Speaking more generally, are there certain themes or issues that feel important to you to keep tackling or addressing in your work?
With Onepū, I was drawn to express our relationship to our nature. The atua wahine are forces of nature. I live in a place called Piha that has greatly influenced me. I’m two minutes from the beach and, in Onepū, we work with sand closely. In fact, “Onepū” means sand. Living where I live in the bush by the beach, it influences my work.
Contemplating what I’m drawn to and why, I realize it has shifted. I’ve been making work for 19 years. Most of the time, I’m in the thick of making, though I start to reflect on why I choose the things I do. Dance for me has always been an expression of my Māoritanga (my culture). Dance feels like it takes me back into the past and forward into the future. My work exists in the realm of spirit, or wairua. When you break the word down, “wai” means water, and “rua” means two. It’s two waters coming together, both masculine and feminine, because spirit is genderless. In that space, I disappear and connect with something larger than myself. That’s the environment I try to create for my dancers as well.
What do you hope audiences take away from Onepū?
Just recently, we toured Onepū to Northland in predominantly Māori communities. We went to Kaitaia and presented a performance for a small audience of only 45 people, but it was one of the best audiences we’ve ever had. They were very responsive to the work, clapping after each section and then sang waiata and did a big mihi (acknowledgment) for us after the show. It was very moving and made me realize that the work is really resonating with Māori.
We have performed in Auckland for more of a contemporary dance audience, and it was well-received in that setting as well.
As a member of the contemporary Indigenous dance community, how have you personally seen the field evolve?
When we started Atamira in 2000, there were already Māori contemporary dance companies. In the 80s and 90s, the group Taiao (which emerged from the group Te Kanikani o te Rangatahi) were the pioneers of Māori contemporary dance. They were our mentors. For Atamira, we felt like we were a new voice, but also we were aware of those who had gone before us, our mentors who had guided our trajectory. I like to think this is what Atamira Dance Company has become for emerging Māori contemporary dancers and choreographers today.