Atamira Dance Company’s works draw strongly on history, confronting and reshaping contemporary Aotearoa identity with artistry and power. So it was in their latest work, Maaka Pepene’s Te Houhi. This time the story is about the crippling Treaty breaches inflicted by the crown on a Tuhoe hapu in Te Urewera.
Framed as a vision by Te Kooti, the great 19th-century prophet and warrior, it is an elegiac weaving of historical, spiritual and metaphysical elements. The injustice of the separation of the land and its people is still an open wound.
Karakia from the sacred texts of Ringatu, the church founded by Te Kooti, were recited as veils of mist swirled over a darkened stage, bodies entwined as mountain and land. Black floor-squares reflected six dancers beating and clapping in off-beat rhythms, legs and arms suggesting patu and taiaha movement. As historical events shifted into the late 19th-century, Pepene’s aesthetic choreography distorted into brutal, searing sequences.
Louise Potiki Bryant’s breathtaking video, screened above the stage, integrated traditional and contemporary kowhaiwhai motifs, white scrolls swirling into misty patterns. Tahu and heke (ridgepole and rafters) from the confiscated Tipuna Whare were represented as a pulsing mystic heartbeat.
Pepene, a solitary, shrouded figure, embodied the whare’s grieving presence. Restored eventually to the hapu, he was carried aloft, reunited with his people.
The choreography’s passion and cohesion was fully realised by dancers Kelly Nash, Taiaroa Royal, Taane Mete, Justine Hohaia, Jack Gray and Jason Moore. The outstanding soundscape by Paddy Free and Stephen Hussey – from throbbing heartbeat, haunting taonga puoro to electric gunshots – underscored the work’s intensity.
TE HOUHI, Atamira Dance Company, Q Theatre, Auckland, September 21-25.