At the ninth Festival of Pacific Arts in Palau, male dancers from Kiribati, clad in shell necklaces, traditional skirts, and brandishing colorful spears, dance to ancient drums and chants. They are on a stage fringed with gelled spotlights, amplifiers, monitors, and stand-up Cerwin-Vega speakers.
It's a moment in Dances of Life that captures the dichotomy between Pacific Islanders' earliest cultural traditions and the modern world in which they live today.
"We are very fragile," Togna Octave, general director of the Tjibaou Cultural Center in New Caledonia, says in the film. "They always say modernity is like a steamroller. And in all the small societies like ours the steamroller has already rolled over us. If we can come out of this with a toe unscathed, well, that's the greatest victory we could have."
Dances of Life, produced by Shane Seggar and Dominique Lasseur and directed by Catherine Tatge, in conjunction with Pacific Islanders in Communications, looks at the resilience and strength of Pacific cultures as represented by their traditional dances. Since dance is a method used by oral cultures to document their histories, it is also a way to view a culture's past and its adaptations to the present.
More About the Film
Dances of Life examines dances from five island cultures: Maori, Samoan, Palauan, Chamorro (Guam), and Kanak (New Caledonia). How their dances have evolved and incorporated new influences is seen as a testament to the endurance of their cultures.
"The film looks at how the island cultures will have to approach modernity," said producer Seggar, who also directed the documentary Le Afi Ua Mu: The Fire Is Burning, a personal look at Samoan gang life. "I think there's always this discussion about how the West is crowding in and destroying these cultures," he said. "But some Pacific Islanders say life is about evolution. It's about taking what comes in life and figuring out what to do with it."