Mana Wahine

Hamilton Gardens, Te Parapara, Hamilton

15/02/2014 - 16/02/2014

Civic Theatre, 1170 Fenton Street, Rotorua, Rotorua

27/06/2014 - 28/06/2014

Q Theatre, 305 Queen St, Auckland

03/07/2014 - 05/07/2014

Regent Theatre, The Octagon, Dunedin

11/07/2014 - 12/07/2014

Mangere Arts Centre, Auckland

25/07/2014 - 27/07/2014

Playhouse, Gallagher Academy of Performing Arts, Hamilton

01/08/2014 - 03/07/2014

CHB Municipal Theatre, Waipawa, Napier

08/08/2014 - 09/08/2014

Te Whaea National Dance and Drama Centre, 11 Hutchison Rd, Newtown, Wellington

13/08/2014 - 16/08/2014

Q Theatre, Rangatira, Auckland

07/06/2016 - 11/06/2016

Circa One, Circa Theatre, 1 Taranaki St, Waterfront, Wellington

21/06/2016 - 26/06/2016

Hamilton Gardens Arts Festival 2014

Kia Mau Festival 2016

Production Details

Artistic Directors/Choreographers: Taiaroa Royal, Taane Mete
Guest Choreographer: Malia Johnston
Te Ariki Tapairu/Kuikui O Ōkareka Dance Company: Tui Matira Ranapiri-Ransfield

Presented by Okareka Dance Company

The true story of Te Aokapurangi, a young maiden from Rotorua influences the storyline of this production. She was captured in battle by a tribe from the Far North and many years later she returned and single handily saved her people from slaughter. The story of Te Aokapurangi has been the pivotal inspiration behind this work. Her courage, determination and fearlessness fuels the choreographic style explored in this exciting new piece.

The basket of ideas accumulated over the last two years comes to fruition as the all-female cast carve the stage with dance, waiata and mesmerising imagery. Royal and Mete share the choreographic floor with World of WearableArt (WOW) artistic director Malia Johnston. Together with Johnston they ignite the stage with a unique movement vocabulary that is drawn from the tale of Te Aokapurangi and ancient mythology.

Okareka invites leading choreographers, dancers and designers when devising a new work and Mana Wahine is no exception. This process allows each artist to indulge their talents without restriction. It is from this that the highest level of creativity is achieved. It will also be the first time that the choreography will be layered in such a way that it becomes seamless. This co-authorship allows the work to develop organically.

The world premiere of Mana Wahine will be in Rotorua on Friday 27 June and will be followed by a national tour to 11 centres across New Zealand. Performers Bianca Hyslop, Maria Munkowits, Nancy Wijohn, Chrissy Kokiri and Jana Castillo have been selected for this work not just for their experience as dancers but, even more so, for their experience as women.

Okareka is excited to bring together a dynamic cast who will transcend ideas into their bodies, cultivating a fluid production that honours strength, honesty, integrity and energy – all beautiful attributes of women.

Auckland 2016 season at Q Theatre
Tuesday Jun 7 – :Saturday Jun 11 2016
Tue – Sat: 7.30pm
Sat matinee: 2pm
Venue:Rangatira, 1hr 10mins (no interval)
Ticket price:$38 – $49 (booking fees may apply)
See more at:

Wellington 2016 season at Circa Theatre

Tuesday 21 June 6.30pm
Wednesday 22 June 6.30pm
Thursday 23 June 8pm
Friday 24 June 8pm and extra schools show 1pm
Saturday 25 June 8pm and extra Matinee 2pm

$46 – Adult
$38 – Seniors & Students
$25 – Under 25s
$39 – Groups of 6+
$36 – Groups of 20+

After the shows on Tuesday and Thursday nights and the matinee on Saturday there will be a Q&A with the dancers and creators of Mana Wahine. Stick around to pick the brains of this extremely creative company!

2014 – Matariki Under The Stars festival
Rotorua (world premiere):
27 & 28 June, Civic Theatre
Auckland: 2-5 July, Rangatira @ Q Theatre
Dunedin: 11-12 July, Regent Theatre
Whangarei: 15 July, Forum North
Kerikeri: 19 July, Turner Centre
Kaitaia: 22 July, Te Ahu Centre
Mangere: 25 – 27 July, Mangere Arts Centre
Tauranga: 29 July, Baycourt Theatre
Hamilton: 1 & 3 August, Playhouse, Gallagher Academy of Performing Arts
Waipawa, Hawke’s Bay: 8-9 August, CHB Municipal Theatre
Wellington: 13-16 August, Te Whaea

Visit for ticketing, venue and further information regarding this event.

