When Te Houhi begins with a slow, rhythmic beat, there is an immediate sense of anticipation, a feeling that the story which is about to start will be a good one. A huge screen above the stage shows a swirling white cloud, which combined with a strong narration and slow movements, creates a hypnotic opening to the production.
Te Houhi tells the story of the effects of colonisation on a group of Maori people whose land is fraudulently taken from them by two pakeha. The story is divided into three parts and starts by introducing the people and the land in the past and establishing the bond between the people and the land. The first part is earthy and tribal with a strong sense of spirituality and identity. The imagery and motifs on the screen blend with the powerful movements to portray the strength of the people and their connection with and understanding of the land.
The second part tells the story of colonisation, the rise of Te Kooti, the hopelessness of losing the land and the futility of resistance when faced by the Crown’s lawyers and military. It is an intense and enthralling piece, using silence and slow movement to build tension before releasing into fluid, passionate dancing. The maturity of the dancers is obvious; they are precise and expressive, fully portraying the emotions of the story. There is a gritty resolve and determination as well as a hint of desperation which is almost tangible in the dancing.
Eventually, time passes and the wharenui is at last returned, bringing back a feeling of peace and hope for the future.
Te Houhi is wonderfully crafted – the story is told well, the narration making it easy to follow and the screen giving it context. The music moves with the dancers, but isn’t afraid to stop, which ensures the story moves at a deliberate pace, continually building suspense and giving an added weight and respect to the performers’ movements. Most importantly, Te Houhi gives an intelligent, heartfelt and completely engrossing look into some of the history and heart of this land and its people.
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