Tiki Taane Mahuta - Tanemahuta Gray & Tiki Taane
7 May 2015, Isaac Theatre Royal, Christchurch
Reviewed by Julia Harvie
The title of this work, Tiki Taane Mahuta is a conjugation of the composer’s name, Tiki Taane and the choreographer’s name, Tanemahuta Gray. As the show is narrative based it strikes me as unusual. Tiki translated from Māori means figurehead; Taane Mahuta, is the God of the Forest who separated his parents Te Rangi (the Sky Father) and Te Papa (the Earth Mother) in the Māori creation story.
The narrative spans two generations of friends and the tragedy that both splits and binds them. To seek redemption and to move forward from grief they must "seek healing
through genealogical and spiritual whakapapa and tatau pounamu”(Tanemahuta Gray). I begin to make a connection between the characters of this modern-day story andthe Māori creation story. A man, Eraia and a woman, Karen can be seen to be Te Rangi and Te Papa respectively, separated by Eraia’s death, he ascends like Te Rangiwhile Karen is left grounded as Te Papa, pregnant but alone. I also associated Tāwhirimatea (God of Wind and Storm) with Karen and Eraia’s son, Roimata as he too ascends to be with his father through further tragic circumstances. But I may be reading more into this than is intended.
There is a lot of story to communicate to us and various traditional devices are utilised to do so. One primary device is film. Projection is used as a device to portray the genealogy and spiritual whakapapa with Tiki Taane’s father, Uekaha Taane Tinorau playing the role of the tūpuna rangatira. We are introduced to the characters and presented with their lineage through an animated family tree. A waka carving through water carrying their ancestors is an image returned to throughout the show and we are given a clear sense that the ancestors are looking over these people.
Stylised acting is combined with a visceral movement language evoking a sense of melodrama. There are various dance styles called upon, including Haka, Māori martial arts, Ballet, Aerial and a traditional style of Contemporary Dance. The focus of the movement is to depict the emotional journeys of the characters to tell this archetypal story of tragedy and loss. The dancers work incredibly hard and are successful in fulfilling Tanemahuta Gray’s vision. The audience are clearly impressed, delighted and thankful for their virtuosity.
Aerial work is used to express the intense peaks of human life, - moments of love, sex, death and birth. Props are employed, at times we are required to suspend our belief with wooden chairs used to symbolise a car, Karen is trapped on a couch, depression is symbolised in the form of two white masked men while a hospital bed and a baby doll are used in the literal sense, careering through the space for Marie and Hannah’s labour scenes.
This is Tiki Taane’s first foray into music for contemporary dance. I am familiar with his oeuvre and this is what makes up the sound score for the show as opposed to new specifically composed material. The music is relentless. It drives the story along, with the lyrics describing the action, most scenes lasting pop song duration and marked by the beats synonymous with Tiki Taane’s music.
A highlight of the movement language were the hand formations lit while the dancers lay prone on the floor reaching upwards. It was a rich image with layers of meaning. They represented water, the waka carving through water and the carvings of the waka itself. It was a most satisfying and harmonising use of traditional imagery and motion. The audience are thoroughly seduced by the spectacle of Tiki Taane Mahuta.