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Review of Hou 2018 - Tia Reihana

Ngā mihi nui ki a koutou katoa, Ko Ruapekapeka tōku maunga Ko Waiomio tōku awa No Ngāti Hine ahau Ko Tia Reihana-Morunga tōku ingoa

Thank you for the opportunity to provide written korero in response to Atamira Dance Company, Hou artistic development, and the presentation of choreography by Bianca Hyslop, and Eddie Elliot.

As an Indigenous artist and arts academic I am motivated about critical creative practice and pedagogy. Attending to negotiations of creative arts as means to foster culturally equitable ways of being in the world for Indigenous communities are meaningful outcomes. I acknowledge the pou that Atamira provides to this agency.

In response to my review of HOU a development showing, I am reflective towards the intent of this evening and its role within our extended communities. Tikanga that is specific to the collective of Atamira Dance Company, and ways in which ‘tuakana/teina’, whakawhanaungatanga, manaakitanga, awhitanga, e taonga tūpuna I tuku iho, are evident for the development of featured choreographers, dancers, whānau, hāpu, and iwi, are significant critical sites for artistic reflection.

In regards to tikanga, I am also inspirited to say that as established and developing artists our own independent means in which to activate space, wairuatanga, ihi wana, mana may also be considered as essential safe dance practices and techniques of the performer. The evening in the presentation of HOU choreography might therefore only be considered an ‘outcome’ and we should always be attentive to the creative journey that has resulted in the presentation of choreography to audience. In this perspective, I would encourage further means in which we have opportunity to share the ‘journey’ tautoko the journey of our creative artists.

Opportunities to view work in progress, talk, eat, laugh and professionally engage with Atamira prior to my writing this review has provided a more ‘tika and pono’ lens in which to respond to our mahi as Indigenous artists. Whanaungatanga – and the establishment and development of relationships are also essential points of reference to engage in a more intrinsic creative connections. As such, I wondered for the choreographers, “How they fostered tikanga/or their own personal understandings of activation in the ongoing development of the work?”… personally and within the collective.

Artistic output introduction – In the following note I have provided independent feedback for each of the choreographers. I would like to acknowledge their unique conversations and the sharing of personal and professional pūrākau, the flow between internal and external stimuli as basis for choreographic intent, and, the generational representation of people, place and context.

I regards to a wider lens, that HOU 2018 reflected a diversity of dancer and dynamic felt more inclusive, providing personal connections for distinct audience. The lived experiences of our kāumatua that are explored by Bianca Hyslop, to Eddie Elliot’s intertwined dynamics of space, consciousness and reality. I felt, witnessed, observed a meeting place of each, that might be located in the eruptions, movements, activations of our landscapes.

As tangata whenua, mana whenua articulating ourselves within the realities and outcomes of Dance Company frameworks, formalised expectations inclusive of performative outcomes can be challenging. However, being able to uniquely locate ourselves to Country, and the landscapes of our own moving bodies are essential. I think that this important conversation and relationship as means to authentically articulate Māori performing Arts in Aotearoa, was evident throughout.

Tuakana/teina was also demonstrated, providing necessary differences of time, energy and agency. Each work by featured choreographers although connected by embodiment of landscapes was different. Landscapes, and the eruption of stories occurred in each of these choreographies made me think about our wider relationships within Oceania. Current eruptions in Hawaii, and how Papatūānuku makes creates whenua, seemed a fitting thought to how we, as Iwi Māori creative communities, should work together to provide opportunities for developing artists with important perspectives to create their own whenua/work/choreography. Therefore, HOU 2018 is an important experience and outcome for the development of arts in Atamira and Aotearoa. My acknowledgements again to the work of Atamira, featured choreographers, and their dancers.


  • Choreographer: Bianca Hyslop
  • Performance Design: Rowan Pierce
  • Dancers and movement devisers: Kelly Nash, Daniel Cooper
  • Mentor: Tui Matira Ranapiri-Ransfield

My grandmother Ramari Rangiwhiua Morrison (Ginger) was born and raised in Whakarewarewa.  Situated on a double fault line Whakarewarewa is a place of tremendous power where the natural geothermal landscape is forever changing and re-shaping itself. At the age of 86 my grandmother now has Alzheimers. Pōhutu is a personal exploration of matching the nature of my grandmother’s now ‘state of mind’ with that of her mana whenua; The land that she was born from and will eventually return to. 

