TUMATA ROBINSON HONOURED BY THE FRENCH NATIONAL ORDER OF MERIT. Tahiti Dance Online looks closer at this award.
© Dominique Schmitt: Tumata (middle) pictured here with Manouche Lerhartel (left) and Maiana Bambridge (right) representing the committee bestowing her award.
TUMATA ROBINSON has become one of the most iconic and influential ‘Ori Tahiti figures in the world as she has been involved in the art for the past 40 years and helped forge Tahitian dance evolution. Born in 1954 to an American father and Sino-Tahitian mother, she was introduced to Tahitian dancing at age 7 and a part from a ten year absence along the line, she has been dancing her whole life. In the beginning she felt like an outcast stating that she seemed marginalised by Tahitian society because her father was american, so that’s what made her feel different as she had a sense of not being ‘a part of anything’. Over the years though, she was able to create her own distinguishable mark since her first Heiva in 1984, she joined the ranks of O Tahiti E alongside Marguerite Lai in the late nineties as lead costume maker, then breaking out with Les Grand Ballet de Tahiti in the early 2000s eventually establishing her own group Tahiti Ora in 2008. Now at 62 years old she is travelling the world with her dance group promoting Tahitian dance and culture internationally.
©Dominique Schmitt: From left Freddy Fagu, Tumata Robinson, Etienne Ra’apoto and John Maira’i.
On the 22nd July 2016 she was finally recognised for all her work by being awarded the French National Order of Merit for distinguished civil achievements and services to Tahitian dance and culture. An evening at the Meridien hotel was dedicated in her honour with all the who’s who of the ‘Ori Tahiti world. Sources confirmed that Tumata was in fact nominated by French prime minister Manuel Valls in November 2015 and this evening was just confirmation of his nomination. Tumata told Tahitian media that she was grateful for the award but thought it was ‘a bit funny that she’s being awarded an award for her services by an entity from France and not from Tahiti’ and that she ‘wasn’t expecting to be receiving such an award and is happy that Manuel Valls’ office contacted her’. The event was successful with all her friends and family in attendance including the artists she has collaborated with such as Freddy Fagu and John Maira’i. The photo below is a snapshot of her dancers paying homage during the evening.
© Dominique Schmitt : Dance group Tahiti Ora pay homage to their leader Tumata Robinson.
Tahiti Ora has been established for 8 years now and won 2 Heiva titles with their first win in 2011 performing ‘Marukoa’ where they completely bypassed the Hura Ava Tau process and gained access to the Hura Tau division, and again in 2014 with their theme Pifa’o, the curse. In both instances, Tumata herself wrote the theme based on fictional characters and stories, very uncommon at cultural festivals in Tahiti, where most groups privilege historical figures. During an interview with Polynesie Premiere in 2014, she pointed out that she preferred creating a unique story rather than portray traditional legends because she was afraid that people would criticise her for not being historically accurate. Moreover, all her writings are supervised by Tahitian language expert John Maira’i who guides her in terms of being culturally appropriate. She also noted that by doing it this way she would have more ‘liberty of expression’.
Nowadays, thanks to Tumata’s efforts, Tahiti Ora has become a house hold name in terms of Tahitian dancing locally and internationally . She tends to have a reputation of being a ‘strong minded perfectionist’ where dancers consider her as a second mother, she also still takes the reigns when it comes to costume making. The group’s focus is very much hotel and international expansion by sending expert dancers such as Moena Maiotui and Tuari’i Tracqui to deliver workshops around the globe, as well as group show tours. At first, Tahiti Ora was not very keen to be involved in the Heiva festival because Tumata wanted more independence in creation and movement but decided to participate in 2011 and 2014 coming off both times with a win. Tumata did admit though that in 2014 the level was so high that she was scared that they wouldn’t come out on top, but they won.
Tumata has managed to create a winning formula when it comes to ‘Ori Tahiti as she surrounds herself with an expert team, experienced and up and coming dancers combined with exquisite costumes. When asked about what Tahitian dancing represents to her, she says that “when we are young we don’t realise, we think it’s all about fun, now i’ve come to realise that it’s really a human experience’ (Poly premiere interview 21/07/2016) and added, ‘I would like this whole thing to continue, but I don’t want to get to a point where people are saying, she might need to stop’. But now that Tumata has been able to clench the coveted French National Order of Merit she doesn’t show any signs of slowing down.