ASIA: Art Stories in Aotearoa | Episode 4: Dance

From ASIA: Art Stories in Aotearoa, 6:00 am on 26 April 2022

Series ClassificationG (General Audiences) | Watch the series here

As New Zealand's cultural landscape expands, artists of Asian heritage are sparking more inclusive conversations through their creative work.

In this short documentary series, 18 Asian-NZ artists from a range of disciplines reflect on how life in Aotearoa informs their work and sense of identity.

In Episode 4, we meet three dancers – Chinese-born ballet star Xin Ji, K-pop (Korean pop) choreographer Rina Chae and Indian-New Zealand performer and dance teacher Swaroopa Prameela Unni.

Xin Ji: The Hero's Journey

Xin Ji

Xin Ji Photo: John McDermott

Xin Ji was born in the Year of the Dragon in Lan Zhou in China's Northwest.

When he discovered dancing at just eight years old, Xin knew he'd found his passion for life. He was at primary school when a tutor offered the opportunity of dance classes at the weekend. Xin secretly attended the class on a Saturday morning for three months without telling his parents. Eventually, the teacher said he needed to be paid so he told his mum, who was shocked. She didn't think he would continue for long but agreed to pay for another three months of classes and Xin has been dancing ever since. 

As a teenager, his dance teacher encouraged him to audition for the Beijing Dance Academy. Competition was fierce with 8,000 people auditioning for 90 spots and Xin was delighted to get in. He spent five years studying dance full-time, majoring in Chinese Classical Ballet.

After graduation, Xin was offered a position in Japan with Shiki Theatre Company performing in well-known musicals, including Cats.

A friend recommended he come to Auckland to study contemporary dance at Unitec as Xin was seeking more personal freedom. He was invited to perform at The World of Wearable Arts in Wellington and then worked with leading contemporary dance companies including Footnote Dance in Wellington, Okareka Dance Company, before joining the New Zealand Dance Company as a full-time dancer in 2017.

Xin is currently living and dancing back in China. He is exploring film-making and has ambitions to become a film director.

Rina Chae: K-Pop Queen

Rina Chae

Rina Chae Photo: Supplied

Look out Parris Goebel, choreographer Rina Chae is wearing her 'Queen of NZ K-pop' crown with pride.

Now 34, Rina moved to NZ with her conservative family from Korea in 1994 at the age of 10. Her two sisters became doctors and she turned out to be the artsy, black sheep of the family.

Rina majored in dance at Auckland University, then studied in London and LA where she met dancers in North Hollywood who became her K-pop mentors. Her passion is mentoring female dancers to be professional dancers, and helping empower women especially Asian, to live fulfilled lives.

Rina has worked and danced all over the globe with some of the world's hottest music artists, including Beyonce and Justin Bieber, and choreographed for BoA, Stephanie Kim, SF9 and Monsta X.

As well as teaching dance through her EnBeat Dance Academy, which she runs with her husband Zed Nufable on Auckland's North Shore, Rina choreographs dances for K-pop idols back in Korea and is an international a K-pop choreography agent.

Last year at the 2021 Auckland Arts Festival, she choreographed and led the K-Pop Party at Bruce Mason Centre - the first time this dance form has made an appearance on NZ's festival circuit. Chae's husband Zed is a well-respected street dancer who specialises in hip-hop and has judged competitions in NZ and Australia.

Swaroopa Prameela Unni: Breaking the Patriarchy

Swaroopa Unni

Swaroopa Unni Photo: Marelda O'Rourke-Gallaher

Swaroopa Prameela Unni is a performing artist and a dance educator.

In 2011, she founded her dance school Natyaloka School of Indian Dance in Dunedin, where she teaches Bharatanatyam, the oldest classical dance tradition in India.

As a dancer, Swaroopa also performs Mohiniyattam - an Indian classical dance form that developed in the 16th century and remains popular in the state of Kerala.

After moving to Dunedin in 2010, Swaroopa established herself as a performing artist and has appeared across the country at major dance festivals including the Dunedin Arts Festival, Tempo Dance Festival, The Body Festival, Fringe Festivals and more.

Her performance often incorporates digital videos, photos and spoken word. Much of Swaroopa's work is inspired by the feminist literature of South Asia.

She is actively involved in the migrant women's refuge Shakti and has published articles about Indian dance reclaiming its history from the patriarchal gaze.

Swaroopa hails from Calicut, a coastal town in the South Indian state of Kerala and has been training in dance since the age of four.


Kadambari Raghukumar

Kadambari Raghukumar Photo: Supplied

Presenter: Kadambari Raghukumar

Kadambari Raghukumar is an experienced presenter and TV director who was raised by oceanographer parents in Goa on the southwest coast of India and has been living in New Zealand since 2006. During her 14-year media career, she has been a reporter/director for the TVNZ series Asia Downunder and the TV3 series Neighbourhood. Kadambari currently presents Voices - RNZ's weekly series about people from all around the world who now live in Aotearoa New Zealand.



Arani Cuthbert

Arani Cuthbert Photo: Diva Productions

​Producer: Arani Cuthbert

Arani Cuthbert is an award-winning independent producer and the founder of Diva Productions. She is the long-term manager of New Zealand entertainers The Topp Twins. Arani produced TVNZ's top-rating series Topp Country - a three-time winner at the 2018 TV Awards and the hit documentary The Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls which won Best Feature at the 2019 Qantas NZ Film and TV Awards. Arani is currently developing a comedy feature film.

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