government support is managed by a ministry, established in 1991, and spearheaded by Creative New Zealand (The Arts Council of New Zealand: Toi Aotearoa). There are more training courses and institutions for visual arts, drama, kapa haka (Māori traditional performing arts) and dance. Art galleries and theatres have multiplied, as have awards for artistic achievement and grants for emerging artists. Festivals showcasing everything from film to chamber music to ‘wearable arts’ have become regular events. The best known is the biennial New Zealand International Arts Festival. The organisation began in 1984 in Wellington, and the first festival was held in 1986.

Culture and identity

The reasons for this burst of creative activity are economic and social. Since the 1970s New Zealand has undergone profound change. It is now a more open, deregulated and multicultural society, with stronger ties to neighbouring Pacific and Asian countries. This has been reflected in the arts, from the creation of home-grown television programmes, to the Polynesian influence on popular music, to the design innovations of the 1980s. An important development has been the ‘Māori renaissance’, involving a resurgence of Māori traditional and contemporary arts.

Culture on the move

Singer and dancer Mika is a veteran of four consecutive Edinburgh International Festivals. With his dance company Torotoro he has presented such shows as Mika Haka – a dynamic blend of Māori kapa haka (traditional performing arts), hip hop, funk and break dance.

Taking New Zealand culture to the world

Since the 1970s, too, the process of taking New Zealand art to the world has accelerated. Expatriate artists such as short-story writer Katherine Mansfield, painter Frances Hodgkins, kinetic sculptor Len Lye and opera singer Kiri Te Kanawa have achieved world prominence as individuals, but until recently New Zealand art and creative artists generally have received minimal exposure overseas. Increasingly New Zealand film, literature, visual arts and design, theatrical and musical performances have achieved international accolades. Now New Zealand arts are represented at major cultural events around the globe.

    • Sarah Boyd, ‘Suffering for their art.’ Dominion Post, 27 March 2004, E1. › Back

Visual arts and crafts

A long tradition

The history of visual arts, crafts and design in New Zealand stretches back some 700 years to the first Māori arrivals from East Polynesia, with their rich inheritance of carving and weaving. Western arts, crafts and photography, introduced by 19th-century settlers, soon adapted to a new land while remaining open to overseas influences. Wide public appreciation of both traditions is a relatively recent phenomenon.

Art appreciation

A 2002 survey found that 36% of New Zealanders purchased an original work of art or craft in the previous 12 months, while 48% visited a gallery or museum. There are many public and private galleries in New Zealand, catering to the large audience for visual arts. Artists such as painters John Reynolds, Bill Hammond and Peter Robinson, sculptors Neil Dawson and Jacqueline Fraser, photographer Anne Noble, and glass artist Ann Robinson have a strong following.


The metropolitan centres have major art galleries, including the Auckland Art Gallery, the City Gallery in Wellington, the Christchurch Art Gallery and the Dunedin Public Art Gallery. The Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa in Wellington holds the national art collection. Some collections and galleries such as the Suter art museum in Nelson are long established, but others, such as The Dowse in Lower Hutt and the Govett-Brewster gallery in New Plymouth, have been founded in the last 30 years. Dealer galleries did not become permanent fixtures until the 1960s; now they are numerous. The internet is increasingly used as a means of selling art and craft work.

Developing artists

The Arts Council (known as Creative New Zealand) provides funding for established and emerging artists and curators to develop exhibitions and projects, or to travel to gain experience. Various professional associations, from Photoforum to the New Zealand Society of Potters, support groups of artists or craftspeople in their work. Art education is widely available through universities, polytechnics and private art schools. The major New Zealand art publication is Art New Zealand, which features writing from the popular to the scholarly.

The creative drive

‘This is the Trekka’, artist Michael Stevenson’s installation for the 2003 Venice Biennale, was a reflection on New Zealand’s relationship with the rest of the world. The Trekka was a utility vehicle modelled on the jeep, combining New Zealand components with a Czechoslovakian chassis and Škoda engine. Manufactured in the 1960s and 1970s when new cars were scarce in New Zealand, it symbolised Kiwi ingenuity and dreams of self-sufficiency. But its imported design and materials revealed New Zealand’s economic and cultural dependence on other countries.

