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Three female choreographers explore the role of the manaia in this new work

Jun 30, 2016 Theatre

Above: Nancy Wijohn. 

Read more: Bodies of work: Nancy Wijohn.

It’s the middle of the day and Nancy Wijohn wishes she could declare she’s eating a healthy salad. But no, she laughs down the line to Metro, lunch is a bagel topped with banana, mascarpone, chocolate sauce and a handful of nuts.

It’s not your typical dancer’s diet but Atamira Dance Company, of which Wijohn is a member, has never been about toeing traditional lines.

Formed in 2000, the tiny Maori dance theatre outfit quickly grew to become an extended whanau of bold contemporary choreographers and dancers.

In July, Atamira debuts Manaia , three short new works by three female choreographers – Wijohn, Gabrielle Thomas and Kelly Nash.

It is the first time Wijohn has both choreographed and performed her own work. It was important that it reflect her genealogy, she says.

“I wanted to make a piece that celebrated my mother. Our people came to Aotearoa not on a waka but on a manu, a bird, and that is history that I’d like to honour.”

“I wanted to make a piece that celebrated my mother. Unlike many other tribes our people came to Aotearoa not on a waka but on a manu, a bird, and that is history that I’d like to honour.”

“I speak to my whakapapa but also to the symbolism of the manaia,” she says of the mythical creature that is part bird, part man. “Myths and legends and exploring our own history allows me to bring a magical aspect to a work that is at its core still deeply connected to my mother.”

The three works were created independently but collectively respond to the role of the manaia, adds founding company member and board chairperson, Dolina Wehipeihana.

“The manaia as a guardian but also its symbolism and its form are key themes in these works. But simultaneously, they also explore how we honour our relationships to our ancestors and create a new mythology from a female world-view.”

Like Atamira, Manaia defies easy categorisation, Wehipeihana says.

“We create dance that reflects Maori concepts and ideas but is not necessarily a fusion of forms but abstract conceptions, practice and process. This is our journey, our story. This is what Manaia promises.”

Manaia, 5-9 July, Q Theatre.


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