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The kaupapa of Atamira Dance Company

Brought together by a passion for contemporary dance and Māori expression, Atamira continues to collectively discover and rediscover what it means to collectively be a Māori Contemporary Dance Company.

Kaupapa means principles and ideas which act as a base or foundation for action. A kaupapa is a set of values, principles and plans which people have agreed on as a foundation for their actions. These principles form the foundation and ground (papa) from which custom (tikanga) and kawa (protocols) are established. ‘Kaupapa Māori’ means cultural principles built from Māori ideologies.

Within Atamira we recognise our direct connection to Whakapapa Māori and Kaupapa Māori. By honouring these existing ideologies we celebrate where and who we are in the world. From a Māori world-view, kaupapa gives us the reason and scope for what we do, and why we do it.

Our story has always been about creating platforms and growing new ones. Atamira is the platform or stage on which we perform, giving voice to ancestral and contemporary Māori experiences through our bodies, through dance. Atamira Dance Company grew from a vision that choreographer Jack Gray had to empower urban Māori through contemporary dance theatre. He invited fellow Māori choreographer/dancers Dolina Wehipeihana, Louise Potiki Bryant and Justine Hohaia to join him on the journey, and Atamira was formed as a collective in 2000.

“The vision for Atamira began in 1996 when I was a student. I was in Melbourne at the OZ/NZ Tertiary Dance Festival and I was inspired there by Bangarra Dance Theatre of Australia, which had Aboriginal contemporary dance artists making stunning work. They completely changed my perceptions of Aboriginal or indigenous people as broken down, dispossessed, alcoholic or disenfranchised… I saw the richness, vitality and intensity of the culture…. Not through traditional means, but by a modern retelling, re-forming and reshaping that highlighted their strength, passion and spirituality… I wanted this for our people too”. Jack Gray

The founding members wanted to make and present dance that reflected Māori perspectives, histories, narratives and whakapapa, and challenged the expectations at the time of what was contemporary, what was traditional, what was dance, and incorporated other art-forms. They wanted to make outstanding contemporary dance theatre that expressed the wairua of Maori.

Gray’s vision was to also to make and present work that reflected the artist’s identities and informed several viewpoints leading to a dissemination of what is/was/can be Māori — A Platform for Maori Contemporary Dance Artists. The notion of ‘Platform’ came from the Auckland DANZ Project in the late 90’s/early 2000’s led by Susan Jordan — The Platform where choreographers were provided space and dancers to workshop and create work that was then performed in a ‘showing’ for feedback and discussion. Gray re-modelled this idea and created ‘Atamira’ — as a platform for Maori dancers and choreographers. ‘Atamira’ translated literally in the dictionary as Platform.

Following the first Atamira performance season ‘Freshly Minted’ at Tatai Hono Marae Hall, Khyber Pass in Auckland in 2001 Potiki-Bryant and Wehipeihana had two key conversations with mentors Stephen Bradshaw and Charles Koroneho about the traditional meaning and use of Te Atamira, and listened to their korero about the weight and depth of the name Atamira. This influenced the direction of Atamira’s work at the time (2001 – 2003) to explore deeper themes of life and death, whakapapa, and spirituality. The collective grew steadily from 2003 to involve other dancers, choreographers, artists composers, and designers. The mauri of the collective was carried by a core group of dancers called ‘The Platform’ who steered the direction of Atamira in its middle years from 2004 – 2010, facilitated by Creative Producer Dolina Wehipeihana. The Platform group included Louise Potiki Bryant, Jack Gray, Justine Hohaia, Corinna Hunziker, Dolina Wehipeihana, Cathy Livermore, Moss Patterson, Maaka Pepene, Kura te Ua, Kelly Nash, and Gaby Thomas.

The desire to nurture and incorporate the ideas and energies of emerging choreographers and dancers continued, and in the middle years new Māori dancers and choreographers joined the journey including Nancy Wijohn, Pare Randall, Bianca Hyslop, Mark Bonnington, Tamihana Paurini, and Paora Taurima. Atamira’s Company philosophies were also shared by our first non-Māori Dancers who worked with the company as dancers and in other roles from 2010 including Liana Yew, Daniel Cooper, Andrew Miller and Megan Adams. He waka eke noa — A canoe which we are all in with no exception.

Atamira is an urban-based pan-tribal Company. Dancers and choreographers individually have connections to different iwi and hapu from across New Zealand. A powerful part of the Atamira story has been the acknowledgment of the individual connections each dancer has to their own whakapapa and the present day experience as Maori. Performances have borne the fruit of shared choreographic journeys into the stories, whakapapa of individual dance artists. By practicing Kaupapa Māori ideologies in our work through Wananga, karakia, visits to papa kainga and sites of significance to Te Ao Māori we have strengthened our work. Equally fully embracing our urban-ness and living as Modern Māori in New Zealand’s largest and most multi-cultural city feeds into our work.

Brought together by a passion for contemporary dance and Maori expression, Atamira continues to collectively discover and rediscover what it means to collectively be a Maori Contemporary Dance Company, and individually a Māori, a Pakeha, a New Zealander, a Human Being.

  • 30 June 2018