Māori art

Māori artists have increased in number and influence since the 1970s, when Ngā Puna Waihanga (the Association of Māori Arts and Writers) began. Long-established contemporary artists such as Ralph Hotere, Para Matchitt and Robyn Kahukiwa have been joined by new talent such as Michael Parekowhai and Shane Cotton. A landmark event was the Te Māori exhibition of 1984 which took traditional Māori art to the world and also opened the eyes of New Zealanders. Traditional and contemporary Māori art is fostered by Toi Māori Aotearoa, an artists’ network, and the integrity of Māori arts and crafts is protected by toi iho, the ‘Māori-made’ trademark.

The bigger picture

New Zealand art and craft is gradually achieving greater exposure overseas. The Sydney Biennale and the Asia-Pacific Triennale have influenced the development of New Zealand art in recent decades. However it was 2001 before New Zealand participated in the Venice Biennale, and the first major exhibition in the United States of contemporary art from New Zealand and the Pacific opened in 2004.

Design and fashion

A practical design tradition

It is now a cliché to say that design in New Zealand reflects the national characteristic of down-to-earth ingenuity – often referred to as the ‘No 8 wire’ attitude (because of the inventive use of farmers’ fencing wire). But it is certainly true that New Zealand design classics are responses to the demands of the local environment, often developed using cheap or readily available materials. The feather cloak and pāua-shell fish lure, essential to survival for the first Māori, were also beautiful objects, treasured down the generations. Similarly, the Crown Lynn ceramic vase and the plywood ‘Curvesse’ chair – practical items developed later – have an elegant simplicity that arises from their function.

Development of local design

Until the 1980s much industrial, interior, graphic, jewellery and fashion design in New Zealand was heavily influenced by international trends. In addition, New Zealand’s geographical isolation and import restrictions, which limited the availability of new technology, meant that local design had a somewhat home-grown feeling. Mechanical inventions such as the Hamilton jet boat engine and the John Britten motorcycle, along with clothing, backpacks and equipment for the outdoors, revealed an innovative side to New Zealand design. By the mid-1990s, there was a new feeling of confidence as designers used Māori, Pacific and New Zealand images and materials in their work, and a style called ‘Pacific minimalism’ emerged.

Various organisations were established to foster New Zealand design from 1949 onwards. The New Zealand Industrial Design Council operated from 1967 until the late 1980s. Finally in 1991 the remaining organisations merged to form the Designers Institute of New Zealand, promoting graphic, spatial, industrial, fashion and craft design, and the management and teaching of these disciplines.

Global markets

The approach to industrial design in New Zealand has become more sophisticated and outward-looking. By targeting particular buyers, using new technology, investing in research, and marketing carefully, some manufacturers are achieving global success. Their products are often everyday objects such as dishwashers, chairs and buses incorporating previously unheard-of improvements. A government organisation, the Design Industry Taskforce, is promoting design standards with New Zealand companies in order to lift exports of New Zealand-designed products. Another industry influenced by globalism is that centred on computer and web design.

Going far

One of the few areas in which New Zealand has ever been able to claim world dominance is yacht design. Based in the USA, Auckland-born Bruce Farr has designed yachts that have won numerous world titles. Farr-designed boats have been in every round-the-world yacht race since 1981, winning in 1986, 1990, 1994 and 1998.


Once the words ‘New Zealand’ and ‘fashion’ were rarely seen in the same sentence. Half a world away from the world’s fashion capitals, New Zealanders were always a season behind the latest trends, and the rigours of climate and occupation often made comfort more important than style. A casual lifestyle and the popularity of outdoor pursuits influenced the way New Zealanders dressed; these factors are reflected in a small range of distinctive garments still manufactured and worn: the Swanndri bush shirt, and jandals, for example. They also spawned fashion crimes such as ‘walk shorts’ worn with long ‘walk socks’: popular business garb for men from the late 1950s until the 1980s.

Followers and leaders

Followers of fashion were always eager to adopt trends from overseas. From 1964 until 1995 the annual Benson and Hedges fashion shows encouraged local design talent, but the fashion industry still looked overseas for inspiration. This gradually changed, and at London Fashion Week in 1999, four New Zealand labels – World, Nom D, Zambesi and Karen Walker – were hailed as style leaders, with a ‘dark and intellectual’ look.

