What I’m Reading | Peter Rockford Espiritu
Founder, Artistic Director Tau Dance Theater

Q&A with Christine Thomas March 2008

-What are you reading?

Well, I’m always working on several projects at one time. There’s a new show I’m working on in Waikiki so I‘ve been reading up a lot on classic Waikiki and place names, including “Waikiki, in the Wake of Dreams” by Edgy Lee, and “Waikiki: a History of Forgetting and Remembering” by Gaye Chan and Andrea Feeser. I’m also working on a project that’s not happening until 2010, regarding Poliahu the goddess of Mauna Kea. So right now I’m reading “The History of Kanalu: Mo‘oku‘auhau ‘elua” by Benjamin K. Namakaokeahi translated by Malcolm Naea Chun. I’m just getting into it because I’m starting from a more archaic and deeper place, and then I’ll interview people about their stories.

-How did you discover Namakaokeahi’s book?

It was recommended to me by people who know Mauna Kea. There are several books that I’m just now beginning to touch upon. I don’t have a lot of time, so when I’m reading it’s always late night or early morning. The way I create is to keep getting information and letting what I digest come out artistically. The more information I get the more tools I have.

-What tools does this book impart?

It’s funny because it’s not really about Mauna Kea but actually about the stars, astronomy and a sect of kahuna called Kanalu who studied the stars. But I think that there’s also a major flood or something that happens, and only the mountain can tell when and how far it came up—it’s almost a Noah’s Arc kind of epic. Hawaiians can be kind of cryptic, and it makes me approach my work very seriously.

-Does immersion in old tales like this help you better bridge the old and new and create works that represent us today?

I try to understand the complexity of our ancients and try to reconnect this recent and old time to me. You know, I’m the one that’s a modernist and becomes an abstractor, but they also had to think abstractly to understand the stars and understand navigation. To try and decipher that code or unspokenness, because the Hawaiian culture was oral, it’s not easy, even in the written realm. So if I can get a glimpse of ultimately what the message is, then I can go back to the ones that have knowledge and ask them what they think about this book. It’s the start of building the bridge, always starting from the base, trying to get to the deepest core.