Dancers: Maria Munkowits, Nancy Wijohn, Bianca Hyslop, Jana Castillo plus Emily Adams (2016) /Chrissy Kokiri  2014)
Understudies (2014): Ula Buliruarua, Skye Leanne-Hurst

Costume Designer: Elizabeth Whiting
AV Design: Rowan Pierce
Music Composer: Victoria Kelly
Set Design: Tracey Collins
Technical Manager: Johnny Cross
General Manager/Producer: Rachael Penman
Rehearsal Director: Natalie Maria Clark

Maori contemporary dance , Dance-theatre , Dance , Contemporary dance , Te Ao Māori ,

65 mins

Two years after debut, Mana Wahine still an unforgettable performance

Review by Ann Hunt 22nd Jun 2016

The multi-layered show is constructed as a series of abstract scenes which are open to various interpretations. Above all it celebrates the many facets of women, their power, their courage, their humour and their beauty.

The all women production is inspired by two women from two different kinships – those of Kearoa and Te Aokapurangi.

Although under different circumstances, both of these courageous women were responsible for saving the people of their tribes. [More]


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Embracing the inherent power of mana wahine as a collective force

Review by Dione Joseph 08th Jun 2016

Mana. Wahine.There is an energy embedded in these two words that defies the adequacy of the English language.

There is an energy embedded in these two words that defies the adequacy of the English language.

The tendency to translate, to equalize and offer words of sufficient satisfaction are tempting but it is rare that this ever fully possible. Mana Wahine asks, in fact invites, her audiences to embrace both the mana of our wahine, but also to recognise and acknowledge the inherent power of Mana Wahine as a collective.

This is the return season of Okareka’s fabulously well received production, but for many at the opening night in Auckland, including myself, this was our first engagement with one of New Zealand’s most visually arresting and potent dance works.

Under the stewardship of kuia Tui Matira Ranapiri-Ransfield, co-authors Tai Royal, Taane Mete and Malia Johnston have brought together a fierce and spirited narrative that blends worlds, vivid imagery and human dexterity. Emily Adams, Jana Castillo, Bianca Hyslop, Maria Munkowits and Nancy Wijohn are powerhouses on stage, each channelling their individual and collective stories into sequences of nuanced movement that are complete as they are cohesive within the overarching narrative.

The work begins with a projection of Tui Ranapiri-Ransfield, she is the matriarch, the cradler of this space. Her pukana are staunch, fierce and already the kawa of the show are being laid out. The ceremony has begun. The scrim drops away and we see projections on the back wall while five bodies writhe beneath fabric. The call is made, the karanga from the kuia and out of the bowels of Papatuanuku these women are born, brought out of the earth. A waerea is offered and together, audience and company begin a shared and engaged journey.

Okareka have created a finely wrought contemporary work that is deeply indigenous and profoundly modern. The aesthetics are sublime. Rowan Pierce’s AV design is meticulous and exacting, the multiple simultaneous projections giving life but also channelling the mauri into every aspect of the work.  Complementing the projection, Tracey Collins’ set design is appropriately minimalist yet equally, spacious and flexible while Elizabeth Whiting’s palette is replete with natural tones that allow the dancers movement and flexibility.

The constant layering within the work is testimony to the insights, the many koreros that must have been had and the inspiration of Te Aokapurangi, a young hine from Rotorua, who saved her people. It’s a story of courage and determination, of the sheer resilience of a Te Arawa woman whose story weaves through this collage of different feminine korero.

There is a stunning sequence that is easily recognisable for the beautiful ways in which the dancers use hooped black Victorian skirts, creating soft black puddles at their feet and slowly arching them up over their hips. The sound effects and the movements are simple yet captivating. Another image that lends itself to memory is when a marsupial mother and child make their way across the stage, and likewise when a flock of native NZ birds gather together to have a yarn. A cheeky kookaburra might have found its way in there too but it adds to the charm and the recognisable exchange of stories. Then there is the joie de vivre as the women shuffle their mats, leaping and joining each other in different waka as they move over a watery surface.

Dramaturgically this work is held together by light and sound. Not that it shys away from the darkness but it is through images of cascading, convulsing and even electrifying corridors of shadows that the breadth of wahine ma is heard throughout the work. Lighting designer Vanda Karolczak brings a delicacy to the work that ensures that each vignette is superbly lit, sensitive to the changing rhythms, gestures and utterances of the women and their stories. Victoria Kelly’s score adds deep resonances to Ranapere-Ransfield’s oratory and her own tonally rich soundscape supports the breath that gives space to create the work in all its multiple languages.

