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Students win centre stage

Kuranui College students performing at Wellington Showquest. PHOTOS/SUPPLIED

Story by Tom Taylor

Wairarapa high schools shone through the competition at a region-wide performing arts showcase that explored significant societal issues while entertaining an audience.

Greytown’s Kuranui College claimed first place at the Wellington Showquest at Michael Fowler Centre on Tuesday night. Their peers at Masterton’s Wairarapa College took home the second-place title.

Kuranui College students with their first place Showquest trophy. L-R: Showquest judge Xavier Breed; students Anna Laybourn, Lola Armstrong, Sorcha O’Donoghue, Georgina Birrell; judges Grace Palmer and Rob Ormsby.

Showquest judges were so impressed with Kuranui College’s performance that they described it as “tertiary level” and invited Kuranui students to attend the New Zealand School of Dance [NZSD] in Wellington for a day of workshops.

Kuranui College dance teacher Karin Melchior said the result was especially impressive considering the number of Year 9 and 10 students in the Kuranui team.

“I thought it was looking really good, but honestly, their performance just came up so amazingly in the actual show.”

Year 12 student Lola Armstrong received a special accolade for Performance Excellence, winning a week-long scholarship in NZSD’s contemporary programme.

“I can choose any week I want and go to the New Zealand School of Dance and join in with their regular classes for a whole week … I was planning to audition there this year, so it’s pretty cool.”

Armstrong had been dancing since she was about five years old, attending the Geraldine Inder School of Dance and Drama in Masterton alongside many of the other student-leaders.

Armstrong choreographed most of the contemporary elements of the school’s eight-minute performance.

Performances had to include a minimum of 30 students up to a maximum of 100. Kuranui’s team included 39 performers from Year 9 to 13.

Each performance had to follow a theme. However, the choice of theme was left wide open to students, with points and awards given for originality.

Kuranui students chose the theme of the Waikeria prison riots that happened in late 2020 and early 2021.

Year 13 student Anna Laybourn came up with the concept and took on a leadership role to coordinate the performance.

She said Kuranui’s performances aimed to inform people rather than simply entertain them.

“We tend to tell a story to try to educate people about things they might not necessarily know about.”

Year 12 student Oliver Penman helped to lead the hip-hop choreography within the dance.

He said while some schools tried to address broad issues such as equality or global warming, Kuranui had chosen to tackle a more specific New Zealand-based problem.

“People are too focused on the big stuff. They don’t see the smaller issues,” Penman said.

Laybourn said the main message underpinning the performance was that the Waikeria prisoners were not receiving their human rights.

“They are prisoners, and they are in prison for a reason, but they still deserve to be treated as humans and have their rights.”

‘Prisoners’ in Kuranui’s performance wore jumpsuits and carried food trays as props.

Armstrong said lighting and visual effects had complemented the performance, with a video wall behind the dancers depicting fires during the riots.

“Obviously, we couldn’t be on a roof while we were dancing, or set fires on the stage, so we had that shown in the video wall, and it helped to get the message across.”

Audio for the performance included snippets of reporters covering the riots.

Students started preparing for the Showquest in April, devoting lunchtimes and ‘Inspire time’ [weekly sessions where Kuranui students learn skills outside of the classroom curriculum] to practise.

On top of their first-place award, Kuranui College won awards for Best Use of Drama, Best Choreography, and Best Lighting.

Wairarapa College picked up the second-place award for their sustainable fishing-themed performance. The school also won awards for Costume and Enhancement, Best Use of Props, and Best Use of Video Wall.

Year 9 student J’jay Hemi won the Outstanding Rangatahi Award for his part in the performance.

Judges would review footage from each of the 15 regional Showquests to name the top entry nationwide in September.

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