Memoirs of Active Service

Centrestage, Orewa, Auckland

06/08/2009 - 09/08/2009

The Rose Centre, Belmont, Auckland

02/07/2009 - 05/07/2009

Jonmer Theatre, Browns Bay, Auckland

20/08/2009 - 23/08/2009

Lawson Field Theatre, Gisborne

14/08/2009 - 14/08/2009

Telecom Playhouse Theatre, WEL Energy Trust Academy of Performing Arts, Hamilton

23/07/2009 - 24/07/2009

Production Details


Returning to the stage after a successful season at Auckland Festival 09, Atamira Dance Collective are now revitalising their critically acclaimed work; Memoirs of Active Service from July 2. 

"Cleverly and dramatically vignettes the world at war and war’s human face"             
NZ Herald 

"The skills of the dancers will knock your socks off.  This is one well drilled and highly effective unit" – Rotorua Daily Post 

A unique and poignant dance work commemorating love and the year of the veteran, Memoirs of Active Service received rave reviews and audience acclaim when it debuted in 2006.

An ex service man, Maaka Pepene has devised and based this work on his grandfathers diary which was recorded during his service in WWII.   Memoirs of Active Service it is also inspired by the 28th Māori Battalion and 1940’s New Zealand.  This time audiences are in for a treat, Maaka will be taking centre stage along with Justine Hohaia to perform the dance that was inspired by his Grandfathers story.

Remember.  I am always thinking of your sweetheart, no matter how long I am away from you, don’t worry my dearest, I’ll come back to you.  Yours till the stars lose their glory … – Charles Jack Murphy 29 July 1944 (Maaka Pepene’s Grandfather)

A moving and beautiful love story inspired by the keeper of the diary, Memoirs of Active Service is about ordinary New Zealanders being asked to do extraordinary things.  We watch the journey of five characters from a rural Māori community, their transformation from pre- war to enlisting, training and then life afterwards, but always at the heart is the love and the sacrifices made by New Zealander’s during this time.

Memoirs of Active Service features
songs of the era and
an original sound-score composed by Paddy Free,
lighting design by Vanda Karolczak,
video design by Louise Potiki Bryant and
narration by Jarod Rawiri.

Performers include acclaimed dancers
Maaka Pepene,
Justine Hohaia,
Jack Gray and
Dolina Wehipeihana. 

Tamihana Paurini and Pare Randall will be joining the dance crew at Rose Centre while Tai Royal will be performing in Hamilton, Gisborne, Orewa and Browns Bay.  

Talented costume designers Julie Stevens and Debbie Hinden (cofounders and members of the MOA designer collective store) will be creating 1940’s inspired outfits for the performers.

DANZ and CART present the Auckland North Shore Tour of Memoirs of Active Service

CART, the newly created Auckland regional touring circuit, is an initiative by DANZ to support performing arts touring around the greater Auckland region.

The Rose Centre
School Rd, Belmont
North Shore
2-4 July 8pm; 5 July 4pm
Tickets $15 – $30
Booking/Delivery Fees may apply
Book at – phone (09) 361 1000 or 0508 iticket

60 Centreway
6 – 8 August 8pm; 9 August 4pm
Tickets $15 – $30
Booking/Delivery Fees may apply
Book at  – phone (09) 361 1000 or 0508 iticket

Jonmer Theatre
Corelli School, 50 Anzac Rd
Browns Bay, North Shore
20 – 22 August 8pm 23 August 4pm
Booking/Delivery Fees may apply
Book at – phone (09) 361 1000 or 0508 iticket

Telecom Playhouse
WEL Energy Trust Academy of Performing Arts
23 & 24 July 8pm
Tickets $15 – $30
Ticket Direct – 0800 224 224   
Booking fees may apply

Lawson Field Theatre
14 August 8pm
Tickets $15 – $30 Booking fees apply
Book at  Stephen’s PhotoPlus 
119 Gladstone Road




Humour and harsh realities recalled

Review by Sue Cheesman 27th Jul 2009

Memoirs of Active Service, choreographed by Maaka Pepene, was first performed in 2006, marking the year of the Veteran. It is now touring around Auckland, Hamilton and Gisborne venues.

