Waiwhakaata - Reflections in the Water 2023

Circa Theatre, 1 Taranaki St, Waterfront, Wellington

07/06/2023 - 10/06/2023

Kia Mau Festival 2023

Production Details

Artistic Director & Choreographer: Eddie Elliott
Co-Writers: Niwa Milroy & Cian Parker
Dramaturg: Cian Parker
Composer & Sound Design: Alistair Deverick

Waiwhakaata Performance

Having lost touch with his Māori heritage, caught up in the rat race of urban humanity and drifting further from his roots, Rehua takes the audience on a journey towards healing and redemption.
A life-altering decision changes the pathway for Rehua, guiding his return to the whenua and waterways of his forbears. Steeped in history and an inherent connection with patupaiarehe, Rehua’s identity resurfaces; learning to integrate his past with his present self.
‘Waiwhakaata-Reflections in the Water’ combines contemporary dance, explosive physical theatre, taonga puoro and kōrero tuku iho to bring us a bold story of hope and reconnection.

VENUE: Circa Theatre (Circa One)

DATE RANGE: Wed 7th – Sat 10th June

TIMES: 6:30pm (Wed 7th – Thurs 8th) and 8pm (Fri 9th – Sat 10th)

PRICES: $15 – $45


Taonga Puoro: James Webster
Dancers: Carl Tolentino, Chrissy Kokiri, Sean MacDonald, Brydie Colquhoun, Isope Akau’ola & Abbie Rogers
Actor: Lezharn Avia-Elliott

Composer & Sound Design: Alistair Deverick
Producer: Lance Loughlin
Lighting Designer: Jo Kilgour
Set & Costume Designer: Dan Williams

Dance ,

65 minutes

Many awe-inducing moments

Review by Sophie Sheaf-Morrison 11th Jun 2023

Waiwhakaata; Reflections in the Water is a must-see contemporary dance and theatrical performance in the Kia Mau Festival.  This work includes six accomplished performers and a promising young actor, accompanied live by James Webster.  It is directed and choreographed by Eddie Elliott, who worked with Dialogue Writer Niwa Milroy and Dialogue Writer/Dramaturge Cian Parker. 

The carefully crafted opening of the show introduces the childhood of Rehua, the main character played by the young actor, Lezharn Avia-Elliott.  The scene is set by the musician, James Webster, who plays various taonga pūoro throughout the work in the downstage right corner, weaving these traditional Māori musical elements with the pulsing bass and techno beats.  The younger Rehua is immersed in his Māori identity as he practises his carving by his whenua and waterways before slipping away from this prospect when his older self, played by Carl Tolentino, takes his place on the stage.  

With quickening pace, five characters plunge into strenuous physicality.  Their costuming is unique to each character, although they are unified in neutral earthy colours of greens, browns and greys.  These characters include Whata played by Brydie Colquhoun, Tūtekapua played by Chrissy Kokiri, Pou played by Sean Macdonald, Pepe played by Isope Akau’ola, and Puhiplayed by Abbie Rogers.  They act as patupaiareheguides or essences for Rehua as they endure an ebb and flow of tension alongside their water-like fluidity.  Chrissy Kokiri’s character, Tūtekapua, notably leads the essences with her breath-takingly dynamic and radiant movement quality. 

Akau’ola’s character Pepe has a joyous and comical energy that brings a light-hearted element to the show.  A scene of interactive care-free dancing under vibrant pink lighting alleviates the tension only for an ominous green light to swamp the stage.  Being based on stories from Eddie Elliott’s personal whakapapa, this menacing mood anticipates what appears to be an intensely physical re-enactment of an event where Nga Puhi attacked Mātakitaki Pā with muskets. 

The choreography includes astonishing lifts through partner and group work that smoothly transition in and out of unison phrasing.  The repeated choreographic elements performed in unison, such as movements with a limp upper body that opposes their sturdy base, adds to the haunting and tense atmosphere.  The choreography reflects the lighting and music that builds in energy for the climactic war scene.  The dancers run on and off stage, whilst repeating earlier moments as if they are caught in a glitch.  The voice-over and soundscape warps with their movements.  They skillfully execute their movements from external forces of manipulation, imitating their invisible assailants.  Furthermore, the use of a spotlight coincides with the soundscape to function as gunfire.   Rākau are lowered down above the dancers for the war scene, foreshadowing the dancers’ incorporation of tī rākau to aid their fight.  The innovative choreography is evident in a moment where Rehua props two of the rākau up and drops one in time with the lighting and audio to portray the firing muskets.  The work ends in a calmer mood with synchronised choreographic phrasing that reflects the dancers purifying and healing in the Waiwhakaata.  Their simplistic scooping motions are therapeutic and restorative, rounding out the end of the performance.  

Despite some dialogue occasionally being lost under the reverberating bass, the overload of action or in my own quick translation of Te Reo, their message is still strongly conveyed by the performers’ fervour.   Throughout the piece, I am amazed by the ease of the performers’ dialogue in both English and Te Reo whilst executing such physical dynamics.  Through their voices in the scenes of war and death, they do not hold back in expressing raw and terror-inducing emotions.  Their spine-chilling wails and haka, accompanied by fierce pūkana, all tied together to convey a great sense of mana.  Specifically, one of many awe-inducing moments that stand out to me is the monologue of Brydie Colquhoun’s character Whata where she is fallen into a contorted backbend with her face lit on centre stage.  It is disconcerting and heart-wrenching.  Her projection of dialogue further exemplifies the performers’ incredible ability to sustain their voice and breathwork.

This work’s concept can relate to many individuals healing their own knowledge and sense of identity in their heritage whether they are Māori or from any other culture impacted by the “urban humanity”.  As a young and aspiring dancer, just beginning to embark on my own journey to connect to my whakapapa, Waiwhakaata: Reflections in the Water invigorates me to see the Māori contemporary dance scene thrive. 

Sophie was mentored for this review by Theatreview dance writer Helen Balfour.


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