Waimārama Maraetotara Memorial Hall, Hawkes Bay

16/04/2021 - 16/04/2021

Q Theatre, Rangatira, Auckland

26/11/2020 - 28/11/2020

Production Details

Atamira Dance Company presents
Choreographed by Sean MacDonald

Atamira Dance Company is thrilled to be back in the live performance space to premiere a full-length dance work from one of Aotearoa’s most distinguished dance artists – Sean MacDonald (Ngāti Kahungunu, Ngāti Raukawa). Drawing on mythology and historical figures set against the backdrop of Te Motu-o-Kura, MacDonald’s Ngā Wai will be a treat for audiences eager to get back into Q Theatre from November 26 -28, to experience contemporary dance at its finest. 

Seers, shapeshifters, warrior protectors, lovers and thwarted romance from both history and mythology form the essence of this poetic new work inspired from the sacred waters and whakapapa of Waimārama, Sean’s ancestral home in the Hawkes Bay. Ngā Wai is about water and how that flows with everything, is in everything, the pool and flow of the moon and the maternal. It flows with connection, history and strength following the journey of Takitimu (migration waka) from Samoa to Waimārama.

Ngā Wai began its haerenga in 2019 at the Wellesley Street Studios and saw the ensemble travel to Waimārama in early 2020 to immerse the creative process with whānau in the spirit of the whenua that informed its creation. With delays caused by lockdowns the work has recently been greenlighted for its premiere season in late November, in what will be Atamira’s only public facing performance of 2020. 

The poetic storytelling structure of Ngā Wai tells a new story that reflects MacDonald’s personal journey in 2020. “Waimārama has a very strong feminine energy and this work is designed to hold up mana and respect for the wahine toa of my whakapapa. It has evolved in what has been a crazy year, where Ive personally aimed to go with the flow and not fight it. You hope that in this, like the whakatuaki Kia rere te wairere,” the flow goes to places of positivity” says MacDonald. 

The multi-faceted characters resurrected from tribal history to tell the tale of Ngā Wai are brought to life by a cast of exquisite dance artists – Bianca Hyslop, Brydie Colquhoun, Kasina Campbell, Jeremy Beck, Tupua Tigafua and Sean himself. With an incredible design team on board including  John Verryt (Set), Vanda Karolczak (Lighting) , David Long (Sound and Composition), Te Orihau Karaitiana (Costumes), and Osborne Shiwan (Campaign Design) Ngā Wai is a celebration of Aotearoa’s most creative performance artists and the wealth of stories that are held by Māori. 

Sean MacDonald is no stranger to Aotearoa’s contemporary dance scene, having been a major force in the industry for the past three decades. His legacy as a dancer has seen him work tirelessly and extensively with Douglas Wright, Michael Parmenter, Shona McCullagh, Lynne Pringle, Malia Johnston, Neil Ieremia , Claire O’Neill, Michael Keegan-Dolan, Tupua Tigafua, Louise Potiki-Bryant, New Zealand Dance Company (NZDC), and Maaka Pepene, Moss Paterson and Kelly Nash for Atamira Dance Company amongst others. MacDonald kicked off his choreographic career last year with NZDC’s Matariki for Tamariki. Designed with an audience of young people and families in mind, this show did exceptionally, well with future seasons planned for presentation. Ngā Wai is his first full length contemporary work intended for an adult audience. 

Atamira Dance Company are honoured to be able to uplift this new work on their platform. A platform which proudly champions Aotearoa’s remote and wild landscape where Indigenous Māori stories have a powerful voice. “Seans exceptional artistry as a dancer has been seen for many years in the whakapapa of some of Aotearoas best choreographers. We are excited to back him on this journey of personal and professional self-realisation as a choreographer in his own right” says Jack Gray Atamira Artistic Director. 


Ngā Wai plays at Rangatira at Q Theatre:
Thursday 26 November at 7.30 pm 
Friday 27 November at 7.30 pm (Post show talk) 
Saturday 28 November at 4pm (Post show talk) 
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Dancers: Bianca Hyslop, Brydie Colquhoun, Kasina Campbell, Jeremy Beck, Tupua Tigafua and Sean MacDonald

Maori contemporary dance , Dance-theatre , Dance , Contemporary dance ,

1 hour

Incandescent expressiveness

Review by Megan Seawright 21st Apr 2021

“Tap water, running water, calm water, salty water, sparkling water, chilled water, boiling water, pump water, dirty water, no more water.”

On a sun-filled beachside afternoon in a community hall, there is a gathering with plenty of tamariki excited in anticipation, and after the more formal evening performance, generous kai. It’s a relaxed welcome with dancers warming up in front of us. In the audience, whanau and locals have arrived and people have driven in from the wider Hawkes Bay. The beloved stories of Waimārama are offered. The stage design is direct (John Verryt), the lighting poignant in its simplicity (Vanda Karolczak), and the costuming (Te Orihau Karaitiana) relates us to a sandy, seaweed palette. The music, composed by accomplished David Long (Luminaries) suspends us into every turn and step given.

