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Photo: New Zealand Herald
Royal New Zealand Ballet dance educator Pagan Dorgan said a dance initiative with women prisoners aims to build confidence and cooperation.

I like reading about programs designed to help individuals in prison grow in positive ways. I also like the idea of arts groups that, in addition to giving their art to the world, develop other ways to benefit society.

Consider this Royal New Zealand Ballet pilot for women prisoners. Meghan Lawrence at the New Zealand Herald has the story.

“Pirouettes and pliés are being used to break boundaries in a new initiative run by the Royal New Zealand Ballet (RNZB) Company.

“Best known for its dynamic dancers and eclectic repertoire of dance moves, RNZB has chosen to put accessibility and inclusion at the forefront of its latest project run in partnership with the Department of Corrections.

“Three of RNZB’s artistic staff have decided to put aside the national and international stages for [six weeks starting in November 2017] and spend their time teaching prisoners at Arohata Women’s Prison in Wellington. …

“Community manager Pascale Parenteau … said the initiative fits perfectly with the company’s primary goal of making dance accessible to all New Zealanders.

” ‘It was actually very timely because for some time the education team for RNZB have been working on developing an Accessibility Commitment Policy,’ she said.

“As part of that policy the company have run three other projects; the first sign-language interpreted guided tour of the St James Theatre, a sensory-friendly performance for children and adults with autism and special needs, and NZ’s first audio-described ballet performance for visually impaired children and adults. …

“[Parenteau] said the project aims to enhance prisoners’ confidence, communications skills and ability to work with others. …

” ‘When I was setting the programme up I was told that a lot of the women come from broken or disheartening homes and backgrounds, which means they would have never experienced participating in a high-profile training environment, so this is a bit of a boost for them.

” ‘I think they have been very courageous to put their hand up and have a go, but I think the freedom of expression that it allows them is going to be very beneficial.’

“Dance educator Pagan Dorgan was excited to take on the challenge, having previously run a similar initiative with male prisoners in the UK. …

“Dorgan said the project is run in two phases; six weeks of workshops leading up to the Christmas production, and then further sessions [in 2018] to learn specific RNZB repertoire.

“[The first session] was a little bit of everyone getting to know each other and we also did an aerobics or gym type warm-up’ she said. ‘We then went through some basic dance movements that were a mixture of jazz, contemporary and Latin.’ … There was no resistance at all and there was a nice, positive atmosphere.’

“Participants in the project said the experience gave them hope and inspiration, provided a chance to grow as individuals, and made them appreciate life outside of prison walls. …

“Parenteau said the project was set up as a one-off but she is hoping to get further funding to expand the classes.”

More at the New Zealand Herald, here. And Radio New Zealand has audio, here.

Photo: Radio New Zealand
A dance class in a prison.

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Photo: Getty
Auckland Libraries in New Zealand figured out why their books were going missing and came up with a win-win solution.

If you know how to read, you want to read, and librarians want you to read. But not everyone has easy access to books. That is why some readers in New Zealand were sneaking books.

Mark Molloy writes at the UK’s Telegraph, “A New Zealand library has finally solved the mystery of why some books were going missing from its shelves.

“Auckland Libraries staff were bewildered after finding some books were being hidden in random places. They initially thought kids playing pranks were to blame, but later discovered it was the city’s rough sleepers who were actually stashing the books so they could return the next day to continue reading.

“ ‘A lot of our street community were wanting to put them underneath the couches or underneath book shelves and kind of hiding them in various places,’ librarian Sean Taylor told TV NZ. … Without a permanent address they were unable to sign up for a library card that would allow them to take the literature away.

“As a solution, Auckland Library created a new section where books can now be left overnight and picked back up again the next morning. …

“ ‘They are really well read. We’ve got a guy who I’ve had a discussion about the meanings of words and we’ll talk about the reference section and it’s the kind of intellectual conversation you’d expect from an academic.’ …

“Auckland Library says it sees itself as a ‘home for the homeless’ and holds regular cinema screenings and a book club for those sleeping rough. …

“ ‘One guy told me he moved to the city several years ago, and that none of his family back home knew he was homeless,” [said Rachel Rivera, manager of Auckland Libraries]. He used our computers to keep in touch with them. It was his lifeline to his family,’ she said.

“ ‘They value our service, like many of our communities do, for different reasons. But they don’t always feel safe and welcome, and that is something we can and should take steps to address.’ ”

More at the Telegraph, here. And look: Everything at the Auckland libraries website is in both English and Maori.

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Photo: Birgit Krippner for the New York Times
Allan Tipene and his wife, Desiree Tipene, with their children and others in New Zealand. Ms. Tipene called “Moana” a “funny and beautiful” way for her children to connect with their culture.
 

The cartoon film Moana is playing a role in the push to preserve indigenous languages — one language in particular.

Charlotte Graham writes at the New York Times about the Moana translation being shown in New Zealand.

“The families lined up at the theater above a shopping mall here in New Zealand’s biggest city [for] a film unlike any they had ever seen — the Disney hit ‘Moana,’ translated into the indigenous language of New Zealand. …

“About 125,000 of New Zealand’s 4.7 million people speak the Maori language, or ‘te reo Māori,’ as it is widely rendered here. There are concerns that numbers are declining, putting it at risk of dying out. But with one in three Maori people in New Zealand younger than 15, experts said the chance for youth to see a wildly popular movie in their own words could turn the language’s fortunes around after more official efforts faltered. …

“ ‘Moana’ [is] the story of a Polynesian princess, Moana, on an adventure with her chicken, Heihei, and the demigod Maui …

“Many of those attending in Manukau, in southern Auckland, said they had never seen a film at the theater entirely in their language before.

