Nicholle Ama vividly remembers the last time Cook Islands took part in the prestigious Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo.
The Tattoo was about 70 years old; Nicholle was five.
The year was 2001 and this country made its debut in the annual event featuring Commonwealth and international military bands, and artistic performance teams.
Ama was watching her older brother and other performers prepare for the show in Edinburgh.
Eighteen years later, she gets the opportunity to take the stage herself, in Sydney.
A group of 26 performers including tour manager Glenda Tuaine left Rarotonga for Sydney yesterday.
Ama beamed with delight as she and other first timers boarded the Royal Australian Air Force Globemaster cargo plane on a journey of a lifetime.
“I remember I was probably five then, running around the performers during their rehearsals and this time around, I’m one of the members,” she laughs.
“It’s really cool to dance with a group of experienced members, some of who have been to the 2001 Tattoo,” Nicholle says. “To be a part of the Tattoo knowing how long it has come is pretty exciting for me.”
Lead drummer Te Ina Tapurau is one of those who represented the country in their first Tattoo in 2001.
“We had a group of 80 performers – 10 parents, 10 drummers, 30 girls and 30 boys. The youngest in the group then was 14 and the oldest 18. I was 17 years old then,” Tapurau says.
“We were the only ones who were invited to do a cultural performance and we did everything, from pe’e, action song and drum dance for the whole of six to seven minutes.”
Time is one luxury the Cook Islands will not be given this year. The country will be performing along with six other Pacific countries – Fiji, Samoa, Tonga, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea.
And in total, the Pacific team will have only six minutes to perform at the Tattoo.
This could be a nightmare to many choreographers but not to lead choreographer Alana Short and her assistant Jane Rubena.
“First of all, Cook Islanders can do anything, time is not a problem!
“But with this one, they have prescribed what they want us to do and that’s the difference between this and other shows that we have done,” Short says.
“They have kind of given us a theme and guidelines that we have to adhere to.”
Cook Islands’ performance will depict the ocean. Based on this theme, Short and her team selected their dance group, dominated by females. There are 16 female dancers, one male dancer and eight drummers.
“We had the choice to either go with majority female or male dancers. Since we are depicting ocean, we decided to have majority female dancers with the focus on the sole male dancer,” Short says.
“You typically take half female and half male to any shows but this one is different because it is dictated by the theme that is given to us.”
Tour manager Glenda Tuaine said there were a lot of discussions held around themes and its impact on the audience in Sydney and globally.
“In the early stages of concepting, one of the things we discussed was the impact of Cooks having the ocean theme,” Tuaine says.
“We hope to be able to create a genuine power in each of the performances to be able to give that audience in Australia an idea of just how important the ocean is to our islands. That’s why our promotion image was taken on Marumaru Atua where we are trying to talk the fact that climate change is upon us and the ocean is really important to us.
“Sure people will be going ‘wow aren’t those girls pretty, those drummers drum so well or those costumes are amazing’ – but behind it all, there is reasoning and possibility to be able to make some sort of message.”
Apart from relaying our message about the ocean, what else will this show bring to the Cook Islands?
Promotion. Tourists. And more money.
Cook Islands Tourism Corporation, which is supporting the team, hopes the performers will capture the hearts and minds of people who would be enticed to visit the country in the future.
Marketing director Karla Eggelton says the country’s culture and performing arts make us stand out among the plethora of colourful cultures, regionally and worldwide – and Cook Islands Tourism’s job is to leverage that to sell people tropical holidays “to our little paradise”.
The history of the Tattoo: Should old acquaintance be forgotten?
The Tattoo is an iconic Edinburgh institution, and a sell-out year after year after year.
Music, dance and precision display with the massed pipes and drums, the massed military bands, cultural troupes, singers and the poignant refrain of the lone piper.
Now, the Tattoo is taken on the road – and this year, the Edinburgh Tattoo in Sydney is being billed as the largest ever staged.
Each year's Tattoo is very much a “global gathering” – showcasing the talents of musicians and performers from every corner of the globe.
Each and every Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo is different from the last. The Tattoo embraces different themes; nature, creativity and Scotland's homecoming are just some of the concepts explored in recent times.
The Tattoo in Sydney will feature more than 1,500 pipers, drummers, dancers, military musicians and performers from around the world, brought to life set against the backdrop of a full-size replica of Edinburgh Castle.
ANZ Stadium will fill with the sights and sounds of 320 pipes and drums, 100 Highland dancers, 13 military bands with 865 military performers, 40 Scottish fiddlers, a 100-strong Australian Federation Guard and performers from around the Pacific.
Of course, the Cook Islands team may struggle to upstage the standards: Auld Lang Syne and Scotland the Brave.
More than 14 million people have attended the Tattoo, with an annual audience of around 220,000. In addition, around 100 million people see the Tattoo each year on international television.
And unlike the Rugby World Cup, not a single performance of the Tattoo has ever been cancelled.