The fashion industry

The New Zealand fashion industry is also benefiting from a global market. Design courses, many offered by polytechnics, have proliferated, and Auckland, Wellington and Dunedin are leading fashion centres. The concept of design and art ‘incubators’ has caught on in New Zealand, and they can be found in the main centres. They provide free or low-cost studio space and business mentoring to help emerging designers and artists establish careers. The annual New Zealand Fashion Week, first held in 2001, allows designers to showcase their work.



Much of New Zealand architecture has been strongly influenced by overseas trends. In the mid-19th century British immigrants favoured the building types they had left behind. Later European and American styles became fashionable. Some notable examples of imported architectural ideas include the Gothic revival style of the 1840s–1860s, as interpreted by English architects Benjamin Mountfort and Frederick Thatcher, and the modernist aesthetic introduced in the 1930s by European architects such as Ernst Plischke.

But from the start these architectural influences were gradually adapted to the local environment. For instance, wood construction became popular because of the ready supply of timber. Architects became more aware of the country’s climate, light and informal lifestyle. And unique New Zealand structures – such as the Māori whare (house) and the shed – influenced architectural practice.

The whare

As protection against the cool climate, the first Māori constructed rectangular buildings (known as whare) with a very small door, an extension of the roof and walls to form a porch, and an interior with hearths along the centre and sleeping places along the walls. This plan is still followed in modern Māori meeting houses, and has inspired the design of other types of buildings.

The shed

European settlers needed simple, functional buildings such as wool and milking sheds that could be made from local materials. This approach influenced the style of the typical New Zealand holiday home – the bach, or crib – which was often made of cheap materials such as fibrolite (asbestos sheeting), corrugated iron or recycled timber.

Built heritage

Despite the efforts of the New Zealand Historic Places Trust, set up in 1954 to protect heritage places and buildings (and renamed Heritage New Zealand in 2014), the diversity of New Zealand’s architectural heritage was not fully appreciated until the late 20th century. The commercial property boom of the 1980s saw many notable old buildings demolished to make way for bland tower blocks. Although the Resource Management Act 1991 is supposed to regulate such development, there is still little real protection for historic buildings. However, a change of attitude can be detected: the successful promotion of Napier’s art deco city centre as a tourist attraction is one example.

Architectural training

Architectural practice flourishes in New Zealand. Notable recent public buildings include the Academy of Performing Arts at the University of Waikato (Warren & Mahoney), the Wellington airport terminal (Craig Craig Moller), Victoria University of Wellington’s Adam Art Gallery (Ian Athfield) and the Maths, Statistics and Computer Science Building at Canterbury University (Architectus). Training is offered at Victoria University of Wellington, Auckland University and Unitec in Auckland. The New Zealand Institute of Architects is the main professional body, and supports high standards through annual awards. Magazines such as Architecture New Zealand act as a forum for ideas.

Film and broadcasting


Watching movies, videos or DVDs is one of the most popular cultural activities with New Zealanders: a 2002 survey showed that around 40% of the population participated in these activities over a four week period. There is a wider range of New Zealand films to watch, and these also attract overseas audiences and acclaim.

Amazing feats

The final movie in Peter Jackson’s screen trilogy The lord of the rings dominated the 2004 Academy Awards. Although not the first movie to win 11 Oscars or all the categories it was nominated for, The return of the king was the first to achieve both records. Guinness World Records point out that the movie was also the fastest ever to gross $US1 billion at the box office. Moreover the first film in the trilogy, The fellowship of the ring, achieved a world record for the most pairs of latex feet made for a movie (over 1,600).

The New Zealand film industry

Boosted by the arrival of talking pictures in the 1920s, a New Zealand film industry developed slowly. The National Film Unit, founded in 1941, nurtured documentary film-making, but few feature films were made before the 1970s. The government-funded New Zealand Film Commission, established in 1978, financially assisted film makers. Movie production boomed from the 1980s.

A world view

Major international recognition for a New Zealand feature film came in 1994 when The piano won an Oscar and a Cannes Film Festival Palme d’Or for its director, Jane Campion. Now films like Whale rider and The lord of the rings break box office records around the world. Directors such as Lee Tamahori and Peter Jackson, and actors such as Sam Neill and Kerry Fox are well known beyond New Zealand.

