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TOMO reviewed by Lyne Pringle (Theatreview)

The world of Tomo is presented by Atamira Dance Company to sustain and manifest their kaupapa and artistic integrity onstage. Stylishly, smoothly exploring a doorway of existence, the company steps into Te Ao Mārama, to worship, with expressive movement, artistry, sound, and visual effects, at the altar of light. Striking performers calmly and quietly offer meticulously elegant and strong dancing.

To begin: male and female energy is intertwined. Twins explore, shift, turn; living beings in the womb awaiting birth: Sean MacDonald and Nancy Wijohn an artistic dream team. They are vitally alive, one moving towards light, one moving towards darkness.

In the space, in between, three spirits, winnow sinuous and inventive movement phrases. Gecko, moon, wave creatures, fierce-some yet soft, emerging, evolving, weaving, moulding, to shapeshift the wairua of liminal spaces, the inbetween-ness of the known and the dream state. They are gorgeous and distinctive: Abbie Rogers, Cory-Toalei Roycroft, Madi Tumataroa.

“In between light and dark is colour’ says the choreographer/creative director Gabrielle Thomas (Kāi Tahu, Te Atiawa te Tau Ihu), in her pre-show soft korero. Colour when it arrives is vivid, striking, aqua blue and bright red and the colour of clay;a fleeting splash in the monochromatic, ever-shifting mirrored world of the dance.

Scenes blossom, alter the shape of perception, rotate, morph, warp, dissolve then make space for another breath, another poetic rendering of bodies in new configurations expressing a fresh thought. There is a shadowy character, Caleb Heke, who remains in the realms of the unformed, mysterious – he alluringly prowls the edges and plays counterpoint. There are strange things: spoons for eye, spoons for feeding and scooping, spoons for clattering against the thigh, a playful rat a tat in the aural space.

The mirrored screens on wheels add tremendous shape and power to the performance space. Are the infinite possibilities for their configurations too seductive, causing tension with the bodies in the space?

Back to the twins, the expert movement magicians at the heart of things. Nancy Wijohn: utterly embodied presence, her movement tinged with sorrow, flowing from her centre unrestricted, to imbue the space with beautiful integrity and compassion. Sean McDonald: tentative, quirky, comically inventive with his light on wheels side kick, until he explodes, as if possessed, in a forceful solo that tosses him sideways to lurch floor-wards. These twins, now wrangling their respective fates, meet in a tender duet before their final separation.

Light beams, light shafts, light as a potent force: Darkness, inky black voidness, te kore, as a balancing power: the work of Vanda Karolczak. Textured sound emanates spatially, to sculpt the aural field: composition by Peter Hobbs. Set, Graham Collins and costumes, Vicki Slow add imperative components of the whole.

Are sound, light and scene too tethered? Could they slide away from each other more? Could the dynamics of everything including light and sound, have more peaks and troughs, the movement, at times, less earthbound? Or, is this steady weighted quality like the earth slowly turning, the point and exactly what is needed?

Battered but not broken, MacDonald rises again and again, until the dawn and a chorus of birds find him – Ko te reo o ngā manu tērā, Ka tangi nei it te ao.

How do you ‘choreograph’ wairua? Like this, with wisdom, clever craft and deep talent for knowing, how the shape of such things should be.

It’s all here in this whare of expressivity. The vision of the choreographer is the kete giving it shape. She invites her collaborators to contribute in their own way. They bring their manawa, mahi, commitment and skill to forge this mystical piece that dances in the transitive realm of things known and things unknown.