After footage of five bullfights, choreographer Taane Mete had seen enough. "It's definitely not my type of sport."
Yet he was entranced by the spectacle and physicality. Mete and fellow dance company member Taiaroa Royal had been tasked to create a number of dance sequences for New Zealand Festival's Paniora. The debut play, written by Briar Grace-Smith and based on real people, follows a family of Maori and Spanish heritage and features a bullfighting scene.
"My thinking was, we didn't want a papier-mache bull on stage or a mechanical bull walk on, but actually physicalise that with physical bodies."
Despite a little discomfort, Mete learned as much as he could about the bloodsport, to ensure his dancers properly captured the energy of the animal. "The male bull draws a lot of its mother's strength in the womb."
The final sequence has four male dancers "shape-shift" into the bull. "It's going to be fiery; it's going to be really, really awesome."
Real-life Spanish whaler Manuel Jose de Frutos Huerta emigrated to New Zealand in 1835. Settling on the North Island's East Coast, he married five Ngati Porou women simultaneously.
Over 16,000 people today claim to be of the Paniora - the Maori equivalent for Spaniard - bloodline, a hapu known for a particular fire in the blood.
Play director Colin McColl approached Mete and Royal's Okareka dance company after seeing the work they did on last year's production of K Rd Strip, an insight into the drag scene of Auckland's Karangahape Rd.
The dancers' second challenge for Paniora was a Spanish twist on the haka, Royal says. "We needed to created movement that portrayed both cultures as true as possible."
The end result is a "flamenco-Maori haka-contemporary dance fusion". The company brought in a professional Flamenco dance teacher to show them the basics. Only then did they really understand the task they faced.
"The movements are completely different. Maori movement is quite down and earthy, with a wide stance, whereas in flamenco the shoulders are lifted, the chest is very proud.
"But the essence of both cultures is pretty similar ... Both the Spaniards and the Maori are quite fiery people."
But the duo are well versed in harmonising conflicting styles. "We're a Maori contemporary dance company, so we're blending Maori and European cultures all the time."
Between them, Mete and Royal had over 60 years of international dance experience. They founded Okareka in 2007, though Paniora is their first collaboration with a theatre company.
As part of the festival, Mete and a number of other cast members will run a workshop on the choreographic process next week. Dance and drama students are invited to work with the Paniora creative team to create their own version of a bullfight. "It won't necessarily be the same bullfight as you'll see on stage," Mete says.
"But we'll find a way so the workshop people become quite physical and create their own bull in their own way."
"It's about finding some key ideas that help bring a bull alive that day."
Paniora at Soundings Theatre, Te Papa runs today till Saturday, 7.30pm, as well as performances on Sunday at 2.30pm and March 4 and 5 at 7.30pm. A Festival Talk on the play is at Westpac Festival Hub, St James Theatre, tomorrow, 1pm and a Workshop, Soundings Theatre. March 5, 9.30am.
- The Dominion Post