The closing moments as kereru and poi reverberate through the theatre allow the war cries of the women to be amplified. Nancy Wijohn wields her bone patu and takes centre stage, and it is here that the voices of mana wahine rise in a crescendo, unleashing a power that is tangible to their audience.

Mana Wahine is a contemporary dance work but it is more than a unique production by an exemplary company. It is a call to recognise, a call to respect, a call to action. 


Editor June 10th, 2016

Dione's RNZ Afternoons review of MANA WAHINE - here

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Dancers convey power and passion

Review by Ann Hunt 16th Aug 2014

Okareka Dance Company is a taonga. Its works are treasures to be savoured, thought about and remembered long after the production is over.

Mana Wahine resembles a collage made from the fabric of women’s lives. It celebrates their strength, their stamina, their playfulness, their maternal instinct and their physical and spiritual beauty.

But what begins as a collage ends as a fiery, gorgeous tapestry, one that could adorn any theatre anywhere in the world.

The spirit of the production is immensely positive and celebratory.

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A stunning visual experience

Review by Sam Trubridge 14th Aug 2014

How many of us  know that Maori women also signed on the Treaty of Waitangi? In a year when a Maori woman sits at the helm of Taki Rua Theatre, and Tawata Productions presents two new scripts by Maori women, it may be possible to get excited about the growing number of female voices in Maori performing arts.

It wasn’t long into Okareka’s powerful new all-female production that I began to ask myself ‘what is the Maori concept of wahine’? This may seem like an odd question to ask, but it struck me with the powerful energy on stage, and its whirling, athletic study of Maori femininity, that this may actually be a question work asking. I found some answer in the words of Leonie Pihama, who states that:

“Conceptually we can begin to see Wahine as the intersection of the two worlds: wa and hine. Wa relates to notions of time and space, Hine to a female essence. The term Wahine designates a certain time and space for Maori women but is by no means a universal term like the term woman in English. There are many times and spaces that Maori women move through in our lives, Wahine is one of those. There are others” [Tihei Mauri Ora Honouring Our Voices: Mana Wahine as a Kaupapa Maori Theoretical Framework (2001, p.235)]

I am still moved by the memories of Kimiora Grey’s stunning performance in Okareka’s earlier Nga Hau e Wha (2011), and was very excited after this experience to see how this company would embrace an all-female cast and their stories.  Five strong and technically precise dancers weave a powerful and frentic tapestry of choreography set by Okareka directors Taiaroa Royal and Taane Mete working with the extraordinary talents of Malia Johnston. 

Dance is by necessity, a study of ‘Wa’ (the space between), and this work does so with beautiful tension between these women, from the moment that they emerge within the exquisite setting, pulsing and trembling with energy. These are not just bodies in an empty space though – there is instead a tight weave between the performance, the design, AV, costume, lighting, and sound that is absolutely flawless – with an amazing synthesis of all the stage elements to make a stunning visual experience.

Fabrics twist, rustle, fold, gather, and billow in so many ways through this amazing performance without ever deferring to familiar tropes. From the breathtaking opening when video of the dancers is projected onto their same shrouded forms, we are able to appreciate the stage as a space of playful and imaginative transformation. The ghostly figures flicker, sometimes in time with their doubles, while at other times falling behind or racing ahead of each other. There are numerous other moments like this: a beautiful dance on woven mats that drift over the surface of a lake, or the sweeping of the large shroud across the floor in surging liquid folds. Tracy Collins’ sparse but beautifully considered space, Elizabeth Whiting’s mobile costumes, Rowan Pierce’s precise and ethereal video work all weave beautifully with the performance, the electrifying beats of Victoria Kelly’s music, and Vanda Karolczak’s equally dynamic lighting.

The dancers are outstanding: powerful and graceful within a movement language that is very much contemporary dance, with some nods to Maori forms. Perhaps there is something too ’embroidered’ about these contemporary dance components, or too ‘cultivated’ in a way that is defied by the raw expressive power of a pukana or the wiriwiri. There are times when this seems more resolved – such as a wonderful duet between Jana Castillo and Bianca Hyslop with stiff limbs: with tensions held and then released from the core that foregrounds their physicality. Castillo’s articulation of her limbs and control of her individual movements is unbelievable throughout the evening – with a breathtaking solo near the end. But this is an ensemble work most of all, and each of the dancers bring so much to the overall texture and sheer energy of the work that lifts and lifts and lifts with growing excitement and anticipation. Smaller dancers like Chrissy Kokiri demonstrate amazing strength and control in some beautiful partnering sequences, lifting taller dancers with ease. Nancy Wijohn’s muscular grace and Maria Munkowits’ more delicate movements seem to be the leads for the other dancers.

