Ruaumoko - Atamira Dance Company & Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra
12 March 2016, The Civic, Auckland
Reviewed by Raewyn Whyte
It's easy to understand why the spectacular dance production Ruaumoko was included in Auckland Arts Festival 2016. It ticks all the boxes.
Presented for one show only in the grand Civic Theatre as a family-friendly drawcard with relatively affordable tickets, Ruaumoko was a community-based dance education project with the highest professional production values. It was danced by 100 performers aged 5 to 35 years from schools and tertiary programmes throughout the Auckland region, along with professional dancers from Atamira Dance Company and haka theatre specialists, Hawaiki Tu.
The fifth multidisciplinary collaboration between Atamira and the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra exploring themes drawn from te ao Maori, Ruaumoko offered the Festival an opportunity to "showcase the energies and creative potential of Auckland youth," and comprised an audience development project with a very wide reach.
Ruaumoko was guided by the now well-established formula underlying similar large-scale earlier projects Sacre, Fireworks, Takarangi and Te Manu Ahi/Firebird, with the APO playing live for the performance, and with professional designers creating the look and feel of the show, and production staff ensuring the event ran smoothly.
The sonic environment was provided by Gareth Farr's richly symphonic and at times tumultuous Ruaumoko: South Pacific Seasons, played live by the APO directed by Kenneth Young, supplemented by soundscapes composed by Paddy Free featuring taonga puoro. Farr's music began quietly with Autumn, and ended triumphantly and grandly at the height of summer, the four seasons interspersed by a trio of interludes representing earthquakes -- rumbling, roaring, clattering. The APO overflowed the normal orchestra pit with a huge array of timpani and percussion, more strings than normal, and Paddy Free's mixing desk -- such a grand array!
The breath-taking opening scene presented a huge mound of dappled bodies clustered beneath and between a series of enormous hanging sculptures by Robin Rawstorne. Gleaming metal curved and stringed objects defined the slopes of a sacred mountain topped by a red rope hanging cone and fan shaped red ropes marking the pathways of lava and rocks in some previous volcanic eruption. As the mound of bodies started to move, pulsing, expanding, and slowly disgorging individual bodies in all directions, it became evident that the dancers were wearing single colours - burgundy or black, brown, grey, or gold, mimicking the volcanic sands of the Auckland region, with colours carefully chosen by costume designer Marama Lloyd, sensitively lit by Jeremy Fern to glow like jewels in brighter moments or meld together in relative darkness.
As the mass of dancers moved across the stage in Moss Patterson's choreography, the colours made it easy to see the ever-shifting patterns and pathways marked by their bodies --straight lines and criss-cross grids, concentric circles, crescents and ovals, swirling spirals winding and then reversing direction, and flowing group formations drawn from kapa haka.
From my vantage point high up in the circle, the finer points of the narrative drawn from a Maori legend involving turehu/fairy Hine Ariki, evil sorcerer Whiro te Tipua and Ruamoko, god of earthquakes and volcanoes, were not easy to follow, but the commitment of the dancers was never in doubt. They crawled, ran, hunkered down as if to make themselves invisible, took on angular distorted shapes, flew into the air, and dived headlong at their peers, trusting they'd be safely caught. Every now and then, one dancer or another was raised high above the mass, as if gaining a vantage point to scope out danger, or suddenly a mass wheeling formation would sweep the enemy from the path ahead, and a small, foetal-curved very young dancer would be picked up from the floor, carried like a tiny kitten to safety.
As the final season of Farr's score reached its triumphant climax, the haka performers became a driving force, moving forward with everyone else closing ranks behind them, chanting, hands shimmering in wiri, and feet marking the haka's rhythm in quiet steps or emphatic stamps according to individual choice as the lights faded on the scene.