In keeping with Atamira’s Dance Collective philosophy, the piece draws on a personal story, history and whakapapa, and is imbued with Maaka Pepene’s own experience of the Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment for six formative years.

Charles John Murphy left his grandson Maaka to be the Kaitiaki of his diary kept during his service in WW 11 and therefore afforded an opportunity to tell his story. Pages with neat handwriting from Jack’s diary are beautifully filmed and narrated. This uncomplicated writing to his wife forms the back bone of this pierce.

I found the talking a little too predicable and on occasions the dance said it all. However the video showing the diary was exquisitely designed by Louise Potiki Bryant.

The first dance duet captures very intimate moments between sweethearts Jack Murphy (Pepene) and his wife (Justine Pepene-Hohaia) before he leaves for war. The dancers embrace, two bodies become one, palms touch as bodies arch away and return to each other with out-stretched arms becoming one, witnessed by the moon.

The personal becomes very public and I felt as though I was peering in on a very intimate moment, made all the more poignant because these two dancers are married in real life.

A sunny day shearing is captured by a particular movement phrase to "Click go the Shears" in which one of the three lads has great difficulty in keeping in time to. The movement phrase is repeated several times capturing the playful one-upmanship involved in building and strengthening bonds amongst Jack and his two brothers.

Through repetitive drills, tight formations, precision marching (left, right, one – left, right two) and combat exercises infused with a sense of humor and camaraderie, and the singing of the  Māori Battalion Marching Song, we gain an insight into life as a soldier in this special regiment. "And now begins a strange adventure" Jack wrote in his diary in April 1943.

The narrative work also embraces "those loved ones that remain in Aotearoa in the 1940s". In headscarves and aprons the women – Justine Pepene-Hohaia and Dolina Wehipeihana – come forward centre stage to dance a hilarious number to Gracie Fields, complete with "thingummybobs for watchamacallits" to support the war effort.

Repetitive gestural movement hints at an assembly line process and both dancers bring their own idiosyncratic nuances to the movements, making it even more amusing. Bored with this the women exclaim "who cares?" and join the navy.

Climate extremes from dessert heat to cold snowy conditions further compounded the plight of these WW11 veterans. Dancer soldiers Jack Gray, Maaka Pepene and Tamihana Paurini lean back, lie, toss, and turn, very restless in their uneasy sweltering slumber indicative of the Egyptian dessert.

The atmosphere of intense heat, sweat and biting flies is captured in a cleverly performed series of swats, slaps and itches. In sharp contrast they huddle in the extreme cold rubbing hands vigorously as the anguish of war is etched on their faces. Each one breaks away from the group to dance a solo where memories of better days and meld with the horrors of war in a distorted realism.

Accompanying the work is a strong and effective sound score designed by Paddy Free, including a range of 1940’s songs and radio announcements reflecting the period.

The last section honors and bids farewell to a generation of veterans moving on, leaving fragments of memories and diaries for grandchildren to honour, celebrate and remember. Wide sweeping arm movements catch the light, with the skin tones in sharp contrast to the sober black costumes which swell, swirl and wrap the dancers’ bodies as they jump, turn and often trace circular pathways. 

These five talented dancers fill the space with fluidity and lyricism as they beautifully dance this very moving finale. Reflections are captured through small slices of the piece returning like memories fading in and out. This lament, set to Albinoni’s adagio, ends with these poignant last words: Ka maumahara tonu tatou ki a ratou – we will remember them.
For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News. 




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Of love and war

Review by Celine Sumic 04th Jul 2009

The evening’s program consists of two works: The Starlight Ballroom followed by Memoirs of Active Service

The Starlight Ballroom choreographed by Dolina Wehipeihana

Imbued with the playful social nuance of an earlier era, The Starlight Ballroom takes us back in time to open the evening’s performance with a slick welcome to ‘Jive cats and dolls!’ 

With MC Maaka Pepene’s high-spirited invitation to dance, dance Atamira do, with the iconically boyish Jack Gray and Tamihana Paurini spinning the coquettish Nancy Wijohn and Dolina Wehipeihana in an airy soufflé of skirt across the floor.

