Jack Gray, artistic director of Atamira Dance, is passionate about bringing together diverse indigenous voices so, it’s fitting that the company’s first production under his recent stewardship should be Kotahi.
Split across two nights, the production opened the Tempo Dance Festival and featured a triple bill with works by Gray and choreographers Louise Potiki Bryant (Aotearoa) and Frances Rings (Australia).
Onepū ushered us into the world of Te Ao Māori. Choreographed by Potiki Bryant with Ariana Tikao and the dancers, the 50-minute work was inspired by stories of six female deities who control and release the power of the winds – as they stand at various points on a sandbank that encircles the world.
It was a moving and powerful piece focused on these wāhine atua, their individual stories and their coming together.
Sweeping movements melted into statuesque figures as the world was held in delicate balance through the use of Taonga Pūoro (traditional Māori instruments) and the celestial lighting choices of Vanda Karolczak. If the story occasionally became a tad abstract and the music hypnotic, there was no escaping the fact that the overall aesthetic of Onepū was mesmerising.
In contrast, Indigenous Stamina jolted us into the present.
It’s a contemporary multi-media examination of how indigenous ‘being in the world’ is continually shaped and re-shaped by a range of factors, past and present.
Choreographed by Gray, the strength of the work was the specificity, the journeys to other indigenous lands including Turtle Island and Australia, and the weaving together of different energies from the dancers.
White fabric hung from the heavens, voices intersected with movement, images flashed, conversations overlapped with forms and choral rap emerged from a centre of heaving bodies.
Gray’s vision was immense and the desire tangible but the work has space to develop beyond the polemics and politics into the genuine manifesto of planetary oneness it seeks.
Veteran choreographer Frances Rings brought the triple bill to a close with Shapeshift.
Using students with her from NAISDA Dance College, the work vibrated with the energy of the land. Through blood and song lines, lineage and lore, this work reflected upon how it is more than just two worlds that must be straddled.
Strong grounded movements, white ochre markings, vibrating images and chalk drawings filling in the contours of ancestral images of people and place made this an evocative and pulsating piece of dance.
Among its various possible translations, Kotahi also refers to a sense of unity and oneness. In this triple bill, it was fitting that such rich diversity among indigenous voices were brought together to showcase the myriad of ways in which innovation continues to develop in dance.