Thomas Fonua is a proud man of Samoan/Tongan descent. Born in New Zealand, Thomas started to dance at the age of seven. His mum saw that he loved to move but showed no interest in sport, so she enrolled him in dance instead.
“My work is influenced by my heritage”
At the young age of 16, Thomas was offered a two-year apprenticeship with Black Grace, based in Auckland. There are few professional dance opportunities in New Zealand, so gaining full-time employment was a true honour and was the start of a solid, successful career for the young dancer.
Thomas was the youngest dancer in the company, with a 10-year age gap between him and the next youngest dancers. This was a significant period of growth and cemented his passion for dance. During this time Thomas toured numerous works through Europe, Asia, North America and Canada as one of the company’s leading dancers.
In 2010, Thomas was invited to participate in The Banff Centre’s Indigenous Dance Residency. Thomas participated in the program for many years before being invited to take up a position as a faculty member. As a faculty member, he helps by working with and mentoring Indigenous dancers from all over the world.
Thomas has since worked for Red Sky Performance in Canada, where he is an associate artist. He has worked on productions including Migration (2011) and inSIGNia (2013). Thomas has also worked with artists including Sandra Laronde, Neil Ieremia, Rafael Bonachela, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, Jock Soto, Douglas Wright, Raewyn Hill, Ross McCormack and Garry Stewart.
Thomas joined Australian Dance Theatre (ADT) in 2015. Subsequently, he has performed in works including Proximity, Be Your Self, Doppelganger and Habitus. He has also had his work MALAGA programmed as part of ADT’s Ignition program, which seeks to foster the next generation of choreographers.
His work MALAGA explored the dark past of human zoos or ‘Volkershau’, in which individuals were brought in from colonial frontiers, for European audiences. This work drew upon ideas of exhibition, captivity and exoticism.
I spoke to Thomas, in the lead up for a performance of Be Your Self, soon to open in Melbourne, the first time it will be performed in the Victorian capital.
Be Your Self is a significant work for Thomas, being the first work he danced in for ADT as a guest artist during the work’s 2014 tour of Indonesia. Be Your Self is also one of his favourite pieces to perform: “Because it is so much fun”
Be Your Self was created by Garry Stewart, and examines how the body is central to our identity and that our notion of the ‘self’ is indeed located in our bodies.
Thomas is a fascinating and passionate dancer who will continue to bring more to the world of contemporary dance. This interview is a wide ranging discussion, which includes everything from RuPaul – “the unsung hero” – to studying business, performing in drag and what it means to be an Indigenous dancer, to preparing for performances and how Thomas aims for the future.
You can find out more about Thomas Fonua on the ADT website.
Check out the fabulous archive of dance makers and leaders including: Meryl Tankard, Daniel Jaber & Gideon Obarzanek
And stay tuned for future episodes in this season, focussing on the experience of those currently who are dancing. This season will capture a true diversity of experiences, including Samantha Hines (ex ADT dancer, subsequently working with Dancenorth and Stephanie Lake), Melanie Lane (choreographer and performer based between Berlin and Melbourne) and Gareth Chambers (Cardiff-based Visual Dance artist recently in Australia for YIRRAMBOI festival)
If you have enjoyed this episode please consider leaving a donation. Contributions keep this little project going strong, and are the only source of funding for this project. A big thank you to Stephanie Lake whose donation helped fund this episode! You can listen to the wonderful Stephanie Lake’s interview from Season One.