As their patterns of movement build in momentum towards the end we are treated to a beautiful solo by Munkowits in front of a soft projection of warm colours: a woman’s face that blurs in and out of focus. And then Wijohn with a bone patu, wielding the weapon with precision and confidence that reminded me that Maori women sometimes helped in the defense of a pa, or accompanied war parties into battle. Wijohn reclaims this taonga with a confidence that stares toward those female ancestors with a pride in feminine power, presenting a bold wero (challenge) to the audience.  This seems to be the most striking thing about this work that finishes so explosively and energetically, leaving its performers panting, and its audience with their hearts and ears ringing.

Mana Wahine is above all a claiming of power, energy,  agency, generative and creative force with an almost ecstatic enthusiasm. With the whirling purerehua (bullroarer) or poi we hear their celebratory whoops. With such a resounding message and unstoppable energy, it is so fantastic to see the extensive tour that this production has in this season. From three venues in the Far North, to the East Coast and Dunedin it is a triumph for Okareka to bring this simple message of celebrating female ‘mana’ (agency, prestige, power, influence, and honour) to Maori women, Maori people, and our NZ audiences around the country.



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Awe inspiring, deep and enriching

Review by Kim Buckley 11th Aug 2014

As I walk into the theatre, a beautiful Wahine’s peaceful and smiling face looks out from the audio-visual screen. For a moment, her eyes look directly at me and I smile in response. I am aware of tui birdsong, leaves rustling in the wind, and water babbling over stones. I relax, and feel very welcome in her presence.

Okareka Dance Company’s new production Mana Wahine, is co-authored by Taane Mete and Taiaroa Royal together with guest choreographer Malia Johnston. It is also a highly collaborative offering, pieced together with five powerful female dancers, Nancy Wijohn, Jana Castillo, Bianca Hyslop, Chrissy Kokiri and Maria Munkowits who are all hand picked for this production.

The smiling Wahine is Tui Matira Ranapiri-Ransfield. She is the Maori cultural advisor, mentor and guide as well as being one of two female composers of the work’s score. She has written and sung the Waerea, Karanga, Paatere, Whakatauaakii and the Karaka specifically for Mana Wahine. Her omnipotent presence can be felt throughout the work. 

This work is largely inspired by Ranapiri-Ransfield and Royal’s ancestress, Te Aokapurangi, from Rotorua. Years after this young maiden was captured and taken back to the Far North, she returned to save her people from slaughter, doing so through female wit and cunning. The other ancestress who inspires this work is Kearoa, matriarch and wife of the great navigator and high priest Ngatoroirangi.

From start to finish, the composition is a stunning array of short scenes that surrenders itself to intuitive construction rather than linear narrative. It is this exact construction which invites the viewer to read from the work that which is most important to themselves. Rich imagery and clever use of props endorse the work even further.

In one such scene, each dancer, one by one, arrives dressed in a back-to-front tail jacket, each holding a kete in both hands behind their back. The complete image is of five birds, scratching in the ground for food as they flap their tail feathers (kete), the women pukana each other in acknowledgement as they scratch and flap. Their tail feathers morph into projection screens, which they put on their heads. We see and hear five Kuia clucking and looking. The dancers then raise themselves on tiptoe as they push the kete up to become headpieces. The women morph into fashionistas or fashion forward models as they mince backwards to the hoop skirts which lie in black circles at the back of the stage. They put the skirts on and as one, sashay off stage with their backs to us. The unity creates an impression of strength.

Another striking image is the physicalisation of Te Aokapurangi straddling the top of the whare with the tekoteko, so as to allow her people to pass through the sacred space between her legs to safety. This is, in fact, how she out-smarted her husband and single-handedly saved her people.

Ingenious use of 3D audio-visual material throughout the work by Rowan Pierce also creates the absolutely stunning opening image of five separate wairua forms passing from the ancestress in the past and moving into the five waiting female bodies as they lie breathing. While we listen to the chant of the Wearea clearing away any mental, physical, spiritual or emotional obstruction, the female bodies come to life, bursting through the umbilical sac which contain them, and into the present. Other compelling images Pierce creates are the ocean, an ancient forest, swampland, and Lake Rotorua with Mokoia island in the distance to name a few.

