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Atamira - Atamira Dance Company
13-16 December, Corban Estate Arts Centre, Auckland 

Reviewed by Jenny Stevenson


In her ruminations on identity, death, darkness and light, Atamira choreographer, Kelly Nash delves into the spirit realm and examines the suffering and trenchant finality inherent in the body’s passing.  The slow revealing of multifarious spaces within the cavernous Corbans Estate theatre lends a surprising depth to the nebulous content – while also emphasising the meandering, episodic unfolding of the range of experiences depicted in the work.

Using a palette of predominantly blood red and white offset by the shimmering sheen of plastic Nash invokes her states of being with figures sighted at first dimly, through a gauze-like cloth and then revealed in the flesh, as they dance and enact rituals employing simple props that add elements of illusion and symbolism to the dance vocabulary.

A very compelling ensemble of seven dancers led by Atamira stalwarts Nancy Wijohn and Bianca Hyslop, with Daniel Cooper and the inimitable Sean McDonald lift the work to a level of real strength with moments of impressive clarity also shown in the dancing of Rosie Tapsell, Brydie Colquhoun and Imogen Tapara.  The identity of each dancer is given focus but there is a pleasing choreographic homogeneity that lends unity to the work.

Wijohn is perhaps the lynchpin, performing with acuity and lending her considerable presence and statuesque bearing to a variety of personae including a red-clad harbinger/angel of death.   McDonald’s highly expressive body and face is a revelation with his sure and fluid movement producing a performance of veracity throughout.  Hyslop’s dance technique is impeccable and her long solo traverses a number of different planes and angles in space exemplifying what dance commentator Elizabeth Selden refers to as the “space-body”*.  Cooper’s strongly centred performance is supportive in many instances.

There is a journey of sorts depicted in the work but the narrative is sometimes confusing - perhaps deliberately reflecting the random nature of life-contacts, suffering and death.  The extraordinary singing, chanting and declamation of Milly Grant-Koria is central to almost every section of the work as she works through a myriad of emotions that colour the dance vocabulary and sets the tone for each scene.  Eden Mulholland’s superb music composition obviously had a massive impact on the overall design of the work with wonderful moments of other-worldly sounds saturating the space and the rhythmic underpinning always driving the dance forward.

The climactic penultimate episode is extremely powerful theatrically, as Hyslop ensconced in large plastic ball, rolls around the stage, becoming drenched with water before the ball collapses and she makes her escape.  It could be read as the last throes of death, as shortly afterwards she and the cast start moving through a tunnel towards a distant ambient light while a crinkled silver sheet remains downstage centre, enfolded in the shape of a corpse.

Jeremy Fern’s lighting design works in tandem with Louise Potiki-Bryant’s ever-evolving AV design and Poppy Serano’s softly-white set design to interpret Nash’s belief that “we find our identity…… in shadow and light”.  The work is replete with these contrasting states as Fern cleverly creates pockets of murky shadow and uplifting pools of light.

It is interesting to see Atamira Dance Company moving in the direction that Nash has employed in Atamira.  Its focus on the complexities of life and death and its grasping for the truths of shared experience are applicable universally, despite being heavily embedded in this instance in Te Ao Māori.

*What is Dance?: Readings in Theory and Criticism - Edited by Roger Copeland & Marshall Cohen

Atamira by Atamira Dance Company

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