Ngai Tahu 32 by Atamira Dance Company

Baycourt - Addison Theatre, Tauranga

29/10/2011 - 29/10/2011

Forum North, Whangarei

02/11/2011 - 02/11/2011

Tauranga Arts Festival 2011

Production Details

Carrying only the coins from the sale of his land and the Wairua of a girl who shines on the horizon, Ngai Tahu 32 tells the story of one man’s journey from Te Waiora a Tane (the living waters of Tane) to the next generation. As he travels through a series of tukutuku patterns, sometimes described as "the oceans between the carvings", he leaves behind him a trail of history, whakapapa, creation and imagination.

Ngai Tahu 32 not only reflects thoughts and experiences of contemporary Maori, but is a universal tale of struggle, loss, and ultimately, redemption.

Featuring dancers Jack Gray, Dolina Wehipeihana, Louise Potiki Bryant, Cathy Livermore and Bianca Hyslop, vocal performers; Waimihi Hotere and Corinna Hunziker, costumes designed by Elizabeth Whiting, lighting design by Vanda Karolczak and original sound-score by Paddy Free from the NZ electronica band Pitch Black.

Last toured in 2009 to Tasmania, Ngai Tahu 32 received wide acclaim;
"…mastery of singular images…told from the heart…mesmeric, powerful and moving."
"Best contemporary dance production"
"Best Sound score"
"Best contemporary dance production 2004" – Francesca Horsley – NZ LISTENER


Dancers Jack Gray, Dolina Wehipeihana, Louise Potiki Bryant, Cathy Livermore and Bianca Hyslop

Vocal performers; Waimihi Hotere and Corinna Hunziker

Costumes designed by Elizabeth Whiting
Lighting design by Vanda Karolczak

1 hour

Ngai Tahu 32 - a cohesive overall aesthetic

Review by Dr Karen Barbour 30th Oct 2011

First created in 2004, Ngai Tahu 32 has been performed within Aotearoa and internationally and I am certainly pleased to view this work again. It is a testimony to the strength of this company that their performance works have a life beyond the one or two seasons more common for contemporary dance. It is also heartening to see the 2011 Tauranga Arts Festival programme contemporary dance theatre works of this nature. As Atamira Dance Company continues touring smaller cities they offer local audiences the opportunity to experience quality Maori contemporary dance theatre.

On entering the Baycourt Theatre we see shadowy figures lying on the stage, bodies partially immersed in a long central pool of water as well as curled on either side of the pool. The sound of waves fills the theatre. Standing at the front of stage, Corinna Hunziker begins the performance, her karanga calling to us all and setting in motion the ritual. A voiceover introduces the central theme of the work, that  “whakapapa lives”, and suggests that, amongst its interpretations, whakapapa can be “the means to create an anchor within oneself”.

Over the next hour the story unfolds of a man, Wi Potiki, the loss of Ngai Tahu land, file 32 containing his Potiki whakapapa, and his descendants’ survival.

The careful combination of contemporary dance, haka, voiceover, images, props and song convey this personal story of choreographer Lou Potiki Bryant’s family history. Clothed in dark formal costumes designed by Elizabeth Whiting and suggesting mid-1800s and later mid-1900s fashion, the performers fill the stage with lingering images of beauty and power. The voices of singers Waimihi Hotere and Corinna Hunziker interweave with music by Paddy Free and layers of  projected video images that emerge on the black back curtains and reflect off the water. The lighting design is simple, austere top and sidelight designed by Vanda Karolczak. Together with simple props including a large suitcase, a long coiled rope, a cane and a bunch of green grasses, the elements of this work provide a cohesive overall aesthetic that is now recognisable as a feature of Bryant’s works.

Founding company member and contemporary dancer Jack Gray delivers a fine performance as Wi Potiki, commanding attention in both his haka and his sweeping contemporary gestures, as well as convincingly portraying the faltering, drunkenness of a disillusioned man. Jack is supported by the ever-elegant Dolina Wehipeihana as character “Te Wairua”, often literally in the centre of the characters as she moves slowly within the waters of the pool. Moving in and out of synchronisation with Dolina, Bianca Hyslop and Cathy Livermore weave complex choreographic patterns either side of the water and offer support to the emerging child of the new generation, danced by Lou Potiki Bryant herself. Company Director Moss Patterson appears in background roles also, completing the cast. Within the overall work, support with haka from Norman Potts and with karanga from Te Whare Tatao, enhances the impact of the work.

In later sections of the work, Jack reappears as Wi Potiki’s descendants Ihaia and then Alexander Bryant. Although Jack continues to deliver a strong performance, the dramatic transitions between the characters become less clear and the second half of the story is less coherent. The use of voiceover representing the experiences of Potiki family members and the lyrics of Waimihi Hotere’s song do provide some missing narrative links, but the new characters begin to blur into each other. The costuming helps to place the dance relating the struggle for succession to the land through the courts in the appropriate era. But the undoubtable struggle and suffering from the loss of land seems trivialised in these scenes. This is partly due to the light-hearted dance in which papers, presumably land claims, are passed around and thrown in the air. The voiceover description of the elders dressed in their finery as they present their claims in court, shifts the focus of the story too quickly into celebration. In this sense, the power of the story is weakened by a sense of nostalgia for this bygone era and perhaps even romanticism. The power of the ritual established by the kai karanga at the beginning of the work is undermined when later her voice is drowned out by other sound, and the final scene does not resolve with integrity to match the opening scenes, offering instead a dramatic spectacle.

Regardless, Ngai Tahu 32 remains a visually powerful dance theatre work that conveys a unique personal story and includes skilled performances from Atamira Dance Company members. As an early work by Atamira Dance Company, the theme of celebrating whakapapa is reflected in the development of a number of the company’s subsequent full-length works. Thus, Atamira Dance Company fulfils their kaupapa as they assert their unique voices as Maori artists and share their important stories.


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