In just 70 minutes, Okareka Dance Company's major new work, Nga Hau e Wha, traces the arc of man's development from strange primordial organisms to symbol-sharing, community based humanity.
In the process, legendary elements of Maori creation are brought to the stage.
The work's four sections are those of legend: Hau Puhi (Travelling Wind), Wai Rere (Water that Flows), Papa Nuku (Earth Mother) and Ahi Mura (Glowing Fire).
Each section has a distinctive and evocative visual environment comprised by set and lighting elements (John Verryt and Paul O'Brien), AV projections (Mike Hodgson), costumes (Elizabeth Whiting), a richly evocative soundscape (Eden Mulholland with taonga puoro by Alastair Fraser and closing waiata by Tweedie Waititi), with choreography by Taiaroa Royal, Taane Mete and Ross McCormack and the continuous presence of seven dancers: Taiaroa Royal, Taane Mete, Jesse Wikiriwhi, Carl Tolentino, Daniel McCaroll, Biana Hyslop and Jonathan Selvadurai.
The essential black dance floor has a coating of what looks like swishes and swirls of mud, and these provide enough depth for 3D illusions - rock pools and thermal areas are convincingly portrayed.
The clay which covers the dancers' bodies also provides a range of effects - it glows eerily under very low lighting, cracks and turns to dust as it dries out, and it slowly dissolves as the dancers sweat, largely disappearing for later scenes which bring us close to the troubled world of the present.
The dancing requires considerable strength and versatility, with extended passages of slithering, crawling and crouching and rolling at first, sculptural sequences subsequently forming mounds and clumps and tree forms, followed by vigorous sections which launch into the air with leaps that become falls and rolls, and with the dancers running in circles.
The separation of Ranginui and Paptuanuku is recalled in an extraordinary duet, and cameo solos show the extraordinary talents of individual dancers.
In the final scenes there is rhythmic, driving, full out unison dancing, and a final sculptural form symbolizing the desired unity of all peoples. We recognise what a splendid ensemble the seven dancers have become in Okareka's project.
What: Nga Hau E Wha (Where The Elements Dance), Okareka Dance Company
Where: Q Theatre, Auckland. 18-20 October. Tempo Dance Festival
-NZ HeraldBy Raewyn Whyte Email Raewyn