Dance Costumes in French Polynesia both representative of larger practice throughout French Poly- • A Brief History of Dance Costumes nesia and capable of being modiﬁed over time and space by local • Costuming the Dancer island aesthetics and preferences. • Le Grand Costume A BRIEF HISTORY OF DANCE COSTUMES • Le Costume Végétal The earliest reports of voyagers Samuel Wallis (1767), Louis An- • Le Costume En Tissu toine de Bougainville (1768), and James Cook (1769) document a history of elaborate dress for dancers in presentational dances that entertained both the chiefs and the general population. A famous drawing by John Webber, artist on Captain James Cook’s A mong the customs French Polynesians perpetuate in the twenty-ﬁrst century, the public performance of choreo- graphed group dances is one of the most popular and highly en- third voyage to the Paciﬁc (1776–1780), depicts female dancers in yards of ﬁnely beaten white tapa (barkcloth), gathered around the waist with long pleats extending to the upper back and shoul- joyed by local audiences. These may be as a school celebration, a ders of the performers. Feathers cover the breasts and hang in way to acknowledge and greet important visitors, an accompani- tassels from the waist, while a crown of ﬁnely braided human hair ment to the large buﬀets that local residents and visitors enjoy at that Cook described as “near a mile long . . . [and] without a single the tourist hotels, or as part of the yearly music and dance com- knott” (Cook 1968, 126) adorns the head, the most sacred part of petitions known as Heiva. Viewed as a locus of artistic creativ- the body. Admired makers were those who skillfully incorporated ity in the culture, costumes, often using natural resources, are an fresh ﬂowers in this elegant headwear. In a remarkable contrast, integral part of performance, and audiences place high value on the male dancers have no head adornment at all and wear an un- the originality and skilled craftsmanship displayed in costum- decorated barkcloth wrap tied at the waist. ing the dancers. Dance dress worn by amateur and professional The Protestant missionaries who introduced Christianity in troupes on the island of Tahiti, taken as a particular example, is 1797 found certain aspects of traditional culture incompatible Costumes of the dance troupe Tamari’i Teahupo’o, winners of the Heiva prize for Best Traditional Costume, with contrastive but complementary designs for men and women, Tahiti, 2006. Photograph by Jane Freeman Moulin. 420 POLYNESIA with church ideology. Dance—connected in their eyes to pre- Whereas dance had previously been the realm of the youthful, ﬁt Christian practices, drunkenness, debauchery, and prostitution— teenager and young adult segment of the population, the newly was prohibited by law in 1845. Special attire disappeared as initiated dance school competition in 2006 featured overwhelm- performances moved from the public eye to hidden practice, ingly female participants ranging from three to sixty years of age. and Christian assemblies took prominence over chieﬂy enter- Children’s costumes appeared; dance schools became sensitive to tainment. Then, in the late 1800s, colonial politics reconﬁgured mature performers’ desire for modest attire (sometimes harkening “tradition” as national celebration, prompting activities tied to back to the mother hubbard dress with the new addition of a thick the commemoration of the July French Fête Nationale, or “Bas- vegetal belt); and, in the absence of subsidies, most teachers opted tille Day,” which added competitions in music (1878), “ancient for simpliﬁed dress—all departures from former ways of present- costumes” (1892), and dance (1894). Competitions between is- ing dancers at grand events. Moreover, several schools replaced the land districts had been a feature of precontact Tahitian life; in pāreu with long dresses and ﬂowing cloth skirts, reﬂecting the in- this new context they became a way for Tahitians to transform ﬂuence of international Tahitian dance competitions abroad and French political markers into expressions of Islander identity and expanding the possibilities for fabric costumes. values. Turn-of-the-century photographs document the splendid As with variations in costume over time, there are also varia- costumes at these fêtes, including tapa (barkcloth) skirts made tions between locales. French Polynesia includes 128 islands from the bark of paper mulberry, aute (Broussonetia papyrifera), within ﬁve archipelagos—the Society, Tuamotu, Austral, Man- and breadfruit, ’uru (Artocarpus altilis), trees; tiputa (ponchos) of gareva, and Marquesas