In playful complement to the energetic exchange of the swirling couples, Pepene remains at the front of the stage throughout the number, working his charm as Starlight Ballroom MC /aka ‘Johnny-Too-Cool-Tainui’ in mimed flirtation with the audience. 

The theme of the advance and retreat of love is sweetly played, the audience successfully engaged and ready for the main choreographic work to follow. 

Memoirs of Active Service choreographed by Maaka Pepene

A loosely constructed narrative, Memoirs of Active Service draws on a combination of dance, voice and audio-visual montage to create an experience that weaves together the past and present.  Divided into 17 ‘Chapters’ the distinct sections of the dance work are successfully tied together by the recurring thread of Pepene’s grandfather’s diary. 

In the programme the choreographer notes, "I am honoured to be the Kaitiaki (caretaker) of my grandfather’s diary which he recorded during his service in WWII and on which Memoirs of Active Service is based." 

Excerpts from the diary are delivered in voice over by Jarod Rawiri as well as visually communicated by the painterly audio-visual montage by Louise Potiki-Bryant.  This combination of media creates an evocative journey of variously romantic, reflective, abstract and humorous moments based on the WWII era and military life.

I particularly enjoy the more abstract chapters (such as the disarming ‘Semaphore’, a duet by Wehipeihana and Randall dressed as immaculate navy dolls), where the dance reveals the choreographer’s conscious intersection of military language with the language of the contemporary dancing body.

Other chapters, such as the opening ‘Moonlight Serenade’, ‘Farewell’ and later ‘I’ll Be Seeing You’, capture the sensual nuance of the era with a dreamy, romantic softness.  Potiki-Bryant’s video montage is particularly effective in these sections, incorporating images of the diary, the ocean, the moon and, as loved one left behind, the faraway expression in Justine Hohaia’s eyes. 

Humourous sections, include ‘A Sunny Day Shearing’ and ‘Women’s War Effort’, which build on the expressive slapstick comedy characteristic of the time. 

Set against an acoustic backdrop of sheep’s plaintive baaing and running water, ‘A Sunny Day Shearing’ takes the comparable nature of military discipline and the demands of dance precision to create a dance reminiscent of Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor in Singing in the Rain The men play upon the theme of keeping (in) time enacted with nonchalant good humour and athletic dance prowess. 

The notable ‘Women’s War Effort’, while brief, is an exuberant duet dedicated to the mechanics of making something (obviously very important) with which to win the war.  Performed by Wehipeihana and Randall to the 1940’s hit ‘Thingummybob’, it has a cereal box ‘pop!’ that would give Ricies a run for their money any day.

‘Friday Night’ announces its time to kick up the heels as dancers jive to ‘Zoot Suit’, clad in snappy suits and figure-hugging dresses with stylised details from the ’40s era.  The costuming, by Julie Stevens and Debbie Hindin from Moa, contributes an effortless chic, further enhancing the high standard of the dance work. 

A mention must also be made in praise of the distinctive sound by Paddy Free that compliments and extends the drama and emotive qualities of the many varied sections of the work.

Drawing on the choreographer’s experience of six years of training in the Royal NZ Infantry Regiment coupled with his training at the UNITEC School of Performing and Screen Arts, the choreography echoes military precision at times while in other moments it shifts to a fluid embodied expression of natural and emotional worlds. 

The theme of departure and return recurs over extensive imagined ground, the journey presented encompassing landscapes of cavalier spirit, danger-infused tension, sweltering heat, pesky flies, protective gesture, supportive struggle, paralysing cold and unforgettable horror. 

In ‘Reflections’, the final chapter, we see motifs from the preceding chapters revisited and brought into a series of over-lapping conclusions; like waves of different colours, they interweave themes of grief, knowledge and relationship.

In choosing to conclude his work to Giazotto /Albinoni’s Adagio in G minor, Pepene aligns Memoirs of Active Service with a community of universal war stories (the music is renowned for its role in Peter Weir’s film Gallipoli and its associated meta-themes of the loss of innocence and coming of age of soldier and country). 

In this way, while initially created for the 2006 Year of the Veteran, Memoirs of Active Service retains a timeless appeal within its reflections upon the human condition, solidarity, loss and love. 
For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News. 


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