I’ve had the honour of staying on marae a few times over my life, in both Te Ika-a-Maui and Te Wai Pounamu. And now I have the same feeling of sitting in a wharenui, listening to a story telling kaumatua, watching the energy of the story rise into the rafters like woodsmoke, to mingle with the words of the ancestors. It is the same tonight; Immersive. Time is suspended. I don’t feel any boundaries between past and present, it seems there is no linear timeline in this work offered by Atamira. The whakapapa of this immense work is incredibly satisfying. I am seeing the essence of those who have gone before, embodied in the current dancers. If dance is an elemental force, then the mana is palpably visible. This is my experience sitting in the Toitoi tonight, watching and feeling Atamira Dance Company.
Structurally, this work models itself on Te Wheke; Maori Health Model, created by Rose Pere. It is Hauora. It is tikanga which gives life to the very essence of the movement. Te Wheke is created by pairing eight choreographers with eight dancers, to create eight solos. Each pair create the work together “reflecting the eight tentacles of the graceful octopus.” (Jack Gray, Artistic Director) These are: Mauri - Total Wellbeing of the Individual and Family; Whanaungatanga – Extended Family; Wairua – Spirituality; Whatumanawa – The Open and Healthy Expression of Emotion; Hinengaro – The Mind; Mana Ake – Unique Identity of Individuals and Family; Tūpuna – Breath of Life from The Forbearers; Tinana – Physical Wellbeing.
Each solo is threaded into the wider ensemble connected by duets, trios and groups. It works, with most of these transitions seamless. The dancers move with precision and stealth, their fluidity illuminated by the stunning kakahu created by Marama Lloydd. This work is vastly layered, each layer rolling in, wave-like, bringing more meaning to feel and read. Visual Design from Louise Potiki Bryant draws together elements from the natural world, te taiao, beautifully incorporating iconic imagery from historic Atamira works. I feel like I’m looking through old photo album owned by Koroua. A warm feeling surrounds my physicality… Love. Paddy Free delivers quintessential sound design, assimilating emotional texture into his arrangement. John Verryt cleverly brings breath to the dance space with eight vertically hanging black habutai silk. As the silk animates with the wafting air from the dancers’ movements, I feel invited to ponder the duality of what I am watching… simultaneous vulnerability and strength and how these ideas weave back into and through the work. And, Vanda Karolczak strengthens all these layers with her lighting design.
There are excerpts from past works, beautifully woven into the present of this shimmering fabric. Nga Tahu 32 (2004) by Louise Potiki Bryant, Memoirs of Active Service (2006) by Maaka Pepene and Moko (2014) by Moss Patterson, just to name a few. It is heartening to see that these excerpts have stood the test of time. Excellence always will.
Te Wheke is a legacy work of this 21-year-old Maori Contemporary Dance Company. Since their conception, Atamira have always been exploring new frontiers. Pushing boundaries, always working from a cultural foundation with a perspective to “cultivate dance practice defined by tikanga Māori and whakapapa.” (Jack Gray, Artistic Director). Not even a global pandemic could keep them from developing this work. Te Wheke strengthens Atamira.
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