Islands—each of which has music, dance, woven pandanus leaves (pandanus is a tropical shrub-like tree) or and attire speciﬁc to the place. Islanders view these variations decorated tapa; and revareva streamers made from the thin white as an important aspect of community identity, with costume sheath that covers a newly emerging coconut frond. As ﬁne and uniqueness often dependent on the resources of the speciﬁc is- delicate as a strip of tissue paper, revareva waves delightfully in land. For example, festival dress on the Marquesan island of Fatu the breeze and is still a highly prized addition to head garlands Hiva incorporates the ﬁne handmade tapa for which the island is and the most special dance costumes. Other period photos show famous; dance skirts from Rapa, the southernmost island in the female dancers in long “mother hubbard” dresses with hip sashes Austral archipelago, employ the ’ā’eho reed (Erianthus ﬂoridulus) or ﬁber strips tied over them; men wear long-sleeved, white dress particular to the mountains of Rapa and its cool climate; cos- shirts with “grass skirts” over their long, dark, tailored pants. tumes on the Tuamotu Islands feature shell and mother-of-pearl By the 1930s costuming changed substantially. Shirts and decorations reﬂecting the atoll environment. Because Tahiti is the mother hubbards disappeared as dancers became comfortable re- country’s economic and administrative center, however, perform- vealing the body once again. Women in some troupes bared their ing artists tend to emulate Tahitian dance forms, choreographic midriﬀs, and long trousers for men were no longer requisite. Also, ideals, and dance attire even as they strive to place a unique, lo- during this time the skirt of thin strips of hibiscus bark (Hibiscus calized stamp on them. Because of this central position in the tiliaceus) became the standard for Tahitian dance, and certain fea- cultural life of the country, the focus here is on Tahitian dance tures of costuming appeared, namely dance shawls, headdresses, dress—recognizing this as only one of many variations of cos- and tassels around the waist. tume existing in French Polynesia Throughout the latter half of the twentieth century, two dis- tinct costume categories prevailed: an ensemble of natural ma- COSTUMING THE DANCER terials, le grand costume, for dances accompanied by slit-drums and membranophones; and, for dances performed to guitar and For Tahitians the moment of performance brings to life the val- ukulele-accompanied songs, a fabric costume en tissu based on ued arts of poetry, music, and dance. All of these gain increased the pāreu wraparound cloth just under two meters (two yards) importance by wearing festive dress that Tahitians view as beau- in length. The annual July celebrations, renamed Heiva i Tahiti tifying the performers, displaying the artistry of local designers in 1986, constituted the highlight of the dance year, and Tahitian and craftspeople, and adding cultural importance to the event. audiences eagerly awaited the stunning display of costume design Dance also brings together the skill and wisdom of well-versed and handicraft that was presented. Toward the end of the century adults who share their knowledge with the youthful performers, organizers initiated subsidies to help artists fund the extraordi- instilling, among other ideals, appreciation for the beautiful hand- nary creations for the large troupes of forty to a hundred dancers crafted items worn—and often made—by the dancers. Whether that Tahitians prefer. In the 1990s the addition of a third category, calling for simple garlands, or an entire costume, performances le costume végétal, designated costumes incorporating a primary oﬀer dancers repeated opportunities to learn and reﬁne the art of use of fresh or dried local plant materials and reﬂected artistic making costumes. trends using these materials in new and diﬀerent ways. With the Unlike the wide range of ages found in dance schools, partici- turn of the century Heiva oﬃcials deemed the grand costume pants in amateur and professional troupes fall within normative and costume végétal obligatory for competition; the costume en ages of about ﬁfteen to twenty-eight. Amateur groups exhibit a tissu became optional. This development aligns with Paciﬁc-wide range of body types; however, professional troupes carefully select attempts to reclaim Islander identities in a postcolonial world, dancers with desired physical attributes, including slender (but and the Tahitian move to autonomy and independentist politics; not skinny) bodies, average to tall height, developed musculature it also