The real thing

Part of the international appeal of the film Whale rider is its authentic New Zealand atmosphere. The story refers to the tale of Paikea, the Polynesian ancestor of the Ngāti Porou tribe, who arrived in New Zealand on the back of a whale. The movie was shot on location in the Ngāti Porou coastal community of Whāngārā. And many of the extras are locals – descendants of Paikea, the first whale rider.

Preserving and promoting film

Film societies and festivals cater to the audience for art-house and documentary film. New Zealand’s film heritage is collected, protected and projected through the efforts of the New Zealand Film Archive (now part of Ngā Taonga Sound and Vision) and Archives New Zealand.

The development of radio and television

Broadcasting is perhaps the most effective means of communicating and shaping culture. Radio arrived in New Zealand in 1922, but it was not until 1960 that television was introduced. Additional channels and colour television were not available until the 1970s. About this time, substantial local content appeared, particularly drama series and soap operas, which were the forerunners of favourites such as Shortland Street.

Change and choice

With deregulation from state control in the 1980s, there was a sudden increase in radio and television stations, including pay television. In 2004 New Zealand had three major free-to-air television channels, a number of pay television networks, and over 200 radio stations including two national non-commercial radio networks, National Radio and Concert FM.

Serving community needs

Ensuring more local content on radio and television is a major aim of the Broadcasting Commission (known as New Zealand on Air) and is behind the restructuring of Television New Zealand as a Crown-owned company with a charter. Another aim is to provide programmes specifically for Māori. There are 21 Māori radio stations, a national Māori-language news service, and a Māori television channel. Pacific Island and other immigrant and community groups have started their own radio stations and have programmes on public-access radio.

Writing and publishing

New Zealand literature

Māori and settler experiences have provided different insights into life in New Zealand, and a rich literature has developed. Writers from diverse cultural backgrounds, such as poet Bill Manhire, novelists Patricia Grace, Albert Wendt, Maurice Gee and children’s writer Margaret Mahy, are prominent in New Zealand and elsewhere.

Māori writing and publishing

Māori people quickly saw the advantages of writing and printing for conveying ideas, in their own language and in English. Song poetry, part of a vigorous oral tradition, was published in collections, notably Ngā mōteatea, compiled by Apirana Ngata from the 1920s. In the 1960s and 1970s poet Hone Tuwhare and novelist Witi Ihimaera led the way for creative writing in English.

Settling in

Nineteenth-century settlers were initially more convincing when they wrote of actual rather than imagined events, as the diaries and reportage of that period show. With the passing of time, however, writers such as Jane Mander, Ursula Bethell, Frank Sargeson, Allen Curnow and James K. Baxter produced poetry and fiction of lasting value. A self-conscious nationalist literary movement beginning in the 1930s influenced writers for several decades. Since then a more international literature has emerged, with exponents such as novelist Elizabeth Knox.

Support for professional writers

The New Zealand Society of Authors (PEN NZ) Inc lobbies for the interests of professional writers in dealing with publishers, broadcasting organisations and professional theatres, and negotiating copyright and royalty issues. The New Zealand Writers’ Guild represents writers in the fields of film, television, radio, theatre, video and multimedia. There are now over 50 awards, grants and competitions for writers, and a growing number of writing courses, many offered by universities and polytechnics. Literary magazines have come and gone since Landfall was founded in 1947; they now include Sport and (until 2019) New Zealand Books.

The book trade

Local publishing houses, including university presses, operate in a small, competitive market. Their concerns are addressed by the Book Publishers Association of New Zealand. Some large national publishing firms like Whitcombe & Tombs have been absorbed into multinational companies. Booksellers New Zealand promotes the sale of New Zealand books and manages several national book awards. 

Talking about writing

In New Zealand book groups – usually consisting of 7 to 12 people – are extremely popular. Members usually discuss a particular book at convivial monthly meetings, where eating, drinking and socialising are often an important component. The Book Discussion Scheme run by the Federation of Workers Educational Associations has been operating since 1973. It has over 640 groups nationwide, and 56% of the membership is outside the four main urban centres.


