Ko Ranginui kei runga, ko Papatuanuku kei raro, ko nga tangata kei waenganui, Tihei Mauriora!
Ranginui above, Papatuanuku below, the people in between, behold there is Life!
The night before traveling to Wellington to see Nga Hau e Wha by Okareka Dance Company (the highly anticipated sequel to their luminous debut show Tama Ma in 2008), Aucklanders were shaken by a magnitude 2.9 earthquake at 9.09pm with an MP reporting it felt like “a gush of wind”.
Hoki ki to maunga kia purea e koe e nga hau e wha a Tawhirimatea
Return to your mountain so you can be cleansed by the four winds of Tawhirimatea
My flight was delayed for 90 minutes – surprisingly not because of the chaos wreaked by Chilean volcanic ash cloud (grounding many flights over the past weeks) – but due to a layer of ice covering the plane in Queenstown (despite their unusual snowless start to the winter).
Hau, Wai, Whenua, Ahi
Wind, Water, Earth, Fire
This precursor journey for me at least, speaks to perceptions on an intuitive and holistic level within the realm of Te Ao Maori. Our people’s sensitivity to elemental forces and the shifting forms of nature and spirit allowing emergence into new ‘places’ of energetic awareness. From an indigenous perspective, our ancestors communed in this ancient way, transcendent of both language and logic. It is the acknowledgement of this universality that propels Okareka forward, taking their creativity to new dimensions. By drawing these intercultural threads together, the company has cut their fingers and drawn fresh blood, weaving and stitching the fabric of time and memory into a cloak of human poetry.
While their first show Tama Ma celebrated the lives and whakapapa of Royal and Mete, this follow up work scratches away at the psyche in a subconscious realm of godly/atua personifications, boldly exploring indigenous philosophies through the collaborative efforts of Okareka’s many talented artistic contributors.
Co-directors Taane Mete and Taiaroa Royal are joined onstage by a culturally and technically diverse group of youthful dancers. Atamira Dance Company members Jesse Wikiriwhi and Mark Bonnington are balanced by an outstanding quartet of student interns (Levi Cameron, Kimiora Grey, Daniel McCarroll and Jonathan Selvadurai) from the NZ School of Dance, the duo’s alma mater. [Alma mater is referred to as a school, college or university attended during ones formative years – but incidentally is Latin for “Nourishing Mother” and as such is associated with fertility, creation, or personified as Mother Earth or Earth Mother]
E mihi atu ki a Papatuanuku, ki a Papatuarangi
Greetings to the Earth Mother, extending beyond the visible land and beyond the visible heavens
As I sit in the theatre at Te Whaea (yet another reference to Mother), the National School of Dance and Drama – I notice that the house is about 90% full, yet the audience is made up mostly of non-Maori. This discrepancy pricks a memory of a Dominion Post headline about current NZ cultural status quo:
“Waitangi Tribunal Ruling: Maori don’t own NZ’s wildlife – but they have rights of guardianship and their cultures have been neglected”.
[The WAI262 claim is known as the “flora and fauna and cultural intellectual property” claim, and covers the entire Maori culture: “language, science, history, rituals, ceremony, haka, ta moko, waiata, carving and traditional knowledge to flora, fauna and any other artistic or cultural work.”]
The irony of the protest is that Nga Hau e Wha houses all of the above properties, yet is strangely unsupported by a Maori majority (a common statistic for Maori dance and theatre arts). As my thoughts about people and the land begin to coalesce and stir within, the lights fade to a pitch black.
Hau/Wind (by Mete and Royal) is a black void, to enter, release. Archaic, dust, it is a formless nothing. Three bodies (Mete, Royal, Bonnington) form this installation of near naked amoebic shapes. The black thickens and becomes even blacker. Serpent, bones; backs shudder, breathe and grow. [The resonance of this mythological creation story would be perfect for “Kowhiti, Matariki Festival of Maori Dance” (curated by Tanemahuta and Merenia Gray) for our Rugby World Cup 2011 visitors this September]
A spectral figure is (in) visibly standing at the back of stage. As the trio slap their thighs and spray mini ash clouds in the light, a sudden vortex draws us to a new vision. A female (Kimiora Grey) is suddenly lit in the middle of Te Po.
Ki te po nui, ki te po roa, ki te po kahore he otinga, ko te tatau o te po I mua I a koe
To the large night, to the long night, to the night without end, the doorway of the night is before you
A filmic strip of a starry night lines the rafter of the whare, while the floor is carpeted with ocean waves projected from above (video by Michael Hodgson and Paul O’Brien).
Wai/Water (by Taiaroa Royal) brings in with the tide, gorgeous sinewy bare-chested male bodies in liquid black long dresses. Laying flat in a row, they allow us to take in the stars in the sky, and get lost in the black surf that washes and washes across them. The animation starts to look like a body scanner as they morph into crustacean-like entities over time, slowly evolving to standing, their hands forming fish fins. [I love watching David Attenborough documentaries about Life!]
The best moment of the entire show happens when Jonathan Selvadurai stamps his foot in a defiant takahia, sending a perfectly timed animated gigantic splash rippling across the floor with a sonic boom. The music, beautifully conceived by Eden Mulholland (with Taonga Puoro by Alistair Fraser), facilitates an outpouring of passionate movement. It is like watching an orchid grow in time lapse. Ethereal. Ether. Real.