Quality of Choreographic concept

Our pūrākau are ways in which we make sense if the world we inhabit. These stories can occur through our own facilitation (mana motuhake), and some as treasures passed down from our ancestors (mana tūpuna and ātua). By sharing your pūrākau of whanau, Bianca provides an enriching view of who we are as distinct tangata whenua. The idea of ‘returning to’, ‘states of mind” “re-shaping” and landscapes of “tremendous power” are such enriching sites of consciousness to enquire as artists. The story of Biancas grandmother and the multi-layered realties of telling a specific story in what could be considered a non-specific way were really interesting.

For Bianca as a tuakana within Atamira whanau, I also felt a an non-agency within this work. Not necessarily within the frameworks of professional outcomes, more towards the conceptualising of choreographic intent. A somewhat ‘unfinished’ presentation, that due to Bianca’s experience as an artist, and relationships with whanau, meant that it was perhaps ‘tika and pono’ to ‘take time’ to explore a depth of knowledge that was associated with the choreographic intent.

In re: I look forward to the ongoing flux of this work. As audience, I have made a connection to her/your/their story, and consider ongoing unique imaginings/communications about the role of our Grandmothers to whenua.

Quality of Choreographers vision in relation to company vision ‘To dance with Mana’

In reflection of dancers, conceptualisations of ‘dancing with mana’ are never isolated to personalised articulations of the ‘solo’ dancer. Mana is a collective philosophical living experience that we live in our immediate relationships, carry in the love of our ātua and tūpuna, iwi, hāpu and whānau. Bianca’s mana as a choreographer and asking her dancers to work in this enriching space presents opportunities. Inherently a reflection of Bianca’s own whakapapa, this work also presents the dancers in their own mana motuhake.. a sense of authority as tuakana, knowledge holders in being the more experiences dancers in Atamira. This in itself was means in which to witness the mana of the collective.

Daniel and Kelly bring mana to this work. They have a depth of experience and knowledge. Bianca’s tuakana in particular settings, and how this relationship within the rehearsal process occurred is also a valuable reflection to the presentation of this work. Activation, how Kelly and Daniel danced Bianca’s story, and more importantly located their own is also an interesting critical consideration. When and where was the activation of each… or both… mana motuhake and the sense of autonomy in the body and the movement.

Relationships, that enhance our mana – within arts praxis are also significant contributions to the knowing of our personal and creative tikanga. Thank you Bianca for providing the opportunity for the audience to see the mana of this duo. A more mature agency, perhaps less needful, more comfortable… wonderful characteristics that as older generations we have worked hard for! Lol. For Atamira: the providing sustained opportunities for tuakana as leaders, mentors is also very important. I hope to see the development of this relationship in this work.

Quality of Dance Technique and quality of Performance Technique

Dance technique in relation to ihi, wana, mana, wehi – are enriched through activation of the different states of performance korero. As a reviewer It can be uncomfortable to consider the quality of this, when they are personal and inherent of whakapapa.

As an artist it may be about the critical conceptualisation of how we provide opportunities as choreographers for dancers to explore and activate their own embodied techniques. The activation of our whakapapa to explore the stories of others. This might be a valuable consideration to the further development of this work… In returning to the programme note: considerations of how Bianca explored ‘tremendous power” and yet the inherent vulnerabilities of her Grandmothers story, are thoughtful towards how the choreographic intent might be considered for further investigations of technique.

In re: to more western frameworks of understanding technique, Daniel and Kelly within contemporary genre are trained dancers, performing well executed choreography throughout. There is familiarity in watching them move, a familiarity that is important if we were to perhaps move into more fragmented choreographic conversations that could be evoked in this work.

Perhaps safety also creates a re-imagining of the spaces it may occupy. The set design – and the technique and performance relationships that existed in its implementation provided more multi-dimension possibilities. Perhaps the exploration of this set and the contradictions of plastic and smoke – made the work move into more challenging territories.

Quality of Design elements

The set design was experimental, and therefore a powerful component to this work. Supported vision to unpack the complexities of how you use, pen, plastic and smoke I don’t think were presented as being creatively solved. I felt that they were still in the rigor of creative inquiry… And within the arts creative inquiry… having time to honour artistic process can be a luxury!! Lol. So being presented at HOU 2018, with unopened lines, transitions, placements, finishing, hanging and breath… was interesting, leaving space for my imagination to occupy potential stories and meaning making. The quality of the design elements for this work were in the experimentation and the trust of process. Watching smoke blown into plastic was like watching mauri take physical form. Writing with pen to plastic a contemporary tukutuku panel.

