AWA: When Two Rivers Collide - Atamira Dance Company & Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra
25 March 2017, Auckland Town Hall, Auckland
Auckland Arts Festival
Reviewed by Jenny Stevenson
In this Auckland Festival production of Awa: When Two Rivers Collide the latest work in what has become an annual collaboration between Atamira Dance Company and the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra, Moss Patterson the Artistic Director of Atamira has veered down a new pathway and opted for a multi-cultural approach.
Working in conjunction with two Chinese assistant choreographers Su Ka and Yu Fen Wang, Patterson has created a narrative around the personal story of his father who died unexpectedly in China many years ago while employed on the Xiaolangdi Dam project. He has linked the work to the two major rivers that his father worked on during his lifetime: the Tongariro River and the Yellow River in China and to the all-powerful spiritual guardians of these two waterways.
The three choreographers have (in conjunction with the dancers’ input), created a dance vocabulary which is a synthesis of contemporary dance technique, elements of kapa haka and the practice of tai chi. The result is a fluid continuum of movement that seems eminently suited to the subject matter but is less satisfying in terms of creating a diverse dynamic.
Performed by a strong ensemble of seven male dancers the work references the spiritual realm and in consequence is often subdued and reverential in its approach. The opening haka is performed at half strength reflecting perhaps the all-consuming grief of the tangi. It is this overwhelming anguish that acts as a trigger which “unleashes the kaitiaki of the Tongariro River, a serpent which travels the celestial pathways” in a bid to release his father’s spirit which is trapped between realms.
The central “battle” sequence as performed by Xiaochao Wen and Luke Paull Hanna wielding fighting staves, is one of the highlights of the work. Robin Rawstorne’s symbolic set demarcates the performance area as a circle within a circle through the use of anchored ropes. The narrow gap between the inner and outer circle acts as a no-man’s land passage-way through which the dancers walk, crawl, slither on their bellies or undulate in a porpoise-like dragging motion. Jeremy Fern’s sensitive lighting and Rowan Pierce’s subtle AV design create an eerie ambience of slight unease, perhaps reflecting the disturbed spirit in its wanderings.
Within the circle the choreographic groupings and solos or duos take on a formal, more balanced aspect in the manner of classical performance hinting at the duality of the premise that underlies the work as well as the yin and yang of tai chi.
The Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra’s String Ensemble under the baton of David Kay is a strong presence throughout performing Bach fugues and Handel, as arranged by Richard Klemm, Carl Weymar and Karlo Margetiƈ respectively. This is supplemented by the spirited sounds of pipa (Chinese lute) player Min Gao and taonga pūoro (traditional Māori instruments) as played by Rikki Bennett.
Two massed choirs: the Auckland Chinese Philharmonic Choir, led by Fen Li and the junior choir of Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Te Kotuku led by Marama Turei and Rokena, gave splendid renditions of the Chinese choral songs and the waiata from Tūwharetoa.
This work will undoubtedly open the doors for further mining of this fertile creative territory. APO and Atamira are to be congratulated for bringing together so many artists and for creating such an abundant exchange of energies between all participants and the audience.