Atamira Dance Company Debut Performance in North America

30 Jul

Andrew Wood, executive director, San Francisco International Arts Festival, brought
New Zealand’s Atamira Dance Company to Joe Goode’s Annex  July 27 for its North American debut.  Kaha ran 75 minutes minus intermission, a rugged, athletic introduction to seven person ensemble plus the director Moss Patterson. The  dancers were:  Megan Adams, Mark Bonnington, Daniel Cooper, Jack Gray, Bianca Hyslop, Andrew Miller, Kelly Nash, Nancy Wijohn.

While only one of the dancers who really looked as if, in other times, his face would sport traditional Maori tattoos, I assumed from dark locks and curly hair on some, that most troupe members shared Maori family roots. The director added a New Zealand English accent  introducing the pieces.

I wonder just how often they perform and if their entire repertoire is as rigorous as the seven pieces performed in Joe Goode’s high-ceiling space,  anchoring one corner of Project Artaud, a former industrial building proclaiming itself the oldest artist cooperative in the United States. Their attack was unremitting, the energy remarkably unflagging, the ensemble spirit evident, discipline and training excellent.  The men, with one exception, tall with muscles lean and well defined, could just as easily walk off a rugby or soccer field. Two of the women, medium height, looked cheerful and managerial , the third slender but athletic.  Watching one of them in the sixth number roll on the floor, forward and back, left me breathless with amazement.

Patterson said Haka, was based on movements he learned from his grandmother.  The term haka means posture dance, started the program forcefully. Patterson commenced the dance in semi-darkness, his arms manipulating strips of metal attached to string, their spinning in the air in circles and figure eights making a faint, if distinct whirring sound.  Broad second leg positions, lateral unison movements, foot or heel pound, arms moving to the side, across the body, slapping, hitting the chest or arm, the voice speaking in the Maori tongue, the eyes focused and fierce.  Any one could easily arouse afficionado’s exclamations on a Kabuki hanamichi.

Ta Paki, was created by Patterson responding to ocean waves as a means to reach an internal rhythm.  Bianca Hyslop and Nancy Wijohn, with Andrew Miller, sketched an undulating, occasional physical lifting , to and fro imagery that, in its early phases, reminded me of Jose Limon.  The work, loops and swooping movements, the arms moving out and around the body bending forward and back, weaving around another body, sometimes a linear image of three, conveyed a sense of the sea, waves and tides.

Company members Kelly Nash and Nancy Wijohn contributed Indigenarchy and Paarua, studies in the effects of mass media by Nash and sporting tactics and attendant mental and physical preparation from Wijohn.  Two whistles were involved, one with the range of bluster, coyness and cheek, all based on competition, instinctive reaction, the emphasis on physical strength.

Two numbers, Pou Rakau and Moko, rose from Maori influences.  Gaby Thomas, a company member on leave, drew on the Maori stick tradition, employed singly or collectively, placing them, vertically, in front like ritual objects. It gave the sensation of domesticity, time of day, comforting repetitive acts.

Moko, on the other hand, used body tattoo, or ta moko, as its point of departure , the floor patterns and gestures evoking the designs and the act of tattooing itself, weaving bodies, lifts,  reflecting the intricacy of designs.  As expected, the emphasis on tribal custom and cohesion came across strongly.  An interesting side note was the lower thigh, knee and upper calf  tattooed cuff on one of the males dancers, the design intricate, placement unusual.  It was this dance where the dancers engaged in body rolls on the floor, forward and backward with great intensity and for what seemed a prolonged sequence.

The finale was Poi e Thriller, poi  referring to a light ball on a string, here white and swung freely in oval and criss cross patterns, the dancers dressed in a clever exposition of cheeky grunge, the girls in fluffy net skirts of various hues plus black, posturing, turning, changing places with equal sass. The ensemble’s mixing Maori tradition with modern comment is both fascinating and compelling.

The audience loved it. Andrew Wood invited the audience to talk to the dancers and to join them in a picnic on Treasure Island Sunday afternoon.

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