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TE WHEKE reviewed by Alesha Ahdar and Lyne Pringle (Dominion Post)

In an enlightened move, Atamira Dance Company have chosen to scaffold their 21st birthday celebration performance, Te Wheke, on the extraordinary qualities of the octopus; a creature that experiences and responds to the environment through eight autonomous, yet totally unified tentacles.

The idea that dance can provide a map for wellness, Hauora, through connection and integration is sentient.

Beyond the realm of this forethought the work unfolds with utter integrity and clarity. It offers a transcendent, magical experience with impeccable performances and production values. Choreography portrays the message. Te Wheke provides dignified reverberations beyond the walls of the theatre to connect to the wider societal shifts occurring in Aotearoa with long-sought changes in governance structures for Māori – autonomous tentacles of Tino Rangatiratanga.

This company of extraordinary pioneers is celebrated and seen to have a finger on the pulse wider than the artform of dance. Choreographers at all stages of development create eight solos for eight dancers. They bring their considerable wairua to meet the new generation of energetic, lithe dancers who share the stage with epic dance tohunga Sean MacDonald.

Whilst the casting is appropriate and understandable, the stage yearns for the kōiwi of other seasoned performers. Justine Hohaia, Maake Pepene and Moss Patterson are present in spirit via movement and projections.

Time travels, taking us from Te Kore to modern times, referencing Te Tiriti, Colonisation and Kiwiana. The performers come together to perform mau rākau and again to represent the whenua, or many mountains. One performer dances to the sound of Māori heavy metal band Alien Weaponry.

Imagery is projected onto materials hanging from the ceiling. We see the performers as children, and we see them as strong wahine​ and tāne​ ancestors.

The creative pairings (choreographers first) are: Kelly Nash, Eddie Elliott Mauri; Louise Potiki Bryant, Dana Moore-Mudgway Hinengaro; Dolina Wehipeihana, Sean MacDonald Whanaungatanga; Taane Mete, Caleb Heke Tinana; Gabrielle Thomas, Emma Cosgrave Wairua; Kura Te Ua, Abbie Rogers Tūpuna; Jack Gray, Oli Mathiesen Mana Ake and Bianca Hyslop, Cory-Toalei Roycroft Whatumanawa.

Each solo sparkles like a jewel amidst the vibrant and multi layered sound and visual scape conjured by consummate design artists Paddy Free (sound) and Louise Potiki-Bryant. The sense of a unified vision is attributable to their considerable input. They are joined by John Verryt (Set), Vanda Karolczak (light) and Marama Lloyd (costumes) in the design team.

Interspersed between are precious excerpts from the choreographic archive and fresh new bursts of impressive group sequences that take us into the puku of te wheke, to loll beneath the waves before creating a shimmer, kārohirohi, of dynamic and intensely emotional bursts of movement through the space.

Congratulations to Jack Gray and Marama Lloyd at the helm of the waka. Mauri ora!