Manaia : : Seen

ATAMIRA DANCE COMPANY

 

Q Theatre Loft

Auckland

 

Choreographers: Nancy Wijohn, Gabrielle Thomas, Kelly Nash

 

“Pito explores themes around maternal connection… to uncover meanings of loss, abandonment and pain to find light, enlightenment and love…”

 

Pito, a striking solo work danced and choreographed by Nancy Wijohn, opens Atamira’s triple bill Manaia. The first of three choreographers, all women, Wijohn exploits and explores her physicality and strength throughout this performance. Q Theatre’s Loft is used effectively during this season. Pito segments the stage using a thick, suspended rope and projection onto a barely-visible black gauze. Although the rope appears as a fairly literal umbilical metaphor, its weight and physical presence also draw in images of other manual work; sailors, perhaps, or labourers.

 

Wijohn’s upper body strength is always striking onstage, particularly in such an intimate theatre setting. It is complimented by her manipulations of the rope, although this could be explored further in some sections. A repetitive and challenging knot-tying section in the latter part of the dance was the only superfluous point in this choreography – it detracted rather than contributed to an otherwise succinct and vital performance. Pito moves along at a steady pace, providing visually rich imagery through movement, lighting and beautiful projection. The final moments where Wijohn is illuminated behind the projection are particularly emotive and lovely.

 

“The manaia has three fingers, forming the trinity of birth, life and death…”

 

Gabrielle Thomas’ Te Waenganui is the strongest work of the programme. A trio for three women, the choreography is beautifully structured and thoughtfully developed. The dancers are flattered by the work; presented as elegant, artistic and in control. Tyler Carney is unmissable in this performance, her stage presence and effortless technical application striking throughout the dance.

 

Thomas has utilised production elements to strong effect; costume, makeup, hair styling, poi – all are essential, incorporated and stylish. The choreography is skillful, and develops motifs perfectly without ever overusing them.

 

“This work looks… at the story of the demigod Maui and his efforts to gain external life…”

 

The exploration of Maori myths and legends, the reframing of social and cultural stereotypes, the challenging of paradigms of patriarchy, sexism, speciesism underpin the dense and theatrical by Kelly Nash. The imagery and impact of this work was rich and unmistakeable. Performers Sean McDonald, Hannah Tasker-Polland and Milly Kimberley Grant create a sometimes lovely, sometimes discordant world of song, screeching, movement, voice and flesh.

 

Though some moments were absolutely essential, Tasker-Polland’s disembodied arm caressing McDonald’s face from beneath a dining table, for example, and the juxtaposition of male and female voices, I felt this work would benefit from editing and refining. At times is both visually and aurally jarring; one of these challenges at a time is enough. The prolonged and awkward undressing and dressing of the graphic rubber fem suit, along with the flickering television screen both detracted from the work for me. Movement in was presented with clarity and a sense of power, but was over-ridden by the other elements of the staging – less a dance than a performance theatre work.

 

Atamira’s Manaia is a very strong and cohesive season, and the company’s dancers are certainly showcased by the trio of works on offer. Well worth seeing.

 

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