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Moko DanceMoko - Atamira Dance Company
10 April 2014, Sky City Theatre - Auckland

Reviewed by Jenny Stevenson





In this most recent, full-length version of his work Moko, choreographer Moss Patterson, assisted by Kelly Nash, presents a theatre of imagery that is both fleeting and subtle, to illuminate the visual impact of the sacred art of tā moko (Māori permanent face and body markings). 

The choreographers have employed a collaborative approach, working with different artists to achieve a work of abstracted scenarios that only tangentially reference the intricate whorls and lines of tā moko design.   The premise appears to be that moko reveal the identity of the wearer in terms of their social standing and whakapapa, as well as alluding to the mythology inherent in the symbols – therefore it is these stories rather than the designs themselves that form the basis for creating the choreographic material.

In some instances this approach has resulted in the subjugation of the dance elements to the visual effect – so that the imagery becomes paramount. The dance is sometimes constrained within the parameters of the extraordinary, ever-mutating set, designed by Robin Rawstorne.  But equally there are moments of startling clarity and cohesion when all the components coalesce to reveal striking and innovative depictions, which elucidate the conceptual foundations of the piece.

One such moment sees dancer Andrew Miller framed by criss-crossed shimmering ropes, manipulated by four dancers and illuminated in a stroke of genius by lighting designer Jeremy Fern to create the illusion of filaments of fire.  Another eloquent moment has dancer Bianca Hyslop dressed in red, making cats-cradles of tension with Miller, through co-joined red gloves that stretch and pull between the couple, wordlessly depicting the integral ties inherent in any relationship – sometimes stretched to breaking-point and at other times intimately entwined. 

Powerhouse dancer Nancy Wijohn excels in this work, never more so than when enveloped in the material of the set like a dark cloak with muted star-like projections on it, she strains to move forward as though dragging the whole Milky Way on her shoulders.  Daniel Cooper is the striking, profoundly still figure of the opening section, the initiator or progenitor who through his unexpected, juddering spasms then sets the dance in motion. 

A duet between Gabrielle Thomas and Mark Bonnington hints at cruelty in their relationship, as Bonnington exerts control over Thomas by grasping handfuls of her long hair - compelling her to invert her body into a series of twists and turns as though oppressed by a greater power.

The finale of fast moving rhythmic work is slightly at odds with the previous material, in which many of the depictions of struggle or pain remain (perhaps intentionally) unresolved.  But it is at this point that the dancing really comes into its own with the pared back set enabling wave upon wave of movement to emerge.

The sound design by Peter Hobbs hovers between atmospheric underpinning of the scenarios being enacted, to work that exists separately in its own right, offering commentary by adding another layer to the whole. 

Stylish costuming by Francis Hooper, Benny Castles and Gemma White of WORLD is for the most part understated and minimalist in black, but also constantly evolving with the addition of block designs in red and patterning of the skin, through creative strapping of the body. 

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Moko Review

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