Victoria Kelly’s incredibly lush soundscape is lavishly layered with traditional Maori instruments, the natural elements, human voice, insect and bird life, sampled sounds of dancers as they work, customary orchestral instruments, and computer created automated sounds.

The set design by Tracey Collins and lighting design by Vanda Karolczak combine to superbly optimise the needs of the story telling. Elizabeth Whiting has given the dancers costumes that allow and encourage, liberate and support them as they move through this work. I love the black crinoline hoop skirts which bring the obvious colonial imagery with them, including that of the billowing sails of the ships they came on. The dancers lift and rustle the skirts, and audaciously eye-ball the audience with the arrogance the early pioneers must have had in order to survive our early New Zealand experience.

Overall, an awe-inspiring work that I would sit and watch over and over again. If you haven’t seen it, do so or you will miss this deep and enriching experience.


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Inspired: inspiring women

Review by Dr Debbie Bright 03rd Aug 2014

On the Okareka website we read:  “Taiaroa Royal, Malia Johnston and Taane Mete come together to create a powerful collage of imagery and movement that transcends time and space. Death, life, land and creatures inspire the 70min performance that emanates the life force of women.

The true story of Te Aokapurangi, a young maiden from Mokoia Island influences the story line of this production. She was captured in battle by a tribe from the far North. Many years later she returned and single handedly saved her people from slaughter.

Te Aokapurangi has been the pivotal inspiration behind this work. The story of her courage, determination and fearlessness provides Okareka with the challenge to create a vision of strength that empowers women around the world”.

It was my privilege to be the theatreviewer for the open rehearsal of this work in the Hamilton Gardens in February 2014. So, it is hugely exciting to experience Mana Wahine in its final form. From the February music tracks used simply to inspire choreographic process, the soundtrack is now driving, elemental, vibrating and sometimes thunderous percussion, interspersed with haunting voices bringing waerea, karanga, paatere, whakataukii and karakia. The set is stark, the costumes simple and adaptable, making even more vivid the projected images, particularly those of Tūī, the ever-present matriarchal figure, the quintessential wahine toa. As the lighting and design evoke atmosphere, mystery and otherworldliness, the dancers move through extremes of endurance, speed, flexibility, control, quirky humour, mutual support, and playfulness, at a speed that is exhausting even to audience members.  We see dance images drawn from women’s lives individually and collectively, from the everyday banal, the humourous, from nature, movement of poi and paatu, and the legacy of powerful and influential women. We see projected images of Tūī the matriarch, a photo gallery of great women, and women at their most playful, on the backdrop, the stage floor, or the bodies of the dancers or their props. Early in the work, an English word recurs in my head: plastic, in its original meaning of “giving form or fashion to matter, molding, capable of being molded; pliable” (Funk & Wagnalls Standard Desk Dictionary). I see the plasticity, the pliability of the projected images, the stage-floor-sized gauze fabric, and the dancers’ bodies. I am reminded of the inventiveness, adaptability and endurance of women and their ability to fully live their lives, nurturing and inspiring others, in harmony with the environment, molding themselves and their surroundings to their changing world, determining to solve problems, regardless of the circumstances and how challenging those problems might be.

Another English word keeps repeating in my head: extreme – in so many ways and on so many levels, this powerful work is extreme. When we enter the theatre, the dance has already begun with the projected face of Tūī, the matriarch, and, as the metaphysical, spiritual projected figures fade, so the physical dance begins, first slowly, haltingly, awkwardly, with control and a determined sense of destiny, then increasingly articulate, fast and stunningly accurate and energetic.  Woven mats and kete are used in creative ways as clothing, props, projection screens, toys and tools. And the sound track and projections support the physical dance through the extreme experiences of being women of power, of strength, of mana. The work is a plethora of shifting and prolonged shapes. For me, one of the most gripping images is of the larger-than-life projected matriarchal figure standing in the corner of the stage, early in the work. From this woman are birthed other projected wraith-like figures of women, who move and settle over the physical figures of the dancers, lying underneath a mist of gauze. The spirit, the wairua of Mana Wahine, is birthed from the mighty women who have come before, and, particularly, from Te Aokapurangi, inspiring heroine. The dancers then embody this legacy, the whakapapa of all of the mana wahine that makes them who they are.

