Te Papa: Soundings, Wellington

19/07/2019 - 20/07/2019

James Hay Theatre, Christchurch

02/08/2019 - 03/08/2019

Christchurch Arts Festival 2019

Production Details

Inspired by a Kāi Tahu tradition, as told by rangatira Teone Taare Tikao, Onepū has been created by celebrated choreographer and dancer Louise Potiki Bryant, who is also the show’s video artist.

In an atmospheric performance of dance, music and video projection, six atua wahine (female deities) control and release the winds of the world. With a rich, layered soundtrack, composed by vocalist and taonga pūoro artist Ariana Tikao and Paddy Free of Pitch Black fame, Onepū is a meditation on the different qualities brought to us on the winds of each these mighty atua wahine.

Atamira Dance Company is one of Aotearoa’s leading dance companies with a long legacy in the creation and presentation of high-quality Māori contemporary dance theatre, bringing stories to the stage, nationally and internationally, that reflect the unique whakapapa and land of Aotearoa.

Friday evening’s performance will be immediately followed by a special Q&A with the artists.

These performances are presented in collaboration with Museum of New Zealand, Te Papa Tongarewa.


Soundings Theatre, Te Papa, 55 Cable Street, Wellington

Friday 19 July 2019 7:30pm and Saturday 20 July 2019 1:00pm  Buy Tickets

Ticket Information:

  • Adult: $42.98 ($39.00 + $3.98 fees)
  • Youth: $16.38 ($15.00 + $1.38 fees)
  • Senior Concession: $38.88 ($35.00 + $3.88 fees)
  • Student: $32.73 ($29.00 + $3.73 fees)
  • Groups 6+: $38.88 ($35.00 + $3.88 fees)
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Jasmin Canuel as Hine-aroraki whose name denotes soaring and who controls the flight of birds

Imogen Tapara as Hine-hauone, who controls the easterly to northern winds

Rosie Tapsell as Hine-rōriki, who holds and releases the powerful northerly winds

Presely Ziogas as Hine-rōtia, who has power over the westerly winds.

Ariana Tikao  as Hine-aroaro-pari, the wind whose echoes are heard on either inland or sea cliffs.

Louise Potiki Bryant as Hine-pū-nui-o-toka, the mother of the other five atua and Māui's grandmother.

Multi-discipline , Maori contemporary dance , Dance-theatre , Dance ,

1 hour

Deep local connections

Review by Dr Ian Lochhead 04th Aug 2019

In its brief span of ten days, the Christchurch Arts Festival has provided a rich sampling of contemporary New Zealand dance.  It seems very appropriate that the last of the works to be presented was Atamira Dance Company’s Onepū, as the work has deep local connections both through its subject matter and the whanau of Kāi Tahu choreographer, Louise Potitki Bryant. 

Onepū draws its inspiration from traditional Kāi Tahu stories of the six atua wahine who control the winds of the world.  These were related to the writer, James Herries Beatie by Teone Taare Tikao in 1920 and published as Tikao Talks – Traditions and Tales of the Canterbury Māori, in 1939. Furthermore, one of the key contributors to the production, Ariana Tikao, who performs as dancer, vocalist and musician, playing taonga puoro, is a great-granddaughter of Teone Taare Tikao.  This performance was thus, in a very real sense, a homecoming.

The world-view on which Onepū is based provides the starting point for the production. A circle of sand, representing the rim of the world defines the performance space in the centre of the stage.  At its centre is a small mound of sand that provides a focus for the performance as it unfolds.  Video projections, devised by Potiki Bryant, animate this central space which is thrown into relief by the surrounding darkness at the periphery of the stage.  Appropriately, Potiki Bryant is the dominating figure of Hine-pū-nui-o-toka, mother of the other five winds, grandmother of Māui, and controller of the southerly winds, something very much in evidence in Christchurch over the last week.