Behind the Canvas

  • Choreographer: Eddie Elliott
  • Dancers: Bianca Hyslop, Elijah Kennar, Atalya Loveridge, Keana Ngaata, Toa Paranihi, Aloalii Tapu and Sophie Greig
  • Music: Jason Wright
  • Song: Aria - Lisa Gerrard 

After researching in Canada, I became interested in the space between abstraction and reality. I came across a Swiss artist, Andy Denzler, (which this work is inspired by), who works with oil paintings in that liminal space between abstraction and reality.  With the help of the dancers, I have explored this idea, and we have created our own world that include moments of anticipation, haka elements and influences of NZ sign language - which are then distorted to question that reality. Thanks to: Jack Gray, Moss Patterson, Taniora Motutere, Taane Mete, Chrissy Kokiri, Ruth Woodbury, Canada's Ballet Jörgen, Sandra Laronde.

Quality of Choreographic concept

A collage of thought that upon reading the programme note may seem a gathering of brief experience. However, the reality of this work was a deeply felt communication. Following from Pōhutu and the calmed disruptions evident in the whenua of whakarewarewa, ‘behind the canvas’ strongly suggest that canvas may be the our canvas of skin, the canvas of earth over, and the underneath or ‘behind’ that reveals something ‘other’ about how we might engage with ourselves, environment and the cosmos.

Sign language, and the reality (revealed during post discussion) that this is another means in which the choreographer has grown up communicating, brought an authenticity and interest as to how the choreographer and dancers kinaesthetically linked an array of discussion. Sounds, and fragmentations of gesture presented very personalisd pathways. Personal, and what I almost felt as the political, also presented a potential protest of convention, even in the formalities of a distinct choreographic structure.

There within this choreographic concept fragmentations of haka, abstraction, sign language, and moments shared in Canada with artists, is a vast collection of stimuli. What are the beginnings and what are the transitions of each, do however seem woven together in tukutuku korero. Rhythm, stance, formation, chant – all reveal a specific canvas that although connects to Canada are somewhat Indigenous to Aotearoa

Quality of Choreographers vision in relation to company vision ‘To dance with Mana’

How the choreographer worked with the dancers reality of this choreographic concept, was as audience member, successful. I believed in the inclusion of flesh and agility that the choreography providing a real investigation of something tangible. In contrast to the prior work, movement was from a younger dialogue of dancer. The agency was assertive in projection. Dancers young were moving into spaces of undoing.

The presentation of Mātauranga Māori in dance challenges western conceptions of the moving and often privileged aesthetic. Pukana sometimes seen, as ‘aggressive or even ugly’ are in fact representations of beauty, strength and respect for Iwi Māori. Dancing ‘a’ pukana, as opposed to ‘feeling’ pukana as an extension of your mana, are enriching investigations for dancers. For Indigenous choreographers in Aotearoa, they are substantial validations of intent. Our accountability that we cannot perform ‘it’ we must instead ‘become’’ are ways in which we connect to and celebrate our whakapapa. For the choreographer in this work, connecting to disruptions of consciousness, and being able to activate metaphysical contributions of choreographic intent like mana, ihi, wana, wairua, and wehi were crucial.

In a culturally distinct cast of dancers’ that mana was evident for all was a meaningful protocol to consider, and as audience member witness. To cover the body in earth/body paint/ochre is not a new concept, yet remains a very strong statement for the work and the dancers. Looking to the body as a birthing statement of something, raises many cross-arts-cultural contexts for further research and choreographic developments.

That the dancers were able to confidently carry a collection of in depth critical conceptualisations was evident of their mana as performers and artists. That the choreographer was willing in some ways to challenge the status quo of the performative and therefore bring discomfort to the traditional arts setting was commendable!

Quality of Dance Technique and quality of Performance Technique

Dancers moved with rigor and precision. The activation of wairuatanga essential to the wellbeing of the choreographic intent was evident. The work moved through stages .. some sections more unstable than others. Yet instability seemed very complementary, as it disrupted the agency to present a ‘finished work’ – the undone moments presented a movement quality unique and potentially transformative.