underscores changing notions of the tie between costume for men, and scar-free, tanned skin. Competition score sheets and dance genre. from the 1970s oﬀer a window on Tahitian aesthetics of the ideal The growth of dance schools throughout the 1990s and early dancer, spelling out desired skin color (brown; not too light or twenty-ﬁrst century also inﬂuenced dance attire by necessitating dark) and including points for women’s hair, with a preference for age-appropriate wear and prompting new approaches to costuming. long, dark, thick, waist-length tresses. Although frowned upon DANCE COSTUMES IN FRENCH POLYNESIA 421 tāupo’o (headdress), hātua (belt), a chest covering that includes a tāpea tītī (bra) for the women and tāhei (shawl) for the men, and occasional items carried in the hands, such as ’i’i (dance whisks) of hibiscus ﬁber or fresh greensand tāhiri (fans) of plaited pan- danus or coconut leaves. A neck adornment—strands of shells or seeds, an ornate necklace, or a gorget (collar) incorporating feathers, barkcloth, and other local materials—may complete the ensemble. In an example of intra-Polynesian exchange, some Ta- hitian male dancers have borrowed the Samoan practice of tying strips of fresh or dried ﬁbers around their upper arms and calves. All costume parts coordinate in terms of chosen materials, de- sign motifs, and color. For competition, judges also evaluate how well the costume relates to the overall theme of the performance and, through their scoring, reinforce the ethno-aesthetic system of what constitutes acceptable and exceptional dance attire. The more skirt is the basic element of the grand costume; the term more also refers to the ﬁbers themselves. Often called a “grass skirt” by outsiders, the more is made from the bark of the pūrau (Hibiscus tiliaceus) tree. Historically, Tahitians tied strips of leaves around their waists, but a thick skirt of ﬁber strips starts to ap- pear in photographs around 1900. Manufacturing the skirt is a time-intensive process of cutting straight horizontal branches, making a longitudinal cut to remove the bark in one piece, soak- ing this in water for several days, scraping oﬀ the dark outer bark, and hitting the light inner bark to ﬂatten and thin the ﬁbers. After drying the ﬁbers thoroughly the bark is split into ﬁne strips and knotted onto a cord to form a skirt. A second row of interlacing cordage, about six centimeters (2.3 inches) below, holds the top edge ﬂat and secures the strips evenly. Male costumes of the dance troupe Tamari’i Teahupo’o, Tahiti, 2006. Varnished More ﬁbers are naturally oﬀ-white but may be whitened with pieces of coconut shell and yellow more ﬁbers on a background of white tapa lemon juice or dyed to a desired shade. Since at least the 1970s with white more ﬁbers form the main design elements. Photograph by Jane makers have used convenient commercial dyes; however, tradi- Freeman Moulin. tionalists prefer the bright yellow of re’a (turmeric) juice and the red obtained from ’aute (Hibiscus rosasinensis). In addition to the natural tone Tahitians call “white” and the favored colors of yel- before the mid-1980s, tasteful Polynesian tattoos are admired for low and red, which for Tahitians are the colors of royalty, some both sexes, with women’s tattoos tending to be smaller and on the troupes employ secondary colors like brown, black, or even orange ankles, waist, and lower torso while men’s large tattoos appear on if these tie into the theme of the dance. For example, the district legs, arms, chest, back, and buttocks. of Puna’auia is well known for the wild oranges that grow deep The annual Heiva competition prompts months of rehearsal, in the Punaru’u valley; not surprisingly, their dancers appeared at careful gathering and preparation of plants and ﬂowers, and long the 2006 Heiva in orange-colored more to present the songs and hours of costume construction. The judges’ score sheets assign dances of the district. Because of the strong preference for tra- points for apparel, allocating 14 percent of the total score to group ditional colors, those produced by natural dyes, Tahitians avoid attire and reserving a special award for the best costume. Evalu- pink, blue, green, purple, or ﬂuorescent shades, except for highly ation criteria include respect for traditional colors, coordination commercialized productions intended for tours abroad. Occa- with the dance theme, beauty of the costume, how the costume sional creative attempts have meant dyeing the bottom edge a dif- carries on stage, originality and quality of materials, originality ferent color, layering skirts of varied colors and lengths, or