The other five dancers represent Hine-aroraki (Jessica Johns), who controls the flight of birds, Hine-aroaro-pari (Ariana Tikao), controller of echoes, Hine-hauone (Imogen Tapara) of the easterly to northern winds, Hine-rōriki (Rosie Tapsell), the powerful northerly winds and Hine-rōtia (Presley Ziogras), the westerly.  Potiki Bryant describes the work as a meditation on the qualities borne on the winds controlled by each of these atua wahine and this is reflected in the mostly measured pace of the performance and the meditative atmosphere that develops.  Wind machines, electric fans and dancers running with drapery flowing behind in the manner of Isadora Duncan are all avoided in favour of an almost ritualised movement vocabulary.  The sound of the wind, interwoven with birdsong, waiata and the sounds of taonga puoro, themselves produced by the vibrating breath of the winds, add to this contemplative mood.  There is a feeling that we are watching something bordering on a religious ritual rather than simply a piece of theatre.  The dancers’ costumes, designed by Rona Ngahuia Osborne, plus the large fans of woven flax that symbolise the power of the winds, add to this sense of a ritual taking place in a realm that is beyond time and place.

 As Onepū draws to its conclusion, the winds scatter the mound of sand around which the women have moved for the previous fifty minutes.  It is if we are watching the creation of the landscape from which these stories emerged, as the dust and silt that support life are spread by the winds from the mountains to the sandbanks at the very edge of the world.  This is a powerful and thought provoking work that resonates with those who came to witness its performance.  It was greeted by a spontaneous haka with members of the audience rising from their seats around the auditorium.  There could have been no more telling tribute to the impact of the work on those who had the good fortune to be present. 


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Rippling wind at the rim of the world

Review by Chris Jannides 22nd Jul 2019

Atamira gives Wellingtonians a lovely performance of Louise Bryant’s Maori contemporary dance work Onepu at Te Papa’s Soundings Theatre in its national tour of the work. Mixing contemporary dance with traditional Maori dance, accompanied at times by use of a variety of handheld items from the natural world – gourds, fronds, sticks – to signify motifs associated with mythological female deities, the performance is appropriately sedate and respectful of the time-honoured themes and characters it is portraying. 

Video projection on the floor, or spilling over bodies, features rippling effects cast within a circle of sand that defines and encloses the performing area, while at the same time representing what we are told is the ‘rim of the world’. Multi-talented as both a dance practitioner and video artist, and with a well-established history in mingling film and dance, Bryant is responsible for the visual projection and its content. A small mound of sand in the shape of a mountain sits at the centre of this sacred mystic space. Immersive music that ranges from atmospheric and elemental to rhythmically pulsating adds the sound layer to the production. Paddy Free, Bryant’s long-time collaborator and partner, is the composer, having teamed with the singer Ariana Tikao, who also performs in the work.

The are six performers in Onepu, which include Bryant herself, all of whom bring the required skill, strength and grace to the performance and to what the work asks of them. Each dancer is cast as a separate female deity and member of a family comprising a mother and five daughters who are mythologised and associated in different ways with the element of air, specifically in its form as wind. There is generational breadth in this mix of performers, which is great to see on a dance stage. All six have individualised qualities and solos, but come together nicely in ensemble work, which features elegance and sharpness in its power, unison and precision.

Rosie Tapsell stands out for me as the absolute star of this performance. In work that has a small number of dancers it is right to acknowledge that all share equal value and importance. But it can’t be helped. Tapsell is in a league of her own. She rivets attention with her virtuosity. She’s an athlete dancer facing and coming into her prime – physically, technically, expressively. The challenge that I think about when watching her is not to do with how hard she clearly works to fill and own what a choreographer gives her, but how choreographers will have to push their game to meet what this dancer is really capable of achieving.

I am aware when watching tonight’sperformance that, having been asked to review this production, how inadequate I am to do so. I am not Maori, and given the wahine focus of the work’s theme – women as elemental power and authority – I have no jurisdiction here either, as a male. So when I question what it is I can offer as a reviewer, since I have no insider perspectives on these two crucial components of the performance, all that’s left for me to address is the contemporary dance and performative aspects, for which I feel some ability.

What I wish to say in this regard hinges around a comment that was made in the Q&A afterwards. Atamirais rightly proud of its 20 year history, and the overwhelmingly enthusiastic response given by the Wellington audience reflects both appreciation for Bryant’s Onepu, as well as sharing and validating the company’s well-deserved and well-earned pride. The comment that struck me is Atamira’s use of the word ‘innovative’, made by its director, the ever-eloquent Jack Gray, to describe their work. Reflecting on this loaded word makes me aware that a claim like this can be made in two contexts – one historical, one contemporary. Atamira was founded on innovation, and what I am seeing tonight is its historically located innovation, that is, innovation from its past. And this is absolutely worth celebrating. Making it clear that I am not familiar with the full breadth of Atamira’s repertoire, I am wondering whether its choreographers embrace innovation in terms of contemporary performance today?

