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By Associate Professor Katerina Teaiwa, Australian National University
Fabulous Pacific choreographer, artistic pioneer, creative visionary, proud fa‘afafine, educator, leader and dear friend Seiuli Tuilagi Ailani (Allan) Situfu Alo Va‘ai passed away on June 27 this year. He is mourned across Oceania and the University of the South Pacific system where he worked for almost 20 years with the Oceania Centre for Arts, Culture and Pacific Studies. A protégé of the late Professor Epeli Hau‘ofa, Alo inspired thousands of Pacific artists and dancers to build a space for contemporary Pacific performing arts in the islands. After establishing the Oceania Dance Theatre at USP in Fiji and building the performance and technical capacity of a key cohort of dancers, he returned to Samoa to create the USP Polynesia Outreach Programme and the pioneering Samoa Arts Council for whom he served as President till his passing.
In 2013 Allan and I coordinated a So‘o, a collaboration and exchange between the ANU and USP, which also included Leua Latai from the National University of Samoa. Students from each university participated in workshops, visual and performing arts research, tours, and fashion productions which took place across Upolu and Sava‘i. It was wonderful to be performing again with Allan almost 15 years since founding the ODT with him and Letava Tafuna‘i. Throughout the collaboration Allan demonstrated the extraordinary qualities of a brilliant chief, artistic director, masterful coordinator, generous friend and colleague, and inspiring educator. A photographic exhibition of the So‘o featured in the ANU Coombs foyer for most of the following year.
Allan and ANU students during the Samoa field school at MADD Gallery, Apia, November 2013.
Allan and students Mitiana Arbon, Miranda Scarr and Bianca Hennessy at Margaret Jolly’s ARC Laureate conference, ANU, April 2015.
Allan’s creative projects regularly commented on issues of inequality, social justice, gender and sexuality, violence, HIV/ Aids awareness, education, youth issues, mental health issues, environmental disaster, and most recently the threats caused by climate change. He provided inspiration, original lyrics, cultural protocols and performance talent for Moana: The Rising of the Sea funded by the European Consortium for Pacific Studies with performances across Europe and for the European Parliament in Brussels.
The youngest of seven children of Alapati Alo Va‘ai and Sofaea Tanielu Alo Va‘ai, Allan passed away from lung cancer, in Auckland the day before his 43rd birthday.
His final service was held at Vaivase Tai Congregational Christian Church in Samoa, Apia, on Saturday July 8, and he was buried at his home at Le Lata. Allan’s mother, His Excellency Head of State of Samoa, Tuiatua Tupua Tamasese Efi, the Honourable Deputy Prime Minister of Samoa, Fiame Naomi Mata‘afa, the Dean of the University of the South Pacific Faculty of Arts, Law and Education, Dr. Akanisi Kedrayte, and Vice President of the Samoa Arts Council, Saumaiafe Dr. Vanya Taule‘alo, all delivered eulogies honouring Allan’s much too short life. His USP colleagues and friends offered a tribute of poetry led by Dr. Frances Koya, and his beloved “children” – former and present dancers of the Oceania Dance Theatre – presented dances featuring his iconic contemporary Pacific choreography.
Before Allan passed he established a brilliantly equipped dance studio, the first of its kind in Samoa called SPACE – Samoa Performing Arts and Creative Excellence. This was the realisation of a life long passion and dream, and in an interview with the Samoa Observer he said: “It’s the art that really gives me life … that’s what God gave to me.”