[I have seen draft versions of this dance, first created on the NZ School of Dance male students, and also performed at last year’s inaugural Kowhiti Festival. I had the feeling it could possibly be up there as the “best” in New Zealand – though this debate is probably the subject of an entirely different article. Let’s just say you’d be kicking yourself if you missed this!]
The second part of Wai Water probably owes its homage to the sulphuric stench of Royal’s hometown of Rotorua, as the dance transitions into a comedic play about…well there’s no delicate way of saying this, but letting off some natural gas?
It was completely absurd (in a lighthearted way) yet had moments of technical precision to make it a credibly crafted piece of dancing. Though it partly diminished the powerful opening, it was a brave deliberate choreographic choice that put the audience in another headspace entirely.
The third sequence Whenua/Earth is choreographed and devised by guest artist Ross McCormack, returning to NZ after years of performing and training in Europe and Australia. He explores concepts of Papatuanuku, Hineahuone (the first female fashioned out of clay by Tanemahuta) and Ru-au-moko (God of Earthquakes and Volcanoes), continuing an interrogation begun earlier this year in the Inetrstate workshop series into a range of intensive physicalities drawn from abstract provocations and phenomenalities.
Tanemahuta (Bonnington) begins by walking with his back towards the audience, hunched and undergoing some type of transformative embryonic growth. Tearing his shirt off, we see blood soaked cotton/muslin/meat imagery, undressing his skin, grounded by stone; it is a raw, naked, devouring. At his feet lays Hineahuone (Grey), lifeless, immobile and awaiting. As she awakens and he clambers around, through and inside her, their fevered, hypnotic, frenzy of lovemaking and intimacy, eating herself, masses of curly hair, we see a “Maori Adam and Eve”, the quintessential young lovers, probing deep levels of each other.
Bonnington, a young dancer with exciting potential, provides almost a perfect rendering of McCormack’s style of movement which sits in his body as a fresh skin, still forming itself and its intention.
The music score is lavishly textured, deep sounds, sonar pulses, and silt – helping to keep the detail of the dance articulated and alive. The next phase sees Bonnington in a Gollum-like crouch, featuring two duets on either side of the couple. Pulling the bodies by hooking feet over necks, these bodies became hunks of flesh, natural, raw. Finally, it transitions into a sequence about Ru-au-moko, as the dancers assemble in a square of projected cracked earth. Their chests pop, bodies pump, they break down into different body parts, disassemble, crumble, resurrect as the intensity pushes to a higher Richter scale. It is tribal, punishing, performed with attack. Kimiora Grey’s flurry of hair intensifies the movement and she magnificently holds her own in amongst the dominant male energies.
[This section would have made a fantastic highpoint to end the show on! A hard act to follow and a daunting prospect for the audience’s journey to take in yet more alchemic propositions.]
The last section, Ahi/Fire, is by Taane Mete. It begins with a runner wearing denim jeans, the lighting a deep purple. The dancers reappear in two lines while a soloist whips and snaps himself around the stage. I like that the remnants of the previous pieces; dusty floor, ripped to shreds shirt, sweat all add to the visual rubble.
The movement soon engages into a full-bodied, flicky, attack. All strong backs, release- and form-based work. Mete performs with trademark black panther-like fierceness that seems to be the driving force behind the dance. This quality is not as clearly emulated by the dancers, and probably comes down to fitness levels and focus at this point of this epic show, especially following a short rehearsal period with a relatively long performance season.
The music for this work slightly overwhelms the space and dominates the movement, lending the dance a blockbuster type of feeling – at times like Avatar. There is a quiet and longish solo by Wikiriwhi, before an epilogue featuring a long rope that the dancers climb and hang off. A tableau is formed with Papatuanuku/Hineahuone motif repeated, the dancers doing pukana (questionable choice) and the two anchors, Mete and Royal concluding with a waiata whakamutunga (by Tweedie Waititi), honouring ancestors and whakapapa.
At the end of the show, I can see and appreciate the immensity of the undertaking and without question will feel compelled to tautoko my brothers, ki taku tuakana ma. I would like to acknowledge Daniel Cooper for his technical skill as a rehearsal director in fusing these complexities together.
I consider how the feeling of Tama Ma transcended and inspired, my last Okareka review three years ago said: “It is truly beautiful, astonishing and heartfelt. I’m not ashamed to admit I had tears.” This time around – I think Nga Hau e Wha is still a potent mix with some absolutely breathtaking moments (some of the best I have seen) but holistically is still finding the right combination and links to make it truly a world-class performance. It makes me think about the preparedness of their first work Tama Ma (a few years in the making) or the European dance company model (where they research their dances for at least a year before the premiere). This show has a fresher feel, but I imagine in a year with some more time to fully conceive it – it will start to hit its strides.
In conclusion, I would like to say that Nga Hau e Wha, as a platform for the expression of indigenous states, is one that potentially borders on perfection. The dancing body reads of ancestral bones, past voyages, future potential. The pain and heartache is mediated through the primeval intercourse that spawns life and generations. And yet we are all but a collection of particles, dust-to-dust, ashes to ashes in this continuous story of evolution.
Ko Tanemahuta whakapiripiri koe, No reira, tu tonu, tu tonu, ake tonu atu
Hui e, Taiki e!
You are spanning the generations, therefore, continue to ever stand
Gather together, as one!
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