The complexity I’m looking at in asking this question on innovation, as it specifically relates to tonight’s very accomplished production, is the line that exists between two conventions: one that carries forward, locks down and perpetuates tradition,and the open-ended, ever-new nature of that other word, contemporary. When mixing the two together, as Maori contemporary dance in the hands of Atamira does so ably, the danger I encounter is when contemporary dance conventionalises itself into a tradition, adopting a vocabulary that just recycles and re-uses very familiar movement forms and structures. Whether it is characteristic only of this production, or whether it is symptomatic of Atamira itself, I encourage these very adept and important pioneers and practitioners to keep working towards more innovation that is on the cusp of what is considered as such in performance, dance and theatre at the present time.

Thank you to Louise Bryant, the dancers and team at Atamira for providing a deeply thought-provoking opportunity for stimulating reflection. This is why major companies like this are deservedly supported and funded by our wider NZ community.


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Falling sand

Review by Sam Trubridge 22nd Jul 2019

A circle of sand defines a stage within the stage at Soundings Theatre. A small island of sand sits at its centre. The hollow sounds of taonga puoro breathe around the space. A tohunga once told me that taonga puoro is the sound of the time before creation.

Onepū is a new work presented by Atamira Dance, choreographed by one of its founding members, Louise Potiki Bryant. Of Kāi Tahu, Waitaha, and Kāti Mamoe descent, Potiki Bryant has made this work by drawing on the story of six atua wahine who stand on the sandy edges of the world to control the winds that blow on our shores.

Potiki Bryant and five other dancers embody these six women, in costumes by Rona Ngahuia Osborne that hang with strips of roped fabrics and threaded fibres. There is a suggestion of korowai or piupiu in these garments, without being so specific, and whilst also allowing for a lighter, more liquid movement of the materials around their dancing forms. It is a slick, stylish production that brings movement, video, light, object, material, and music together wonderfully for a very full dance performance. At times the choreographic vocabulary seems a bit limited – with rather too many twirls, hands-leading-actions, and such, without anything to distinguish it in this regard. But the use of large woven wings extends the bodies wonderfully, producing wind with their movement and introducing new choreographic parameters that are more original and relevant for this work. The music deserves special mention, featuring composition by Paddy Free and Ariana Tikao, with Tikao providing some fantastic vocal work and taonga puoro. Among the dancers, Rosie Tapsell is direct, atheletic, and incredibly watchable. Her short vocal yelps that punctuate several sequences draw attention to the breath escaping her body, reminding me of wind, breath, and vital essence (hau). Projection (Potiki Bryant) and lighting (Vanda Karolczak) cast soft veils of rippling watery light over the moving bodies and the stage floor.

The circle becomes an ocean, and the dancers personify their giant spirits –  leaping high in the clouds above the lonely single island. It is a powerful gesture, to turn the stage into a miniature landscape – and when one or some of the dancers gather around the island there is this wonderfully titanic and mythical scale to their actions.  But not enough is made of this feature, since the choreography sometimes travels across the circle without recognition for the symbolic qualities it has developed in the design. These other movement patterns that break through the strong, almost sacred space of the circle seem clumsy. It seems not enough is made of the entrance and exit into this space, as a threshold at the edges of the world.

The final scene is outstanding, and an provides an excellent payoff for this broad circle that has encompassed the performance. Now the dancers scoop their hands into the island at its centre, ploughing into its slopes to lift silky trails of falling sand from their fingers. As they whirl away from this source, the sand continues to fall, spreading like wings or as if their own fingertips are disintegrating, skin and bone sloughing away as they lift higher and wider. Potiki Bryant canonades the dancers well in this scene, so that we have the impression that the sand never stops falling – like waterfalls it cascades endlessly from the dancers’ movements in a lifting lifting tempo until all that we have left is a stage scattered with the stuff – no circle, no island anymore. Instead a dusty stage scuffed with the traces of vigorous movement. Then darkness.


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