BATS Theatre, Wellington

17/09/2008 - 20/09/2008

Production Details

Tuawhenua is a dance of love, nature, turmoil, separation, loss, transformation and new life.

Meaning ‘hinterland’ or ‘interior’, Tuawhenua also implies something beyond the earth, beyond the flesh.

Evoking imagery of ice bound lovers, an enchanted grove of butterflies, a sleepless night entangled in their lover’s spirit, sensual hearts beating within a dark forest of pine, listening to the shifting sands in a turquoise ocean…

Jack Gray Dance is an Auckland based dance theatre company that collaborates with both contemporary and traditional performing artists.

Tuawhenua weaves contemporary dance with original music combining sounds of nature, Taonga Puoro, waiata and electronica.

Season: Wednesday 17 – Saturday 20 September
Time: 8.30pm
Tickets: $18 full / $13 concession  
book now! book@bats.co.nz  


Jack Gray (Ngati Porou, Ngapuhi)
Direction/Choreography/Production/Text/Set Design/Poster Design

Charlotte90 (NZ ,Irish)
Electronic and Natural soundscape composition

Shannon Mutu (Whakatohea, Te Whanau a Apanui)

Nancy Wijohn (Te Rarawa, Tuwharetoa, Tuhoe)

Ngapaki (Marama) Emery (Ngati Maniapoto, Ngati Ruanui)
Narration/Song Composition

Alistair Fraser: (Kotimana, Ngati Pakeha, NZ)
Taonga Puoro

Hineitimoana Greensil (Tainui, Ngati Porou)
Waiata Lyric Composition
Sefton Bates
Lighting Design

Crying out for a more rigorous approach

Review by Lyne Pringle 22nd Sep 2008

I find myself somewhat at a loss for words about this work. 

This is what Jack Gray the choreographer, director, producer, writer and designer says about Tuawhenua: "Evoking imagery of ice bound lovers, an enchanted grove of butterflies, a sleepless night entangled in their lover’s spirit, sensual hearts beating within a dark forest of pine, listening to the shifting sands in a turquoise ocean…"

Well here goes.

There is dry ice, blue light and an opening waiata beautifully delivered from Ngapake Emery. Two striking young Māori dancers enter, Nancy Wijohn and  Shannon Mutu. Traditional chants and waiata composed by Hineitimoana Greensil are interspersed throughout and I wish I had a better grasp of the reo.

There is a musician live onstage, Alistair Fraser playing a range of traditional instruments, the singer joins him and sits behind a microphone in atmospheric lighting where she stays for the duration. Image and text butt against each other.

I have been told by the programme to "Allow the impressions of the work to wash over, to move and still the mind." I try.

As a series of scenes take me through the evening I keep searching for the bones of the work, for a dynamic that will catch me. I don’t have a problem with gentle work but much teeters on the edge of being wishy-washy.

Am I missing something?

There are many ideas begun that don’t delve any deeper that the first flicker of interest. I like it when the dancer rubs her skin with a block of ice – a sniff of something visceral here. Interesting lights on the wall reveal a dark figure who needs to move in an interesting way.

This seems to be a work with not much choreography. Are the dancers, who are very focussed and committed, improvising much of it?  If so, they need more direction, more provocations to tease out their expressiveness and to find movement patterns that go beyond the habitual colonized body.

The piece progresses with more slow movement, more soft-spoken words read from a book and more wonderful lights by Sefton Bates that call out to the choreographer.

I try again to let it wash over me but don’t feel immersed.

This is all controlled and beautiful but somehow a yin and yang of something formless.
I ask again am I missing something?
Is the star of this show the singer and the lights I wonder?
Where is the soul of the dancers in this work? Are they just posing?
At last a shift of dynamic as they enter through the middle door and do some choreography together, like nightclub dancers.

A snippet, just a smidgeon, of humour as the singer seems to make up a poem on the spot; yet I am in a soft formless undemanding world with lots and lots of swirling ideas crying out for a more rigorous approach.

There is an interesting soundtrack from Charlotte 90. The last waiata is absolutely gorgeous but as it resonates around the theatre I am still looking for something.

Jack Gray writes about his company "It is our hope that through dance, we can inspire indigenous peoples to recall ancient times; where visions of the unseen were once cultural foundations, lying intuitively at the core of our mind, body and spirit." Fantastic aspirations!

