He Huia Kaimanawa - Auckland Arts Festival 2023
Te Pou Theatre
Auckland 16-19 March 2023
Created by Bianca Hyslop and Rowan Pierce
Reviewed by Jenny Stevenson
He Huia Kaimanawa can be loosely translated as a “commitment to an important topic or cause” or as something “highly prized” or “treasured”. In their new work for the Auckland Arts Festival, presented at the refurbished Te Pou Theatre, choreographer Bianca Hyslop and designer Rowan Pierce have defined Te Reo Māori as one such precious taonga, crafting a work that searches for and discovers the riches and complexities integral to the language of the great orators. Their partnership manifests in a pleasing interaction between the design elements and the dance, utilising the powerful energy of a group of women to embody the lived experiences of those learning to speak Te Reo or to enact past events and encounters.
Hyslop’s choreography and direction explores different aspects of the feminine persona and the manner in which women relate to each other. Mostly her vocabulary utilises a softly pliant continuous movement aesthetic, with spiralling turns, and sliding floor work. Stories are enacted through dance, song, and dialogue. Then when more strident or challenging passages are employed, it creates an effective contrast that opens up the discourse to encompass conflict. Hyslop acknowledges the dancers’ input by listing them as co-devisors.
Co-director Pierce takes the image of a bird in a box and creates multiple, movable square formations that delineate the spaces in which the stories unfold - while constantly enhancing the scenography with moving light and projections. The bird becomes the symbol of a language that was actively suppressed in times gone by (put away in a box), before enjoying a regeneration and the ability to spread its wings and fly once again, to become the Mother Tongue for many of the new generation of tamariki.
Leading the ensemble of performers is Tūī Matira Ranapiri-Ransfield, already well known to dance audiences for her various collaborations over the years including being the inspiration behind Ōkāreka Dance Company's work Mana Wāhine. Her strong presence anchors the work, while also providing a conduit into the realms of the spirit. She is the composer of the music that sets the atmosphere for each dance segment culminating in a haunting and uplifting song which she sings with a fervour that reverberates throughout the space. This segues into a section in which Ranapiri-Ransfield creates magic by spinning four poi simultaneously. Earlier in the work she wields the Patu with precision – a seasoned practitioner of the ancient art. In her hands the Patu answers challenges with confidence, as she orchestrates the action with deft and sinuous movements.
Consummate performer Nancy Wijohn opens the work, greeting the audience with warmth and vigour, which sets the tone for the evening, She and Kelly Nash are in sync in their movement patterning – creating a tangible cross current between the two of them. They have an innate appeal as dancers arising from a grounded bearing – their dancing a confident extension of their personalities.
A very different feminine energy emanates from the two younger dancers, Samara Te Aniwa Reweti and Arohanui Watene, who are both compelling performers in their own right, with strong technique. A high point occurs when the four performers dance an extended quartet in formation, that grows in intensity and galvanised them as a group.
The work is completed as the squares disappear and a huge air-inflated soft-sided edifice appears lit with red light to represent a “beating heart”. From its depths emerge three young girls: Mihimarino Walker, Rerekohu Wikingi and Lila Porteners, who declaim a powerful chant in Te Reo – as a superb exemplar of the power of the language and the new generation of fluent speakers.
Photographs by Jinki Cambronero