making in conception, and research into the chosen materials. In 2006 more of multicolored strips, but the overwhelming preference is each participating group received 1,500,000 CFP (Paciﬁc francs for solid-colored skirts. Women wear the skirt knee-length or used in French areas of the Paciﬁc), roughly US$16,225, to help ankle-length, while men usually cut it at the knees. With fewer satisfy regulations that allow only newly created costumes. The Tahitians willing to invest the time required to produce more, following discusses the art of costume preparation and examines costs have risen accordingly. Also, small producers have problems in detail exemplary attire in each of the three main categories. assuring reliable delivery of the one hundred skirts required by large dance troupes. In an example of globalization and new pur- chasing patterns, many directors order more from Micronesia LE GRAND COSTUME through a supplier in Honolulu who can guarantee large quanti- Dance costumes in the twenty-ﬁrst century reveal Tahitian desires ties and consistent coloring for dyed skirts. to connect with the past and yet to incorporate fresh ideas reﬂect- Island resources serve as inspiration for the costume designer, ing the originality of Tahitian artists and current aesthetic values. a role increasingly assigned to a costume specialist rather than The grand costume includes several items: more (dance skirt), assumed by the dance director, as in earlier years. The designer 422 POLYNESIA carefully selects motifs and materials for various costume parts, considering the chosen theme as well as the color, texture, and light-reﬂective qualities of the materials. He or she may use matching costumes for male and female groups or incorporate complementary but slightly modiﬁed ideas. Sometimes the de- signer prefers bold contrast between gender groups and opts for separate costumes of diﬀering colors or designs, while still maintaining visual links that unite the two sets. Innovation and creativity are key in designing the various costume components. Tahitians produce such a variety in size, shape, and design ele- ments that it is diﬃcult to designate a general style. The costumes of the troupe Tamari’i Teahupo’o, directed by Adolphe Raveino and winners of the ﬁrst prize for Best Tradi- tional Costume in 2006, are a useful example to consider. The striking costumes of this amateur troupe emphasize contrast be- tween the male and female dancers. The two sets of costumes are unique, although united in color (yellow and white with brown accents), materials (more, tapa, and varnished coconut shell), and motif (ﬂat rounds of ﬁber strips that resemble starbursts, often with a round piece of coconut shell at the center). Both use the basic more skirt, tāupo’o headdress, and hātua belt; in addition, men wear a tāhei shoulder covering and women wear a bra and large necklace. Dance whisks complete the women’s costume. White more and white headdresses establish the funda- mental colors and materials for the men’s attire. Recalling the sixty- to ninety-centimeter- (23.6- to 35.4-inch-) high feathered headdresses worn by Tahitian chiefs, the tāupo’o ampliﬁes the height and presence of the dancer. This headdress, of moderate size by Tahitian standards (approximately forty centimeters, or 15.7 inches, high overall), frames the upper part of the head with a vertical semicircular shape, a feature that anchors this creation well within costume styles that developed during the second The female costumes of the dance troupe Tamari’i Teahupo’o feature the orna- half of the twentieth century. A sturdy, wide band encircles the ¯ mental use of white more, nı ’au, and tapa against yellow more skirts and dyed head, and a stiﬀ backing holds the vertical front portion upright; yellow tapa belts and hats with the brown accents of varnished coconut shell both are covered with white tapa. A slight elongation of the cen- pieces, Tahiti, 2006. Photograph by Jane Freeman Moulin. tral high point provides an interesting modiﬁcation of the basic semicircular shape, and white more ﬁbers (approximately ﬁfteen and headdresses with a secondary use of white for the bra and to eighteen centimeters, or 5.9 to 7 inches, long) line the entire ornaments. The yellow tapa headdress, more pointed than the outer edge to extend the overall size of the headdress. Five small male version, incorporates starbursts and coconut-shell pieces yellow starbursts along the edge alternate with diamond-shaped but treats them diﬀerently. A seven-pointed, star-shaped cutout pieces of varnished dark-brown coconut shell to establish the of white tapa with a large