Of course, much research, reflection and collaborative labour have gone into Mana Wahine to create this multi-media feast of visceral visuals and dance. In the programme, Johnston maintains that the work is “a journey of discovery, history, cultural exploration, uncovering, interpretation and dance”. I believe her.

Also in the programme, Taane Mete: Dance is a living language that changes on a daily basis. Watching these Wahine craft their skill and embody information during this exploration has deepened their own understanding of who they are as women and who they are as dancers.

I sense such a deepening of understanding and embodying in this performance, not only from the creative processes behind the work, but also from the history of travelling, interacting, living and performing that have gone before this performance in Hamilton.

As we awaken out of the trance of this powerful and vivid work and emerge into the theatre foyer, audience members are invited to write comments on post-it notes expressing how we feel, what we would like to say about the work. I see some write with enthusiasm about the energy and power of the work. I move outside to continue to savour the richness of the feast I have just enjoyed. 

This work has been created through collaboration between the co-authors, the dancers, and kaumatua Tūī Matira Ranapiri-Ransfield. Well done, co-authors Mete, Royal and Johnston. Well done, dancers Munkowits, Wijohn, Castillo, Kokiri and Hyslop. And to Tūī Matira Ranapiri-Ransfield, kia ora, kia ora, kia ora.

To all the contributing wahine toa, inheritors of the mana of preceding generations of women: Kia kaha, kia toa, kia manawanui.



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Feeling the love

Review by Anna Bate 12th Jul 2014

Okareka Dance Company’s Mana Wahine lush-fully unfolded in Dunedin’s Regent theatre last night.

Framed within a sheer minimal whare (Tracey Collin) we are witness, not only to the fitnes, of a stellar all female cast, but to defiant clarity of being(s) and their interconnectivity to self, other, environment and transient pasts.

The impetus for the work stems from the story of a determined young woman, Te Aokapurangi, who saved her people from slaughter. What plays out bares scant literal correlation to this event, as we are soaked in myriad abstract scenes that for the most part reflect a fiery determination and relentless resilience.

The imagery produced through the finely interlinked choreography (Taane Mete and Taiaroa Royal with Malia Johnston) and production elements reference land, animals, nurturance, wiri, kuia, battles, colonial posturing, ancestors and community… to name a mere few.

The five dancers’ training speaks loudly, shaping their forms into muscular powerhouses that overflow with energetic accuracy. Their precision is in no way mechanical as these women have porous edges that seep and seek connection beyond the vessels of their bodies.

Because the promotion of this work emphasises that these dancers were carefully cast for their differing qualities of mana wahine, I expected to see ‘them’ more. For the most part they worked as one body. Their costumes accentuated this. I became more engaged as a viewer when elusive essences of each were revealed, contributing through specificity to the ‘state’ of the whole.

It is no mystery why there is so much love flowing (google for Mana Wahine and Okareka Dance Company) for this new work. Mete and Royal’s vision for a collaborative (mostly female) creative team has lead to the content of the performance design, sound, and choreography becoming so intricately integrated. The thought, time, knowledge and generosity that has been poured into this project is evident in every inch of the work. And the love undoubtedly flows from audience to stage to audience and back again.   


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Mana Wahine, Q Theatre

Review by Bernadette Rae 03rd Jul 2014

Okareka Dance Company has hit the jackpot with this exploration of the strength, the spirit, the wiles and the primal beauty of women, specifically Maori women. Five extreme dancers, three choreographers at the top of their game, a totally in-tune composer, exquisite lighting and audio visual design and a wealth of cultural wisdom come together in one of the best contemporary dance performances we have seen in years.

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Jaw-droppingly memorable

Review by Sharu Delilkan 03rd Jul 2014

Being a bit of an Okareka Dance Company junkie I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see the Auckland debut of their new original piece Mana Wahine. And I realised that I was not the only one there to get their Okareka fix.

What can I say but Taiaroa Royal and Taane Mete (Okareka’s artistic directors) have blown us away yet again! And the winning combination of World of Wearable Arts(WOW) artistic director and principal choreographer Malia Johnston was obviously a stroke of genius that has made this company’s Matariki offering jaw-droppingly memorable. Watching Mana Wahine was indeed a treat, comprising stunning music, lighting, imagery, set and costume that exquisitely complemented the astounding choreography and fabulous dance performances.

