14 Nov 2012

Ponifasio takes top honour at Arts Pasifika awards

10:56 pm on 14 November 2012

A pioneer of modern Pacific dance and theatre has won the supreme accolade at the Creative New Zealand Arts Pasifika Awards.

Lemi Ponifasio, the founder and director of the MAU dance and theatre company, was named senior Pacific artist the annual awards ceremony in Wellington on Wednesday night.

Creative New Zealand's Pacific arts committee chair, Pele Walker, says he's the acknowledged pioneer of contemporary Pacific dance and has taken it to the world to great acclaim.

His latest show Birds with Skymirrors has won praise from critics and audiences in Europe, and was one of the audience favourites at this year's International Arts Festival in Wellington.

Ms Walker says they've taken the unusual step of giving the contemporary artist award to Otara-based curator, Ema Tavola, for putting Pacific arts on the map in south Auckland.

But she says it reflects Ms Tavola's pivotal role in putting Pacific art on the map during her six years as manager of Otara's Fresh Gallery.

Ms Walker says being a good curator is an art in itself.

The Pacific heritage award went to Mary Ama, an expert in tivaevae - the Cook Islands art of quilt-making - and dancer Justin Haiu won the emerging artist award.

And the Iosefa Enari Memorial Award for classical music has gone to soprano Isabella Moore, who won the Radio New Zealand listeners' choice award at this year's Lexus Song Quest.