coconut-shell center ﬁlls the vertical primary visual motif, the latter providing a contrast in color and middle section of the headdress. Thin braids of more loop around mild reﬂective quality. Transposed to a large white starburst with the edge and outline ﬁve round pieces of varnished coconut shell; coconut shell center set over four leaf-shaped pieces, this motif three white starbursts mark points at the top. Five small bundles becomes the headdress’s centerpiece. of stiﬀ white nī ’au ﬁbers, made from the young, unopened parts The hātua belt echoes the same materials and visual elements. of the coconut ﬂower, are spaced along the central upper edge. Worn over the top edge of the skirt, belts require a sturdy backing Each of the middle three bundles also contains a six- to seven- material, such as dried pandanus leaves of the fara pae’ore variety. centimeter- (2.3- to 2.7-inch-) wide strip of curled white tapa and This belt, covered with white tapa, features the alternation of yel- long white more ﬁbers that ﬂow down over the dancer’s hair to low starbursts with coconut-shell centers and white starbursts af- create a spectacular eﬀect from all sides. The necklaces have two ﬁxed over four diamond-shaped coconut-shell pieces. rows of yellow starbursts with coconut-shell centers aﬃxed to a The tāhei for this costume is a bandolier worn over the left base of braided white more, from which loose ﬁbers hang along shoulder and fastened at right hip level. Duplicating the patterns the bottom. The dancers wear strapless bras of plain white tapa of the hātua, and with white more sewn to the lower edge, the and carry ’i’i whisks of yellow more; when not needed, whisks tāhei, with its fringe, replicates the look of the belt, overlapping hang by loops from the lower arms. the top edge of the skirt. The overall costume, therefore, presents The hātua is covered with yellow tapa and, in a visual link uniﬁed elements on the torso and unique, but closely related, de- to the headdress, uses design motifs based on the same shapes, signs for the head. materials, and braided loops. Certain features place this belt in The women’s costume reverses the color scheme. Whereas the twenty-ﬁrst century, notably the thick bustle of yellow more men wear white with yellow accents, women have yellow skirts about sixteen to eighteen centimeters (6.2 to 7 inches) in length at DANCE COSTUMES IN FRENCH POLYNESIA 423 the rear of the belt and the ﬁve protruding bunches of long white while husking coconuts. This style of wrap oﬀers dancers a tight- more that hang down almost to knee length. Each bunch also ﬁtting garb that shows oﬀ the body while providing freedom to contains two long curled strips of white tapa and several white nī perform the scissor-like leg movements integral to Tahitian male ’au ﬁbers, thereby linking the belt to the headdress and providing dancing. Some dance directors, however, prefer a simple fabric additional freely moving material to accentuate and amplify the loincloth or—replicating an idea borrowed from Hawai’i in the women’s hip movements. late 1980s—a maro with rectangular pieces covering the front and The total eﬀect of the two sets of costumes is magniﬁcent. rear of the dancer while leaving the sides exposed. Drawing on complementary but diﬀerent designs and colors and Women tie the pāreu into a skirt at either ankle length or incorporating highly valued, natural ﬁbers, the ﬁnal product is above the knee. A simple knot on the side now replaces the viri, a tasteful blending of historical elements with innovative twists a style of rolling the top edge of the pāreu, favored by dancers that lend a new look to older ideas of performance dress. during the 1990s. Matching or color-coordinated strapless bras have largely replaced those made from two coconut-shell halves. Pāreu come in a variety of colors and patterns. Competition fa- LE COSTUME VÉGÉTAL vors traditional colors (white, yellow, and red), allows blue and In contrast to the durable ﬁbers of le grand costume, the vegetal green for fabric costumes if related to the theme of the dance, costume utilizes primarily fresh ﬂowers and greenery. Dancers and prohibits ﬂuorescent colors (noted in the Heiva 2006 regu- may also incorporate dried leaves and plant parts, and women lations). Elaborating the basic pāreu with creative touches (e.g., wear bras covered with fabric or natural materials. There are shells, appliqués, ﬁshnet, etc.) may contribute to the theme of the many variations of the basic costume parts—dance skirt, hei dance and the costume’s visual appeal. Because the fabric costume (neck garland), and hei ’upo’o (head