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Epic in scale, abstract in nature, and a rich fusion of elements

Review by Raewyn Whyte 03rd Jul 2014

Women’s power, authority, energies and essence, sisterhood and maternality, authority and anger, playfulness and presence of mind are celebrated in Okareka Dance Company’s aptly named Mana Wahine. Epic in scale, and largely abstract in nature, Mana Wahine is above all a rich fusion of choreography, music, tikanga Maori and performance practices, AV, lighting and performance design. These elements are enriched and enlivened by the dancing of five powerhouse performers – Nancy Wijohn, Bianca Hyslop, Maria Munkowits, Jana Castillo and Chrissy Kokiri, each of whom bring their own particular qualities to the work. The production as a whole also gains considerable mana from the watchful presence of Maori cultural advisor Tui Matira Ranapiri-Ransfield who appears on screen at the beginning and ending of the work.

Twenty or so short scenes are presented between the opening karanga and closing patere. These scenes flow in an unpredictable whirling pattern, juxtaposing purely abstract dancing with more figurative performance – a flock of birds restlessly preening and prodding the earth for insects; marsupial mother and baby cautiously proceeding into unknown territory, with the baby slung beneath the mother’s torso; women experimentally frolicking in black hooped colonialist crinoline skirts, preening sassily in silky chemises, wearing black tuxedo jackets topped by square kete as headpieces, and shuffling about swathed in woven mats. Other than these few examples, Elizabeth Whiting’s costumes are marvellously minimal, with the dancers simply wearing skin-toned shape wear which allows them to move without constraint.

The key texts, the opening karanga (call of welcome) and waerea (prayer of protection) and the closing patere have been written and composed by Ranapiri-Ransfield for this production.  Additional scoring provided by composer Victoria Kelly adds to the intellectual resonance of what is presented, and increases the emotional impact.

The patere recalls for us the whakapapa of all Maori women back to the foundation deity Papatuanuku (Earth Mother), Hine Ahu One (First Woman, moulded from the earth), and Hinetitama, her first-born daughter who has many forms of existence, laying the ground for a programme note which asks us to remember, honour and love the women who are our own own mana wahine.  

These three figures and two specific Te Arawa women whose courageous actions were pivotal in saving the lives of their people, are amongst the many aspects of women referenced in the choreography, which has been collaboratively developed by Okareka directors Taiaroa Royal and Taane Mete with guest choreographer Malia Johnston, with input from  Ranapiri-Ransfield, and also from the dancers. A true fusion of choreographic approaches and movement styles has a resulted, in itself a major achievement  — there’s no way to identify who choreographed which section.

A richly layered, densely detailed musical score composed by Victoria Kelly provides a through-line of sorts, with the dynamic pull of the music drawing the attention of the audience ever onwards. Originally developed in the studio alongside the dancers, this is Kelly’s first music for dance – and surely will not be her last. The bed of her score combines taonga puoro particularly associated with female energies, such as purerehua, putorino and koauau, with an extraordinary array of percussion instruments and compositional forms, human vocalisations, sounds made by the dancers as they work, sounds of storms and earthquakes, wind and rain, birds and insects, conventional orchestral instruments, and material created from a 21st century repertoire of sampled and technologically created sounds.  

In the course of the work, some iconic sounds recur, providing cohesion. Poi and kereru whir as if traversing the theatre. Thunder sounds in the distance before moving closer. Water trickles down, birds call, and voices cry out in warning.  The clarion call to war heralded by the putatara brings peril in its wake, accompanied at different times by scenes of fear and flight, resistance and the reaching of safe haven, accompanied by projected images of forest, swamp, shadowy moving silhouettes, open tussock, and the view across Lake Rotorua to Mokoia Island. While there is no formal narrative as such, you are free to compile one that makes sense from the fragments provided.

Dynamic 3D projections by Rowan Pierce play a special role in this work, as they have in several other works in which he has collaborated with Malia Johnston. Here, as the work opens, slim female forms magically melt down from Ranapiri-Ransfield’s body on screen and swim across the floor to merge with the bodies of the dancers who rise out of the floor, bringing them to life in the present. An array of scrims and panels are deployed by set designer Tracey Collins to make it possible for various projections to have greater or lesser depth, along with sensitive lighting design by Vanda Karolczak to enhance the projections. The lighting is particularly magical in the closing sequence as dancer Nancy Wijohn advances down stage wielding a patu, with each step and every tilt of her body revealing some new aspect of her persona.

Opening night in Auckland was notable for an attentive, absorbed, fully immersed audience throughout the 70 minutes of the performance, and a prolonged standing ovation – a combination which seems likely to be repeated at all 11 centres of the company’s tour.


