Faced by the elements, it was a relief to escape the rain and settle in at Auckland Theatre Company’s new whare for Te Manawa, one of this Matariki season’s early theatre performances.
On a stage exquisitely lit with cold blue light, we could see in the shadows the towering images of the Nga Atua, the gods. The audience was clearly excited about a production that combines kapa haka, rakau, poi and storytelling in a contemporary theatre work.
Narrated by koro (Rawiri Paratene), his charm and story-telling prowess came easily and effortlessly as he welcomed the audience and joked about his shoe flying if he caught anyone texting. It made for a beautiful and genuine persona that carried us through this story of unrequited love and allowed a segue between past and present to flow with humour and poignancy.
The story itself is one we all recognised: a young warrior, Koru (Tiataharoa Maipi), falls in love with the beautiful Te Mauri (Ngakirikiri Kershaw) whose father has brought her and her six other sisters to Aotearoa.
But while the two love each other, fate proves cruel. Te Mauri is destined for Tawera (Marcus Reihana) who is Koru’s brother and the son of the iwi’s rangatira (Te Ora Pahewa). It seems inevitable that Te Mauri must sacrifice her love.
So a simple story laced with sharp writing and wit with writer/dramaturge Jason Wu ensuring the pace and language are vibrant and entertaining.
Choreographers Sophie Williams and Edmund Eramiha did an outstanding job with innovative, thoughtful and cohesive choreography. Both thrilling and reflective, the dancers’ movement vocabulary was rich and the ideal accompaniment to Ani-Piki Tuari’s music.
Whakapapa often gets loosely translated as “genealogy” in te reo Pakeha but the word more accurately reflects the multiple layers that are involved both in someone’s cultural identity, but also in their own story.
Full credit to Beez Ngarino Watt and Kura Te Waati for creating a space where these stories reflect the multiple layers of his and her story but also creativity, experimentation and reflection. It was the perfect start to Matariki.