“Several of the families there came from nearby Manurewa, a district usually in the news for unemployment, homelessness and poverty. Parents entering the theater said they relished the chance for their children to see themselves and their language reflected on the big screen, in a different kind of story that they hoped would instill pride in being Maori. …

“ ‘Language is the expression of a culture and a race of people,’ [Haami Piripi, a former head of the government body charged with the promotion of te reo Māori as a living language] said. ‘To retain your language is an emblem of survival through history. If you’ve still got your language now, you have the key to your culture.’ …

“Katarina Edmonds, a senior lecturer in Maori education at the University of Auckland, and one of three people who translated the film, said the team worked not only to find the exact equivalents of words in the Disney script, but also to remain true to the Maori language and tikanga, or cultural values.”

More at the New York Times, here.

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Photo: Ferg Horn via Associated Press
Two rabbits sat on the back of sheep to avoid rising flood waters on a farm near Dunedin, New Zealand, in July.

As we have all seen recently, a silver lining to hurricane devastation is that people who otherwise would never meet reach out instinctively to help each other in the rising waters.

Here is a story of animals helping other animals, albeit unwittingly. It took place in New Zealand, before either Hurricane Harvey or Irma.

As Nick Perry reported at the Boston Globe, “Three wild rabbits managed to escape rising floodwaters in New Zealand by clambering aboard sheep and surfing to safety on their backs.

“Ferg Horne, 64, says he’s been farming since he left school at age 15 and has never seen anything quite like it.

“He was trudging through pelting rain to rescue a neighbor’s 40 sheep from the floodwaters [at] their South Island farm near Dunedin when he spotted some dark shapes from a distance.

“He was puzzled because he knew his neighbor, who was away in Russia attending a nephew’s wedding, didn’t have any black-faced sheep. As he got closer, he thought it might be debris from the storm, which had drenched the area and forced Horne to evacuate his home.

“Then he saw the bedraggled rabbits hitching a ride — two on one sheep and a third on another sheep.

‘‘ ‘I couldn’t believe it for a start,’ he said.

“Nobody else would believe him either without proof, he thought, so he got out his phone to take a photo, an image he figured his grandchildren would enjoy. In fact, he inadvertently shot a short video. …

“Horne herded the sheep to a patch of dry ground on the farm about 50 meters (164 feet) away. The sheep didn’t like it.

‘‘ ‘As they jumped through the water, the rabbits had a jolly good try at staying on,’’ Horne said.

“He said the rabbits appeared to cling onto the wool with their paws. As they approached the higher ground, the rabbits fell off but managed to climb a hedge to safety.”

More.

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Art: Senckenberg
The discovery of one of the oldest penguin fossils in the world reveals higher diversity of early penguins than previously thought.

Whenever I am tempted to think that everything on the planet has been discovered, a new fossil turns up.

Melissa Breyer writes at TreeHugger that a recently unearthed penguin fossil is responsible for a small but significant adjustment to how we see our world.

“Along the Waipara River in New Zealand’s Canterbury region are sites rich in avian fossils, many of which were entombed in marine sand not long (relatively speaking) after the extinction of the dinosaurs.

“One of the more intriguing fossil finds there of late is that of a giant penguin discovered by ornithologist Dr. Gerald Mayr from the Senckenberg Society for Natural Research and a team of colleagues from New Zealand. The Waimanu penguin had a man-sized body length of 150 centimeters (5 feet) and … is among the oldest penguin fossils in the world.

“But what makes the Waimanu even more interesting is that the bones are significantly different from other penguin fossils from the same time period, revealing that the diversity of Paleocene penguins was higher than previously thought. …

” ‘This diversity indicates that the first representatives of penguins already arose during the age of dinosaurs.’ ” More here.

Pretty funny that in order to illustrate the size of the newly found penguin relative to a grown man, the Senckenberg Society put the man in a “penguin suit.”

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A charming feature on the radio show Studio 360 this spring was about a young beat boxer who turns birdcalls into music. (Wikipedia says beatboxing is “is a form of vocal percussion primarily involving the art of producing drum beats, rhythm, and musical sounds using one’s mouth, lips, tongue, and voice.”)

According to Studio 360, “Ben Mirin is a Boston area birdwatcher turned New York City beat boxer who decided to combine his two passions. ‘As a mimic, I was able to imitate certain bird calls,’ Mirin explains, ‘the American Bittern, the Common Eider.’ Mirin mines birdcalls and layers them with his own beats to construct compositions that fall somewhere between a musical mashup and an ornithologist’s field recordings.

“When he performed at the American Beatbox Festival last year, Mirin improvised a set where he combined spoken word, beatboxing, and bird calls to take the audience on a forest bird tour. ‘It was totally off the cuff,’ Mirin remembers, ‘and people went nuts.’

“Mirin has traveled the world as a field ornithologist. Combining beatboxing and birdcalls isn’t just about new music: ‘My craft is about using beatbox to build a bridge to the natural world.” ”

Listen to the music Mirin makes using real birdcalls, here.

Photo: Nick Mirin
Ben Mirin photographing birds in New Zealand’s Fiordland

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