Review: TE WHEKE by Atamira Dance Company at The Joyce Theater

Atamira Dance Company's "TE WHEKE" will be performed at The Joyce Theater through Sunday, April 2 2023.

By: Mar. 31, 2023
Review: TE WHEKE by Atamira Dance Company at The Joyce Theater
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Silence whispers over the seats of The Joyce Theater as Atamira Dance Company's Artistic Director Jack Gray and Executive Producer Marama Lloydd greet the audience in Māori, the Austronesian language spoken primarily by Maōri people; the indigenous population of mainland New Zealand. Not only the debut opening night of "Te Wheke," at The Joyce Theater, this evening is celebrating 23 years of indigenous dance making. "[We] are proud to share Te Wheke, a legacy and succession work that has captured the essence of the company's 23-year journey and exists as a quintessential expression of Māori Contemporary Dance," states the program. This milestone reaches beyond only the dancers and directors of Atamira Dance Company; it represents the celebration of Aotearoa for being the home to some of the most highly renown and inventive work in New Zealand. "It's been a long journey and it's so nice to see so many friends," says Gray, with a heartwarming smile on his face. "What we do here is for each other."

As the audience's clapping quiets, deep, roaring waves wash over the soundboard of the stage. Instantly soothing, the audience is swept into the world of Oceana. Dancer Sean MacDonald appears, in silky dark fabric, articulating his upper body in an intermixingly subtle and powerful manner, as one of his hands begins to shake in a flexed position. Intrigued and curious, dancer Madi Tumataroa joins him to find each other in intimate, tightknit embrace. As they begin their pas de deux, all drapes on stage are lit up with projections of blue waves. Realistic and intrinsic, the waves appear to begin rolling as the fabric of the drapes move in the wind. Momentum builds as a suddenly loud, jarring bass pounds, and "Te Wheke" has begun.

Review: TE WHEKE by Atamira Dance Company at The Joyce Theater

"Te Wheke" translates from Māori referring to the octopus, which appears in multiple mythologies as a powerful symbol for Māori peoples. During "Te Wheke," each of the eight company dancers are uniquely paired with a choreographic practitioner, who creates solos specifically to delve into the esoteric dimensions of the human experience. A Māori model of wellbeing is tied to the meaning of "Te Wheke," which was created by late spiritual and community leader Dr. Rangimarie Rose Pere. This model, "was embedded into the choreographic structure which aligns a Mātauranga Māori dimension of health to each of the eight tentacles - Mauri (Life essence), Whānau (Family), Wairua (Spirit), Whatumanawa (Emotions), Hinengaro (Mind), Mana Ake (Self-worth), Tūpuna (Ancestors), Tinana (Body)."

Have you ever seen a real octopus swim in water? With eight arms infinitely curling and rippling, each arm works as a separate entity to move the octopus in space. Darting and swirling, each dancer upholds these dynamics for over an hour, vicariously sharing energy and traveling through space. Accompanied by shapeshifting ropes, large black tubes, long cuts of tulle and sweeping parachute fabric, there are times an actual creature is present on stage; created through illusion and entirely mesmerizing.

Review: TE WHEKE by Atamira Dance Company at The Joyce Theater

The dancers of Atamira Dance Company are shapeshifters, unafraid to vocalize language and rage, while committed to animalistic movement emulating creatures of the sea. Within moments of synchronous group choreography, there is an intricacy in the dancers' pathways. Exciting the eye with twists and turns, the dancers' bodies create waves through sweeping lifts, partnering, jumps, and rolling. When one connection or point of contact is broken, another is immediately found. Everyone is binded through synchronous breath. Dancer Caleb Patric Rangiera Heke stands out with beautiful spinal articulations, ever-twisting limbs, and lengthy ascensions and descensions to the floor.

Atamira Dance Company is more than a dance company. They represent a beautiful community deeply rooted in the geography of Aotearoa and tied tightly together through the legacy and ancestors of the Māori people. The experience of watching Atamira Dance Company is grounding and provokes thought about our own personal relationship to the Earth, water, and the path we walk on. "This collective of Māori choreographers and dance artists shape and share Mātauranga Māori (knowledge) into deep and mesmerizing works inspired by historical events, personal whakapapa (genealogy), and the unique cultural landscape of Autoeroa, New Zealand," states the program.

Audible, forceful, and genuine, Atamira Dance Company treats the Joyce audience to a journey through the ocean and discovery of eight dimensions of human health. And once underwater, entranced by hypnotizing illusions and breath-taking choreographic solos, the beauty of Māori culture and people is revealed.

Artistic Director: Jack Gray

Executive Producer: Marama Lloydd

Co-Directors: Taane Mete & Kelly Nash

Rehearsal Director/Understudy: Kelly Nash

Choreographic Practitioners: Jack Gray, Bianca Hyslop, Taane Mete, Kelly Nash, Louise Potiki Bryant, Kura Te Ua, Gabrielle Thomas, Dolina Wehipeihana

Performers: Caleb Heke, Sean MacDonald, Oli Mathiesen, Dana Moore-Mudgway, Abbie Rogers, Cory-Toalei Roycroft, Mdi Tumataroa, Nancy Wijohn

Designers: Paddy Free,Vanda Karolczak, Marama Lloydd, Louise Potiki Bryant, John Verryt

Production Crew: Rhiannon Clift, Vanda Karolczak, Robert Larsen, Vanessa Reed

Photo Credit: Jinki Cambronero


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