Atamira Dance Company
A reflection of kupu — Atamira Choreographers
Kia whakatōmuri te haere whakamua

I walk backwards into the future with my eyes fixed on my past
For Te Wiki o te Reo Māori 2022, we thought we would look back at Atamira's 22 year history and hear some whakaaro from the choreographers of full-length works about how and why they choose the names of their works. He aha te kupu māori? He aha te kanikani?

Five choreographers of five works will be sharing their thoughts this week on this page and our social media platforms. Sharing with us the definition of the kupu they choose but also the pakiwaitara which connects us even more to their kaupapa.
NGĀ WAI | Sean MacDonald
Nga Wai Programme
NGĀ WAI (2020)


“I chose Ngā Wai as the name because all the pūrākau involved water, Waimārama (clear and clarifying waters), Te Motu o Kura and how she could dive to the natural spring in the middle of the moana and the puna that showed the future, the awa of Pōhokio, the migration and navigation of te waka Takitimu through the Pacific and Hinengatiira. It seemed like the natural choice, in and of the many waters.

You could say that whakapapa is like water it flows through generations, it gives life, it nourishes as well as storytelling meandering, streaming through and around important life and plot markers.”

- [Sean MacDonald (Choreographer)] (/SeanMacDonald)
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TOMO | Gabrielle Thomas
TOMO (2019)

(verb) to enter

“Wāhine carry the entrance to the world of light.
Ko te whare tangata te tomokanga ki te ao marama.

The work was originally going to be called Maomao (the moment when rain suddenly stops) to metaphorically describe an epiphany or a moment of knowing. It changed to TOMO in the works development period. It evolved from the whakapapa of light and darkness into the entering and exiting the world of light and how we navigate the space between. Birth, life and death are always embedded in my work. 

Tomo can mean to enter. A tomokanga is an entrance. Wāhine carry their womb which is the entrance to the world of light.  Ko te whare tangata te tomokanga ki te ao marama.

Keeping bloodlines going, an arranged marriage can be called a Tomo.

A tomo is a sacred cave or sinkhole where the bones of our ancestors lie.”

- [Gabrielle Thomas (Choreographer)] (/GabrielleThomas)
TOMO 23 Toalei
ATAMIRA | Kelly Nash
ADC Atamira 3
ATAMIRA (2017)

(noun) stage, platform, elevated platform, raised platform - on which the corpse or coffin is laid during the period of the tangihanga

“ATAMIRA is a platform to remember those that have passed, our closeness to our own imminent death and remind us of the importance of people, relationships and life. Some of these moments are the private expressions held within us and others are a reflection of what happens around us when we are changed by the dynamic of death.

ATAMIRA represents these intimate moments surrounding death, reflected in this name which holds the tikanga and customs of our tūpuna.”

- [Kelly Nash (Choreographer)] (Kelly Nash)
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MITIMITI | Jack Gray
ADC Mitimiti 1

(verb) to lick, lick up, lap up

“I chose Mitimiti when I was given a choreographic development opportunity through Atamira’s Hou programme in 2011. Mitimiti is where my grandmother said we came from. A small coastal village on the North Hokianga. Mitimiti was a name to the feeling of connection and disconnection to myself, my people and my place in the world. There was a moment where I almost changed the name just prior to the 2015 premiere at Tempo Dance Festival. I felt a bit whakama that I might not be able to do justice to a place I didn’t grow up in and was about to call the show Kopatapata (the name of my glass patu meaning radiance of light through water). In the end I thought I might never get the opportunity to uplift the name of Mitimiti so I swapped it back. I’m so glad I did. #mitimiti

Mitimiti means “to lick” and is remembered tribally in reference to the licking of blood and a slain warriors remains. This gruesome story came after a whale had washed up. The local iwi claimed the whale and retreated to get tools. Meanwhile a second iwi came along and took the whale which started the violent and bloody act of retribution. For me, Mitimiti became like an electric current, an impulse of connecting that enabled people I engaged with creatively to find a bold and dynamic energy. It became a story I shared worldwide - including a global hashtag campaign where people sent a photo with the words #mitimiti #whereyouat Atamira visited Mitimiti in 2011 and I visited and researched several times after that, eventually helping with Marae DIY restoration of our whare. X” 

- Jack Gray (Choreographer)] (/JackGray)
NGĀI TAHU | Louise Potiki Bryant
NGĀI TAHU 32 (2004)

The principal Māori iwi of the South Island

“Ngāi Tahu 32 was the first full-length work by Atamira Dance Company, presented in 2004. The kaupapa for the work was inspired by my whakapapa and by the on-going effects of land purchases in Te Waipounamu which occurred between 1844 to 1863. The work was also inspired by stories handed down about my tūpuna, including their resilience, struggles and determination within the context of this 20 year period during which approximately 80% of Te Waipounamu was sold to the Crown, in nine land sales. 

In particular Ngāi Tahu 32 followed my tupuna Wiremu Pōtiki, and his journey through time carrying the coins for the sale of his land. The work travels from the struggles of his time to a vision of hope for the future, in the form of a child who shines brightly on the horizon, Hineiteataariari.

The mishandling of the land sales and the allocation of reserves and resources which were promised as part of these sales, led to whakapapa being formally recorded to progress tribal land claims. Whakapapa files were created, added to and restored over the long 150 year period of Te Kereme (the Ngāi Tahu claim). The whakapapa of the Pōtiki whānau is contained within the file named Ngāi Tahu 32, which is why I gave the work this name.”

- [Louise Potiki Bryant (Choreographer)] (/LouisePotikiBryant)
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