Celebrating Kuranui College’s success are, clockwise from top right, performing arts teacher Juanita McLellan, hip-hop choreographer Awhina Southey, contemporary dance choreographer Amelia Butcher and director AJ Southey. PHOTO/HAYLEY GASTMEIER

Kuranui students shine at Showquest

ELISA VORSTER
elisa.vorster@age.co.nz

A group of Kuranui College students were crowned champions of the inaugural Wellington Showquest final this week, after a moving performance with a personal connection to World War II.

Showquest replaces Stage Challenge – a competition that involved more than 500,000 students over its 25 years and was the highlight of schools’ cultural calendars.

The 60-member performance team from Kuranui was led by Year 13 student AJ Southey, who composed and a piece based around the 28th Maori Battalion and Pvt. Mehaka Rewi, who was a driver in the desert campaign with the battalion.

“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,” AJ said.

This realisation spurred him to find out more about his family history and create the central idea for the team’s Showquest theme.

He was helped by a crew of students, including contemporary dance choreographer Amelia Butcher and hip-hop choreographers Awhina Southey and Betsy Laybourn.

The students wanted to honour those who had fought in the war, especially those who had not returned.

“The audience was moved to tears,” said performing arts teacher Juanita McLellan.

“The whole entire piece gripped them all from start to finish.”

The group were one of five acts to compete in the regional final and faced a panel of three judges, with each one scoring the different aspects of the performance.

As part of the entry criteria, each school had to include dance, drama, music and visual art, as well as using technology to create a video backdrop to their performance.

One of the judges said schools which showed a connection to family and friends were often the most powerful on stage.

“Kuranui’s video wall had to be carefully integrated within the whole entire piece,” said McLellan.

“We used black and white photos of the Maori Battalion merged in with present day.

“It sent a strong message about who we are and where we’ve come from.”

The Showquest final was funded by the Ministry of Education, which provided a one-off grant of $800,000 to the organisers of Rockquest to run the event.

To reduce venue hire costs, the National Final will be judged online by a new panel of judges.

Videos of the eight regional finalists will be presented to the judges in September to determine the overall winner.