Polyfest back after four years of cancellations and disruptions

After four years of disruption, Polyfest has kicked off, with live audiences, in Tāmaki Makaurau.

Secondary school-aged performers were welcomed at a pōwhiri on Wednesday for the event's 48th anniversary.

RNZ reports Polyfest's theme this year is mana motuhake - creating one's own destiny.

Director Seiuli Terri Leo-Mauu said they were "very grateful" to be back, running live without interruptions.

"The vibe is so good," she told Morning Report on Thursday.

"You know, you can't help but smile when you go around the festival, because you can see how much enjoyment people are getting from just engaging even with the stall holders, having some beautiful food, buying crafts and engaging with our sponsors.

"Then the pride - and the nerves - you see on the students' faces as you're going onto the stage, that's just irreplaceable."

In 2019, the final day of the festival was cancelled in the wake of the Christchurch terror attack. In 2020 the festival was cancelled altogether as Covid-19 began spreading in the community, less than two weeks before the country went into lockdown.

In 2021, it was delayed a month - again due to Covid-19 - and in 2022 it went virtual, with no live audience, sponsors or stalls, and groups performing individually without interaction with other groups. The reason? Covid-19 again, this time the growing Omicron outbreak.

"It's a real resetting and rebuilding stage for us. We want people to feel safe to come back," Leo-Mauu said.

Auckland recently suffered its worst-ever flooding, but the weather has since cleared up enough not to pose any problems for Polyfest 2023.

"Especially after the recent weather events, we also want this festival to be able to provide some hope to Auckland and to those around the country - you know, let's continue to look forward and to support our young people."

This year will see 181 groups from 55 schools compete and perform at two different events. The Cook Islands, Diversity, Niue, Samoa and Tonga stages will run from 8-11 March at the Manukau Sports Bowl, while the Māori stage will run from 3-5 April at the Due Drop Events Centre, giving participants time to recover from February's Te Matatini kapa haka competition.

"Te Matatini's more an adult competition, ours is a secondary school event," Leo-Mauu said.

"A lot of our secondary school students probably were helping to volunteer at Te Matatini, or they were supporting their family that were performing on stage, and then a lot of our judges from our Māori stage were also taking part at Te Matatini."


Photo Photo: RNZ / Mabel Muller Caption: Polyfest Director Seiuli Terri Leo-Mauu