Homecomings always flow with feeling, they drift in on moments present, with lingering and absences. There is laughter and love, and footsteps across sand. Fern birds flit humorously above us in unceasing serious arrivals. As choreographer Sean MacDonald says, “Waimārama waves at me.” Atamira Dance Company continues to offer us complex, significantly crafted contemporary Māori dance. Sean vision and sojourner to his own whenua, bears a creative process founded in aligning how each dancer brings themselves to our view, and from this his waka is held steady.

Activating such creative process from one’s own belonging forges Mātautanga Māori  further, a collective indigenous realization of relationship – through the pulses of whakapapa, mannakitanga and ahurutanga to name a few. These rivers actuate dance language terrains, to solidly inform agile silent movement, gestural astuteness, technique finesse and the suppleness of physique and intention. We witness intimate looseness and genuine friendship. We are entertained, challenged, and paused in our breath until we resurface deeply washed through with story and reflection.  The emotional presence of this work left me longing for more.

Te Motu o Kura, tipuna, kaitiaki.

A ladder, to climb and fall free from counting the memories of age.

A paper tree, to hide behind and chase around.

A lamplight and awa meandering.

A single undulating figure greets us at the foreshore of Waimārama. Behind, Te Motu o Kura resides. Here she is built with torn cardboard, bare and sectioned to rotate though out the performance, revealing human nuances, pieces of prop, and mythical ancestresses, the guardians who nurture Waimārama and her people.

Takitimu traverses through each scene as a man with a backpack (Tupua Tigafua). Placing mauri stones, Takitimu glides the wind, navigates with the stars, arrives, and departs in lithe humor and isolation, always seeking purchase.  An ‘endangered species’, Tupua and his rakau push a vessel made from boxes increasing in size and fortitude, until in a long line, he finally reaches landing – here. This artery unites the whole work.

Ngā Wai is a tidal telling conveyed in movement that rolls from the floor upwards to a peak then dissipates back. Jeremy Beck’s liquid and glassy movements with occasional elements of street dance seamlessly folded in, ensures water remains filling the hall, rising up against the walls. All throughout, Sean MacDonald’s magnetic humility reveals realms of seen and unseen gleaming. His incandescent expressiveness retains a wide inclusive, yet enclosing gesture. Contact is curved and continuous. Conflict is demanding and brisk.

At times, it is theatrical dance with balloons that pop or issue long strands of squealing air. Our core ebbs and flows with them. For the tamariki watching it was engaging dance and there was a lot of immediate mimicry, a sure sign of complement.

We are greeted with local love and the rages of kaitiaki and chieftainess’s who will not be placated until we step in peace and return to our knowing of them. Kasina Campbell, Brydie Coloquhoun and Bianca Hyslop whittle us with their command, and they meet us fair. They hiss and spilt air with the patu, morph into tentacle lushness, elongate crone-ing (Kasina Campbell) and return to the sure footedness of being human. A triptych of mana wahine, wahine ataahua, and wahine toa conveying matriarchal unity, and lineage reciting us to Papatuūānuku. Brydie’s exquisite dance with patu addresses us with a firm curiosity, the strength to face what needs to be faced, and a reminder not to be complacent nor forget.

Ngā wai is a Waimārama’ s story of arrival, of place and people lapped with rivers and ocean and of bright understanding. No matter our worldly travels, kaitiaki remain presiding. Through our internal flows our humanity is born from them. In this town hall, convergences occurred, intensifying in stormy disarray for love and resolve. Ngā wai is alive with fluid synchronicities and supernatural worlds. To the end, Kura (Blanca Hyslop), risen on overturned crates finds her mat to stand upon and meeting with Takitimu they breath, Haa, wairua.







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Moments of shapeshifting provocation and pūrākau

Review by Dr Tia Reihana-Morunga 29th Nov 2020

Ngā mihi nuinui Atamira. Thankyou! for your mahi and the opportunity to gather, to pull close, smile, and hold each other. On this evening we came together to partake in the work Ngā Wai choreographed by Sean MacDonald. The name adhering to the plurality of waters that exist in ourselves, landscapes, and the cosmos we inhabit, we flowed into community to share stories. The Q Theatre was moving with whānaunga gathered… it was a maze of re-activating relationships inclusive of our lingering gaze,  and touch.

Outside the memory remained that our opportunities to kotahitanga in this way have been minimal… Tonight the hui and the dance felt vast and full.

Ngā Wai the work by Sean is as such. It is vast and several days following I am still in welcoming spaces of unknown and unravelling subtle stories in memory. The mana in Sean’s tending to tūrangawaewae, wai and waka provide the pou… Yet the literal is gently disrupted throughout, so as audience you are carried in moments of shapeshifting provocation and pūrākau. A moving (and breathing) set design by John Verryt is a composition of earthed coloured browns that seem to disguise and embed,  box, wood, cardboard and rope. I can’t quite tell, but as the travellers (kaikanikani)  dissect, reverse and roll its presentation and various placements on stage, I see maunga and moana, street and kāinga, landscape horizons and local backyard metaphors revealed.