New Zealanders are enthusiastic readers. According to a 2002 survey, 44% of the adult population had purchased books in the previous four weeks, and 39% had visited locally funded public libraries. They are encouraged by organisations like the New Zealand Book Council, and by local events and national festivals such as the Auckland Writers Festival and the Writers Programme in the New Zealand Festival of the Arts.


Popular music

Blues, jazz and country music arrived from America in the 1920s and 1930s, while rock and roll made its entrance in 1955 and hip hop in 1985. New Zealand musicians and songwriters, including artists such as jazz pianist Mike Nock and popular singer Bic Runga, and groups such as Split Enz, The Muttonbirds and The Datsuns, have contributed to these global movements. The national importance of popular music was recognised by the establishment in 2000 of the government-funded New Zealand Music Industry Commission, which promotes New Zealand music.

The recording industry

A 2002 survey found that over a 12-month period, three-quarters of the adult population listened to popular music on the radio, and over a third attended live performances. Imported music is widely available through commercial radio, CDs, DVDs and videos and increasingly the internet. In addition, a New Zealand music recording industry has developed since the late 1940s. Its heyday was in the 1980s when energetic local recording company Flying Nun pushed bands from Dunedin such as The Clean and The Chills to achieve success in Britain and the United States.

Māori and Pacific music

Māori singers and songwriters such as Howard Morrison, Prince Tui Teka, Dalvanius Prime, Moana Maniapoto and Hinewehi Mohi have developed a distinctive Māori-influenced style, and popular music has helped in the revival of the Māori language. The Māori Music Industry Coalition was launched to support this goal. Pacific rhythms and melodies have influenced new sounds such as poly-funk and Pacific blues, heard in the music of Ardijah, Che Fu, and Nesian Mystik. In 2004 the hip hop artist Scribe, of Samoan heritage, dominated the New Zealand Music Awards.

Reckless rockers

Cultural trends – even the notorious excesses of rock bands – usually wash up in some form on New Zealand’s shores. While staying at a less than salubrious Hamilton motel, members of Wellington rock group Shihad lamented that they had not yet thrown a television out of a window. Drummer Tom Larkin made it clear that televisions were not in the tour budget. It was decided after some discussion that a toaster was affordable. Guitarist Phil Knight threw it and it reached the road – narrowly missing a passing Mercedes.

Cultural traditions

Folk music has always had an audience, and folk music clubs are widespread. World music is also gaining ground. One of the earliest types of ethnic music introduced to New Zealand was the Scottish pipe band, and there are many around the country. New ethnic groups are bringing their music to New Zealand. Some, like the group Many Hands, fuse their different cultural traditions to produce a unique sound.

Awards and festivals

There are regular jazz, folk, ethnic and country music awards and festivals, some of which have been in existence for decades. Large music festivals, for example Sweetwaters, Nambassa and The Big Day Out, have been staged periodically since the 1970s. The promotional New Zealand Music Month takes place annually. The New Zealand Music Awards provide recognition for excellence in all aspects of the recorded music industry.

Classical music

Classical music has a smaller but significant audience – in a 2002 survey, 11% of New Zealanders attended live performances of classical music, and 26% listened to it on the radio over a 12-month period. Leading classical artists visited New Zealand more frequently after the Second World War, and a few local musicians, such as pianists Maurice Till and later Michael Houstoun, began to establish professional careers. Before then, much classical music was produced by amateurs: for instance, there is a strong tradition of amateur choral singing, and brass bands were once found in every small town.


New Zealand has produced many internationally acclaimed singers, notably Donald McIntyre, Malvina Major, Kiri Te Kanawa and more recently Jonathan Lemalu. Many started on the path to success by winning the Mobil Song Quest (now the Lexus Song Quest). In New Zealand professional opera productions are staged by the NBR New Zealand Opera and regional opera companies. The New Zealand Choral Federation, established in 1985, links community, youth and church choirs around New Zealand.

Instrumental music

The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra (NZSO) was founded in 1946, and the NZSO Chamber Orchestra in 1987. There are also professional orchestras in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin. Chamber Music New Zealand, established in Wellington in 1945, brings world-renowned chamber groups to the country, and showcases local ensembles such as the New Zealand String Quartet, founded in 1987. Early European music also has a following. Contemporary music groups such as From Scratch and Strike perform works for percussion and other instruments. Traditional Māori music has also been performed by musicians such as Hirini Melbourne and Richard Nunns.


