Manaia - Atamira Dance Company
5 July 2016, Q Theatre, Auckland
Reviewed by Dione Joseph
The essence of the Manaia is that it is always more than it seems.
Depicted as having the features of a bird, serpent, fish as well as that of a human, this mythological creature carries an innate power transmuting the world around it as much as it transforms into different versions of itself.
It is appropriate then that the Manaia is the inspiration for Atamira’s new season of three brand new works by female choreographers packed into an hour long performance.
Nancy Wijohn’s piece begins the evening’s programme with Pito, a work that centers upon an umbilical connection with our tipuna wahine. As the lights dim Wijohn lies face-down against a lengthy coil of tawny rope that hangs suspended from the ceiling. A few feet away a scrim is lit with a simple but powerful projection of a woman, folded over. It’s an evocative, specific and personal journey that investigates numerous relationships and its strength is both in its simplicity and specificity. But as narrative the various strands that Wijohn draws upon need to be further developed. There is a space for it to evolve especially considering the strength of Wijohn both as choreographer and performer but also as storyteller.
The second work, Te Waenganui is choreographed by Gabrielle Thomas and broadens the dance vocabulary with an incredibly beautiful commentary that explores birth, life and death; and also the various incarnations of the Manaia itself. Paige Shand, Tyler Carney and Imogen Tapara are an excellent trio and although not all their executions are fully defined, for the most part their fluidity and balance is well maintained.
The final work, Kelly Nash’s Mā has the potential to be a fully developed powerful work as she examines a re-imagining of Maui’s attempt to re-enter the birth canal of Hine Nui Te Po. Individually, Sean McDonald as the apoplectic Maui and Hannah Tasker-Poland as the slowly unveiling goddess are powerful performers but there is a lack of connection and coherency in the story that renders it flat, and at times, even superficial. Milly Kimberly Grant is a stellar vocal performer and her textured live aural soundscape is one of the highlights of the work. Potentially given the breadth and depth of a full length performance will be able to better hold the narrative – in this version it tends to take precedence over the performance.
There is much potential in these three works but dramaturgically they are not held together well and that is disappointing. It’s also frustrating because these three female choreographers are clearly brimming with talent and have voices that deserve to be heard – but the work simply lacks clarity and cohesion. The lighting states are also erratic and with the exception of a few specific moments the incessant glare is overwhelming from too many lit surfaces.
Manaia offers an entire universe rich with meaning, movement and story but these works are still very much in development. Through further dramaturgical support and refining of purpose the voices of these wahine toa will have the power to transform not just these works but our collective stories of Aotearoa.