In reflection, the rhythm and transition of set and movement in the atamira during Ngā Wai had me think to the mātauranga in the whakataukī, ka mua ka muri (I am moving backwards within and towards future). What we remember, how this is recalled through stories on body and in whenua (whakapapa) can reveal current and future pathways onwards. In this work this whakaaro is also threaded through the suggestive states of waiora, waitapu, waimāori, and waimanawa – whenua. These states of self, and the collective were so generously suggested by moving bodies and more. Kanikani would also arrive in contemporary fragmentations of voice to microphone,  and skit. Intimate and funny gestures for the audience connected the rich realities of Te Ao Māori to the simplicity of drinking water from glass, the repetition in climbing and falling from a ladder, and the adaption of rakau to broomstick and cardboard box.

These humble complexities revealed a cultivated and astute work. Whilst watching, I at times missed wider stage conversations because my focus became fixed to one moment. For example, watching the kaikanikani as they repeatedly climbed a ladder, to eventually become envious of their continuing falls to soft mattress. Thoughts towards the ascending of Tāne and how we as current communities continue to search for ever evolving kete and knowledge landed in my unpacking of its intent. There existed a confidence throughout that, although unrecognisable in parts – I came to trust the arrival of movers as relationships and formations threaded into other, and the floor, with evolving articulations and sequences. MacDonald crafted the body without its often-over-represented adherence to technical contemporary repertoire. It was there… but balanced to interface the expansive collage of Toi Māori knowledge that is significant to our storytellings.

In the work, the kinaesthetic histories that lay in the pepeha of our bodies were seen in the explorations of kaikanikani Jeremy Beck  (Ngāi Tahu), Kasina Campbell (Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Porou, Ngāti Kahungunu), Brydie Colquhoun (Ngāti Kawa, Te Rarawa, Ngāpuhi) Bianca Hyslop (Te Arawa, Ngāti Whakaue), Aloalii Tapu (Solosolo and Saleilua, Falealili) and choreographer Sean (Ngāti Kahungunu, Rangitane, Ngāti Raukawa). The becoming as opposed to the representation was offered. Their interwoven stories were paced in careful consideration. Each mover had time to develop something tangible for the audience to connect… the suggestions of migrations, mānu and cardboard box for Aloalii, the eternal climbing of ladder for Brydie, the kaitiaki of waimarama within Kasina, and the anomaly of wahine toa on crates of urban landscape by Bianca, were an unsettling and innovative koha to the audience.

It was a sustained arrival that fed the willing community emerging from an absence of each other. We gathered in the Q Theatre and were brought closer to the whenua of Waimārama that as stated in programme… is at the “water’s edge” with “sweeping brown hills looming above”… and so it was in theatre. The moving sound and set scapes also reflected as much. The kākahu created by Te Orihau Karaitiana were un-urgent and fluent. When movement became more formal, kākahu could be removed for more direct material pathways along the tinana. The “commanding views” were palpable and the rested periods and humour pleasurable.

I am so happy that Ngā Wai (the only opportunity for Atamira to activate their namesake in person for 2020) was successful. I am still digesting. .. and it has been a nourishing kai to full the puku. Atamira acknowledge the “conscientious, glorious, rejuvenating and creative” mana of Sean MacDonald, and it’s evident in his work. His experience to hold us safely is appreciated… his intent to remind and provoke… healing.


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Stories told through flow of water

Review by Nicole Wilkie 27th Nov 2020

Ngā Wai is a Māori contemporary dance work exploring water and its relationship to lunar cycles, migration, the Waimarama seascape,  and life itself. The work feels like a collection of memories and ancient generational stories sweeping the audience back and forth on the tides of time.

The choreography is organic and flows so effortlessly, intermittently injected with humour. The blend of contemporary dance and traditional Māori movement is seamless and skillful, and so too are the transitions between each section, seeping into each other. The music seems to fit the dance perfectly, ranging from primordial and ambient to driving, heavy distortion as the dancers explore their various worlds. The dancers themselves are stunning, all possessing obvious technique and skill, moving in and out of the floor, playing with rhythm, and partnering each other with ease.

Some highlights from the work include the men’s trio section (Jeremy Beck, Sean MacDonald, Aloalii Tapu), which demonstrates strength and stamina and is perfectly in sync, and the sections with the women together (Bianca Hyslop, Kasina Campbell, Brydie Colquhoun) are simply stunning, they are warriors. A hand-held light illuminates Biana Hyslop and Jeremy Beck’s duet, which is performed with a calm strength as they pass the light back and forth, casting light over each other.

I must acknowledge that this is Atamira’s only season for this year due to the unfortunate reality that is the coronavirus pandemic, and what a show to present to audiences after this horrible, challenging year. Sean MacDonald’s choreography flows and tests the strength and stamina of the dancers, and they do not fail to deliver. Ātaahua mahi Atamira, aroha nui!


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