New Zealand composition has developed since the 1940s, when composer Douglas Lilburn rose to prominence. It has been influenced by Asian and Pacific music. Since 1991 the work of composers such as Jack Body, Gillian Whitehead, Gareth Farr and John Psathas has been promoted by the Centre for New Zealand Music (SOUNZ).

Performing arts


Visiting American, English and Australian companies brought theatrical productions to New Zealand as early as the 1860s, but professional theatre developed slowly: it was the 1950s before a full-time theatre company was formed. Nevertheless, there have always been amateur dramatic clubs, repertory theatres and operatic societies throughout the country.

Professional theatre

Professional theatre took root with the establishment in 1964 of Downstage Theatre in Wellington. Several major theatres, including the Court in Christchurch, Centrepoint in Palmerston North, Circa in Wellington and the Fortune in Dunedin, were established in the 1970s. With the Auckland Theatre Company, these are the main professional companies. Alternative theatre reflecting the interests of children, young people and Māori has developed more recently, as have Theatresports and stand-up comedy.

Behind the scenes

Training in theatre arts is provided by Toi Whakaari, The New Zealand Drama School, and other performing arts training institutions. Well-known New Zealand actors, playwrights and directors such as Miranda Harcourt and Jacob Rajan are graduates of Toi Whakaari. Playmarket, a playwright’s agency and script advisory service, has assisted in the development and marketing of plays such as Foreskin’s lament by Greg McGee, Conjugal rites by Roger Hall, and Purapurawhetu by Briar Grace-Smith.


Social dancing, including folk and ballroom, has been a favourite recreation since the 1840s. More recently other kinds of social dance such as rock and roll, line dancing and Ceroc have gained popularity. Ethnic dance also has a long history, with Scottish and Irish folk-dancing clubs being widespread. Other dance forms have caught on, particularly Middle Eastern dance and Argentine tango, which are supported by New Zealand-wide associations.

Dance as performance

Before the 1950s, ballet and contemporary dance tuition was available, but there were no opportunities for professional dancers. The oldest professional dance company in New Zealand, The Royal New Zealand Ballet, was established in 1953. It performs both traditional ballet and contemporary works and has nurtured such well-known dancers as Sir Jon Trimmer. There are a number of contemporary dance companies, including Footnote Dance Company (founded in 1985), Black Grace (1995), Mau Dance (1995), Touch Compass (1997), and Atamira Dance Collective (2000). An annual dance festival called Tempo – New Zealand’s Festival of Dance takes place in Auckland. Dance is taught at several institutions – notably the New Zealand School of Dance and UNITEC’s School of Performing and Screen Arts – and is supported by a national organisation, Dance Aotearoa New Zealand (DANZ).

Kapa Haka Super 12

Many New Zealanders are familiar with the annual rugby Super 12 competition, where teams from around New Zealand, Australia and South Africa vie for the champion’s title. Fewer would be aware of the Kapa Haka Super 12 competition, held at Christmas at Tūranga (Gisborne) since 2001. Twelve groups, each with 12 members, must perform all disciplines of kapa haka (Māori performing arts) within 12 minutes. Performers are encouraged to be as innovative as possible while enhancing the traditional aspects of kapa haka.

Kapa haka

Kapa haka is a traditional Māori performance art form that is unique to New Zealand. It includes haka (posture dance), poi (dance accompanied by song and rhythmic movements of the poi, a light ball on a string) waiata-ā-ringa (action songs) and waiata koroua (traditional chants). It has undergone a revival and there are kapa haka groups in many schools, tertiary education institutions and workplaces.

Notable groups include Waihirere of Tūranganui-a-Kiwa (Poverty Bay), and the multi-tribe Te Waka Huia from Auckland. Kapa haka is promoted and taught by experts such as Ngāpō (Bub) and Nan Wehi, Pita Sharples, Te Hue Rangi and Tihi Puanaki. Since 1972 there has been a regular competition, the Te Matatini National Festival, organised by the Aotearoa Traditional Māori Performing Arts Society.

How to cite this page: Nancy Swarbrick, 'Creative life', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 25 June 2021)

Story by Nancy Swarbrick, published 8 Feb 2005