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The best of collaborations

Review by Amy Chakif 28th Jun 2014

Strong, powerful, spiritual, beautiful, courageous Mana Wahine.  The opening night of this new work by Okareka Dance Company delivered on its promise.  Collaboration is at the heart of this performance.  Taiaroa Royal, Taane Mete and Malia Johnston as co-authors called upon a wealth of talent to weave together the story of Rotorua maiden Te Aokapurangi. 

Wiriwiri and pukana thread through the dance that is sometimes ethereal, sometimes surreal, and sometimes urban.  The all-female dance company execute a rich diversity of movement; muscular, sensitive, graceful and often powerfully discordant.  Dancers Maria Munkowits, Nancy Wijohn, Jana Castillo, Chrissy Kokiri and Biana Hyslop are stunning in their physicality and strength, and breath-taking in their femininity. 

These dancers cleverly tell the story of life in all its fullness, the sacred and profane.  At one point in the show, womanly forms push out from the ground, evoking the deity of life and death Hine-nui-te-pō. At another point, the chatter of female gossip shows the lighter side of women in community. 

The relative nakedness of the performance is reflected in the costume design.  Costume designer Elizabeth Whiting uses a nude palette with accessories to powerfully accentuate the theatrical magic of Mana Wahine.  The use of lighting effects, shadow, video, costume and sound all play off the dancers’ bodies, interrupting any traditional notions me might have of the female form in dance.  Audio visual designer Rowan Peirce and lighting designer Vanda Karolczak artfully use their craft to bring the female ancestors and natural elements of forest and water alive through the performance.  A moment of particular beauty is when lighting, sound, audio visual and set design come together with the dancers to describe the rushing in and out of the waves on the beach.

There is an ebb and flow rhythm to the performance as a whole and this is reflected in the music track by Victoria Kelly powerfully narrated by story teller Tui Matira Ranapiri-Ransfield through karanga, paatere and karakia .  Mana Wahine is a sum of its parts. Collaboration has become a hallmark for Okareka Dance Company.  Artistic directors Taiaroa Royal and Taane Mete actively look to find artists who are the best in their fields and then give them the space to create.  This is the best of collaborations and is a must see.


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Open rehearsal whets the appetite for more

Review by Dr Debbie Bright 15th Feb 2014

This open rehearsal is introduced by Okareka Dance Company Co-artistic Director Taiaroa Royal. Royal outlines the history of Okareka Dance Company, and briefly tells the Te Arawa story on which Mana Wahine is based. He describes the aims of the work, in similar words to those used in Okareka’s website:

“MANA WAHINE – Premiering in July 2014 this is an all-female work that explores the essence of strength, power, integrity and beauty within woman.  A commanding work that will uplift the spiritual power and status of “the woman” within us all.”

Choreographer Malia Johnston facilitates the session, providing explanations for the audience, instructing the dancers, and starting and stopping music chosen to inspire the choreographic process. The dancers are Liana, Maria and Ula, three of the five female dancers who will present the completed work.

It is a hot sunny morning in February. The dusty gravel performance space is surrounded by traditional fences, green native ferns and trees, carved figures, raised storage houses, and kumara gardens. The dancers shuffle in, pūkana faces appearing intermittently from behind woven flax mats that reach from above their heads to beneath their feet. The mats are, in turn, used as various pieces of clothing, space markers, and floor mats. I am reminded that Malia directs the Wellington Wearable Arts Show (in fact, according to Johnston, the opening piece of music was composed by a New Zealander for that show).

Between each danced segment, Johnston talks of the need to have a kaumatua present during the whole choreographic process to explain the origins of any movements that are from traditional Māori dance and to guide and advise, as the collaborators seek to portray their ideas and to communicate a culture that is alive, contemporary and dynamic. Johnston talks of the deliberate choice of an all-female collaboration for this work: dancers, composer, set and lighting designers are all women, while Johnston and the two male co-directors seek to achieve ‘co-authorship’ in the choreography, waiata, chants, haka, and dance of the final 70-minute piece. She explains that they also plan to have older scenes projected on and from the costumes and props, to convey the meeting of the past, the present and the future.

The surroundings, props, movement, music and hot open-air space are spell-binding.  We see dance explorations derived from wiri, haka dust-raising slide kicks, and poi. The skill of the dancers is unquestionable; their bravery over performing in such an exposing context is commendable. We see, we hear, we gain better understanding, and our appetites are whetted – we can’t wait to experience the performance in its completed form! 


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