Mitimiti has its beginnings in choreographer Jack Gray's personal journey in search of a closer connection with his Te Rarawa heritage and marae in the Hokianga. But in the five years the show has been in the making, he has come to include the united voices of indigenous people far beyond Aotearoa's shores.

So although Gray and Atamira Dance Company are known as Maori dance artists and Mitimiti is rich in Maori symbolism, its scope is broadened by a deep connection with the similar stories, magic and "medicine" of other first nations.

Q Theatre's main stage is transformed for the occasion to provide a "theatre in the round", and the audience is free to wander its perimeter. The setting makes for a very different opening ambience, warm and noisy, with many joining in to create a beautiful, chalky border around the central space. But once the lights lower and a deep rumble of sound begins, few actually move from their positions around the walls or cross-legged on the floor.

Dancers emerge and vanish through several portals, and the choreography of solos and partnerships spins and lunges around the huge central circle. Images of oceans and forests play out on a series of overhead sails.

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It begins to feel like a journey, with all that circumnavigation, through a distinctly dark and oppressive underworld, its travellers caught predominantly in acts of aggression, or maybe just in acts of survival, the whole conjuring up a flavour of ancient cave paintings, illustrating our primal pasts.

It is impossible to see everything but there is no sense of missing out with so much absorbing action on parade. It is still the more structured sequences though - the emergence of a Kupe figure and a "long, white cloud" and later, a quartet of beauties splashing in what is now a reflective spring - that prove to be the most satisfying theatrically.

Gray wanted the experience of this Mitimiti to be a feeling, rather than a thinking one. His success in that is proved by the finale, a ritualistic circling with drums, led by three of his guest performers. The dancers join in, then the whole of Atamira's crew, then people from the audience, stomping and circling, linking and smiling, a whole theatreful in joyful corroboree.

What: Mitimiti
Where and when: Q Theatre, to October 3
Online: See tempo.co.nz for Tempo Dance Festival events