An aesthetic of dancer, seemed aligned to a rigorous energy in which to realise the intent of the choreography. Therefore, the mana of dancers and their commitment to choreography demonstrated a certain authority. That dancers communicated a confidence throughout was important and led to the successful performance of this work.

Quality of Design elements

Fragmentations of haka implemented the overall design. Formation and pathways providing a particular lens in which to locate the intent of the work. Linear cross-overs emphasis my use of tukutuku terminology throughout this review. It may not have been a deliberate consideration of the choreographer, yet this embedded knowledge seemed unearthed throughout. Hearing more form the choreographer in the post-discussion, also provided a meaningful reflection as to the multi-layered approaches to how we explore whanaungatanga, and whanau (relationships) in dance and performance outside of the formalities of kapa haka. This work through the simplicity of design evoked such thoughts. The meeting place for an array of choreographic intent may be more exploratory within the design for future developments of this work. What was deliberate, what a matter of serendipity, and/or time-management all provide points of departure in which to deeply unravel and develop this meaningful and powerful work.

Programme Quality

I have attended prior presentations of HOU. Arriving at Atamira, what I thought may be a relative informal showing due to its advertising and community korero, was in fact a gathering of artistic community. Congratulations! Whanaungatanga echoed in the gathering of all. And whakawhanaungatanga is about pre-existing relationships and the development of new. Whanau, whanau, whanau to acknowledge the emerging artistry and development of important future generations in Māori arts. That this kaupapa also encompasses Pacific, Oceanic, Indigenous and native communities should not be overlooked in the value to global communities. Locations of Unitec are meaningful, acknowledging Wairaka, and the whakapapa within Unitec dance department also significant. HOU is distinct and celebratory of Indigenous artists, speaking to and challenging a specific discourse that privileges Western frameworks of artistic expression. Also opportunity to gather, eat, drink, and tautoko the creative journey of dancers and choreographers in Aotearoa, provides essential moments to gather as a collective, Indigenous and non-Indigenous. Atamira therefore through HOU, provide pivotal relational discourses essential to the development and success of Indigenous arts praxis in Aotearoa.

For further consideration Atamira may contend: Post- performance korero. How you frame discussion, intention and community equitable inclusivity, and reciprocity that is further reflective of whakawhanaungatanga. Programme notes: And further the tautoko in how developing artists approach the verbal and written discussions of their work. In particular, hui and having to articulate creative processes. Although it is not expected that choreographers would be confident in public speaking or writing.. to help skills as ambassadors/extensions/whānaunga in the Indigenous artistic expressions of Atamira encouraging through practice of whaikorero, pepeha and mihi may further enrich the impact of their work to whanau.

CNZ strategic results:

In a wider context HOU 2018, engages the taonga that are Bianca and Eddie. Their participation in this project contributes to Atamira, and collective arts praxis in Aotearoa. That this may occur under the guidance of important artistic and cultural directors is also significant and I would strongly suggest meets the expectation of Creative New Zealand relevant policy. For example, in regards to ‘heritage’, Hou provides a platform in which to navigate whakapapa and the acquisition of new knowledge. As Iwi Māori we understand the importance in the transition of our knowledge. Whanaungatanga and the implementation of ako, tuakana and teina are all pou, part of how we progress through artistry and the communication of diverse story. Hou, 2018 was an outcome in the ongoing acknowledgement of our communities that include arts organisations like CNZ. For the developing of potential, I believe that HOU is pivotal in the engagement of opportunities. In particular the wellbeing of whānau, hāpu and Iwi through contemporary and performing arts. It challenges problematic binaries of how we define Maori performance, providing the ongoing re-imagining of how we engage with mātauranga Māori within critical creative arts praxis. Negotiations of kaupapa Māori discourse within more traditional structure of the performing arts are also significant for the HOU programming. Socio-political contexts, that identify the value of fostering the careers of Indigenous artists in Aotearoa are important. Bianca and Eddie and their future wellbeing as Indigenous artists in Aotearoa are important. I believe that HOU provided such experiences of wellbeing for their future and the future of Māori contemporary arts. I feel humbled to have had the opportunity to respond to their work.

Ngā mihi nui ki a koutou katoa Tia Reihana

  • 25 May 2018
  • Unitec
  • Studio 2