garland)—each creation a is optional for competition, no award is given in this category. burst of color and texture that provides a veritable peek into Ta- The addition of hei—and, for women, often a dance belt of hiti’s verdant gardens. leaves, ferns, or ﬂowers—adds to the overall eﬀect of the costume In 2006 the ﬁrst-prize winner in this category was the troupe and foregrounds the art of garland making that is such an essen- Hei Tahiti, directed by Tiare Trompette, whose stunning wom- tial part of being a performer. While men may help in gathering en’s costume prompted admiration among judges and audience. and preparing materials or making leaf or ﬁber cordage, many Applying fresh plant parts to fabric, Trompette successfully leave the making of hei to females, who perfect the techniques of brought to the Tahitian stage for the ﬁrst time a technique fa- working with ﬂowers and greens to create ﬁnely crafted garlands vored by Western Polynesians. In this creation petals of the red for the head, neck, and women’s hips. An experienced person skill- ginger ﬂower (’ōpuhi) are layered individually like ﬁsh scales onto fully uses fragrance and color to create hei that demonstrate the a base of red fabric. The slightly curved shape of the petals and dexterity and artistic eye of the maker as well as knowledge of the their waxy shine create a richly textured, light-reﬂective surface. local environment. Directors are sensitive to the linking of song The mid-calf-length skirt, worn low on the hips like all Tahitian text and costume, so that dance songs highlighting speciﬁc ﬂow- dance skirts, avoids a solid block of color with vertical slits that ers will call for hei made of those ﬂowers. The hei allows dancers allow for free movement; a strapless bra, covered with the same to beautify themselves; it also is a way to admire and embrace the petal-layering technique, completes the ensemble. T’iati’a mou’a beauty of nature invoked in the songs and dances. (Davalia solida) ferns decorate the skirt’s lower edge and cover French Polynesians realize how much time and expertise is the left breast, and complementary touches of ferns add green invested in making costumes and hold them in high esteem, appre- to the right side of the bra and the dancers’ hair. The overall ap- ciating their often-ephemeral nature as a special part of an event. pearance is one of elegance and beauty, in which the simplicity of The Tahitian preference for novelty and the emphasis on original the cut and reduced number of costume parts allow viewers to creations for the Heiva suggest a continued evolution in dance cos- focus on the magniﬁcent color and texture of the ensemble. Im- tumes over the coming years. As long as large-scale performances portantly, Tahitians do not read these costumes as sexualized. remain important for the community, dancers will respond with While the women’s attire conveys elegance, the men’s costume new and unusual ways to turn everyday plants into magniﬁcent does communicate virile masculinity. Men begin the dance wear- hei, and costume designers will amaze and delight audiences with ing a shawl and a belt of large oiled green ’autī (Cordylnie frutcosa) their innovative uses of local and imported materials. leaves sewn onto a red fabric backing. Shredded red ’autī leaves, secured on strips of dried pandanus, are tied around upper arms References and Further Reading and calves. As the dance progresses, the men shed the shawl and belt to dance in a simple red maro (loincloth) that reveals their ﬁt Beslu, Christian. Cartes postales anciennes de Tahiti. Papeete, Tahiti: bodies and displays their tattoos. Dance director Coco Hotahota Times Editions/Les Éditions du Paciﬁque, 1987. is credited with “undressing” male dancers in the 1990s, and the Cook, Capt. James. The Voyage of the Endeavor 1768–1771. Edited by subsequent use of maro reﬂects this inﬂuence. J. C. Beaglehole. Sydney: Boydell Press, 1968. Moulin, Jane Freeman. The Dance of Tahiti. Papeete, Tahiti: Les Éditions du Paciﬁque, 1979. LE COSTUME EN TISSU O’Reilly, Patrick O. Dancing Tahiti. Dossier 22. Paris: Nouvelles Éditions The fabric costume generally uses the pāreu wraparound cloth, a Latines, 1978. coordinated bra for females, and adornments of shells, fresh ﬂow- ers, or greens for the neck and head of all dancers. Male dancers Jane Freeman Moulin typically wrap the pāreu in a style known as tīhere, adopted from the apparel of copra workers who needed to protect one thigh See also Introduction to the Dress of the Paciﬁc Islands.
Pages to are hidden for
"Dance Costumes in French Polynesia"Please download to view full document