News | 30 May 2023
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Using dance to celebrate and explore Sāmoan heritage

Street dancer Kaysee Savali is making waves in the performance industry as the first female Sāmoan dancer to be given a dance development residency at Toi Pōneke Arts Centre. Her five-week residency has given her the opportunity to explore her heritage through her project ‘The Wave of the Woman.’

A woman mid-dance with her arm up, standing behind a set of window frames.

After moving back to New Zealand from Australia, Kaysee had been feeling a bit lost after jumping from job to job, trying to figure out the right career path. 

She had grown up street dancing and started up at More than Moves Studio in 2016 as a hobby while she was working out her next step. She began to fall in love with the way she could tell stories through dance. 

Deep down, she knew her dream job would be within the performance world, but she never thought that she could turn it into a tangible career.

“I guess I was just scared. I didn’t know you could make a career out of it. It was so scary to even try," Kaysee says.

A woman standing infront of a set.

In 2018, an idea formed around exploring the stories of the women in her life and the journey a Pacific islander woman goes through. 

She applied for a residency at Toi Pōneke Arts Centre in 2023, which she was offered, and has been exploring those stories with dance ever since. 

“I just admire the women in my life. The idea for ‘The Wave of the Woman’ is an ode to my mum. It’s a look at the relationship between a mother and daughter as they try to discover who they are as women in the world. 

“The story is about me as her daughter, growing up in a different society compared to the one she grew up in. It’s about our journey of trying to find each other and connect. Despite the differences in what we think and what we go through, our stories intertwine and intersect in so many ways.” 

Black and white photo of a woman dancing behind a set.

To be the first Sāmoan female in residency is a huge honour to Kaysee. 

“I think this project is super timely. The idea came to me in 2018 and its more relevant than ever now. It’s been an emotional journey because the story is my life, my own experiences and what I’ve gone through. Being in the residency allows me to peel back those layers and enjoy it for what it is. 

“I’m also aware that while it’s an honour, there should have been other female Sāmoan residents before me. I love and celebrate this position that I’m in, but this needs to be opened up to many more people in my community. It should be known to them that these opportunities exist and are there for the taking. It’s all about your ideas, and if you believe in them.”

Two women standing together on the right hand side, with their reflections showing in a mirror on the left.

Toi Pōneke emerging production designer Asha Barr has been working alongside Kaysee to bring this story to life. 

Asha believes that the collaboration between them has been extremely powerful because of the links she has found in her own life.

“It’s been one of the most grounding processes. I was drawing so much and really let myself dream. At the beginning of this we all interviewed our mums and will have the transcripts up on the walls. My mum even helped me with my application. It’s amazing to produce this.”

With only a week left in the residency before the industry showing, where Kaysee performs her dance, she is incredibly proud of how far she has come in such a short time. 

“I've been really blessed working with some incredibly passionate and creative women. They’ve shaped this project so much, I’m so proud.

If she has any advice for other creatives within the Pasifika community and beyond, it’s this.

“You can live the life you create. You can be in these spaces. Your story is enough. If you tell it, people will listen. We need to normalise seeing people like us in the creative industry, our stories are allowed to be in these spaces too.” 

Find out more about Kaysee Savali and Asha Barr, or check out Toi Pōneke website to see the current residencies