And "We honour and reinforce our ideals as artist’s rather than prescribing to commercialised objectives." And his mission: "Jack Gray Dance takes a personal approach to our business, with the need to explore our stories and dance processes taking precedence over financial or entertainment outcomes."

So …if it is placed in a theatre, what is the relationship with the audience? Theatre is theatre after all. No?


bigmama September 26th, 2008

hmmm... was not able to make this show however i do have an interest in Maori who create dance/theatre/performance works.

the artist asked the audience to "allow the impressions of this work to wash over" although the reviewer wanted to know what the traditional chants meant...

is it possible the reveiwer's eye's were blinded by the use of te reo?


Aaron Alexander September 26th, 2008


T Meek. Start your own thread if you must, or even better, shut up.

T MEEK September 25th, 2008

Oh, fuck him. But while we're waiting for Thomas LaHood to own up, and talking about discussion and insight into the creative process -- John, when are we finally to see your Restoration masterpiece Thelma, Weather and the Virtues of Reality? You told us three months ago (June 19) directors were swarming about you desperate to mount a production. But we've heard nothing since! Have you a date, mate? We're all yearning to learn from you. Have you tried Downstage?

Angela September 25th, 2008

I feel sad that in a forum that promotes discussion and insight into a creative process that the author of this work felt compelled to remove his perfectly valid response.

T MEEK September 25th, 2008

But, Thomas, you're Alf Punter.

Gavin Rutherford September 24th, 2008

"It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt". Mark Twain. There. I said it for the majority.

Petera Daniels September 24th, 2008

Kia ora, was lucky enough to catch the show which I didn't seem to dislike as much as the reviewer.  However, I would ask the artist to look again at his reply to the review and count the ammount of times he wrote the word - ' I '.  This possibly has a long way to go as to why the piece was unable to connect with some of us.  I think all artists need to ask themselves: How does ' I ' relate to 'them' as in the audience.  Or perhaps that's a whole 'nutha thread I haven't read nor intend to start.

Thomas LaHood September 24th, 2008

...wonder what Alf Punter would make of this?!

Jack Gray September 22nd, 2008

The artists personal response.

I awoke this morning as I often do with my senses more alert, more settled, more in touch with myself. It is in this space that I realise my own truth and know the things that deeply ground me. It is also in this space that I make my dancing.

The most important thing to me while making/gestating Tuawhenua was about exploring layers of consciousness/subconsciousness/self consciousness.

Sometimes people can make dance with their minds, their bodies, their stimulations or their habits. I made this particular dance from true experiences I had myself.

I became struck in a moment where I found myself sitting on a plane, staring out the window, willing the clouds to give me a message, imagining distance between lovers.

I decided to transform my feelings into dance, as a way of separating my experience from myself.

So I looked around the landscape for more things to gather. A lot of it occurred on a beach at Kaiteriteri. I sat on rocks. I looked at the ocean. I wrote a poem.

My internal feeling of disturbance seemed at odds with the still timelessness of the ‘whenua’ (land). I noted that even though I wasn't doing that much there seemed a strong physical tension and wondered if I could use dance as a way to give an 'audience' this experience.

The structure of the dance came from a fictitious story I wrote. A collection of incidents in a story of love, loss, turmoil and transformation. Time was all out of whack as I sought to make a linear narrative out of these colliding memories.

I created the dances from different images I had in my mind. The wall scene was inspired after a dream I had of the stars, where a shadowy tohunga told me about Orion’s Belt in the sky. He sang a song to me about the stars as a way of passing on ancestral knowledge before I woke up.

In the dance itself I was interested in looking at the stars and the sense of space enclosing her. Embodying the space without and seeing its effect on the physical body within.

The dancers came onboard at the end of 2007. As it was unfunded, the dancers volunteered to create it part time over six months. I thank them immensely for their generosity.

We also did lots of reactionary things to each other, in line with the idea of being affected by another. Most of their interactions although in the same physical space actually dealt a lot with the idea of absence.

Over the months I never videoed, so the material grew, disappeared, moulded and shifted to become really an experiential understanding of the vocabulary that the dancers could inhabit. It made for an interesting exploration as a choreographer dealing with different ways of working.

The dancers always commented to me how often doing not a lot provoked their own emotion and they gradually realised it was just as valid as doing lots of technical steps. Maybe what I explored was not dance in a traditional Western sense but more an indigenous physicality.

Regardless, it is somewhat a vulnerable position to put yourself out on stage and it was a good learning curve for me to experience this. I do hope that all art practices have time to develop and grow and have the support to enable this to happen.


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