Manaia, Q Theatre Loft

By Dionne Christian

Dancers step into a magical world, writes Dionne Christian.
Hannah Tasker-Poland and Sean McDonald in Kelly Nash's Ma.
Hannah Tasker-Poland and Sean McDonald in Kelly Nash's Ma.

Two performances: a contemporary dance work steeped in Maori mythology where two performers -- one male, one female -- place the legend of Hine-nui-te-pou in a modern context; the other involves fight scenes in a series of video games and follows stunt work on The Hobbit.

You'd think the work couldn't be more different, but dancer Hannah Poland-Tasker says contemporary dance and stunt fights aren't all that different.

"It's all just choreography," she says. "Dancers are great mimics so it's all a matter of watching and following the steps. We're also very athletic and we have better or more attuned body awareness. I don't want to make stunts my career, but it's great to do as an extra something I enjoy. But I step out if I think there's something too risky."

The last thing Tasker-Poland wants to do is risk injury, given she's one of our busiest and more recognisable contemporary dancers. She's spent the better part of the past four years dancing with the New Zealand Dance Company and, when time allows, appearing in Auckland Theatre Company productions Lysistrata, Chicago and Cabaret.

There have also been roles in films and TV series.

If people recognise her more for the theatre and screen work, she reckons that's because it is more visible -- in terms of the marketing -- than contemporary dance, which is her first love.

"I've always danced, ever since I was 5 years old; I was one of those kids who begged mum to make me tutus and always wanted to dress as a ballerina."

Now the 29-year-old is making her first appearance with Atamira Dance Company, the collective started 15 years ago to tell -- through dance theatre -- indigenous stories with local themes. It's toured all over the world, with its short works programme, Kaha, becoming one of its most popular.

Kaha is back for 2016, under the theme of Manaia (from the mythical creature of the same name with the head of a bird and body of a human) and aims to bridge human endeavour and spiritual aspiration.

Tasker-Poland and Sean McDonald appear in choreographer Kelly Nash's piece, Ma. Nash says it's about sacred space, including women's bodies, and reverses commonly known myths and histories.

Both dancers wear, at various times, an anatomically correct "fem suit" to play on ideas about gender and power. It's heavy and changes the way a dancer moves; Tasker-Poland says it's just part and parcel of work as a contemporary dancer.

Choreographer Gabrielle Thomas, who joined Atamira in 2006 as a dancer, brings together three recent graduates from the Unitec Dance degree course.

"I feel a responsibility to share what I have learned while working for and alongside powerful choreographers and performers such as Kelly and Nancy," says Thomas.

Nancy Wijohn, who's travelled to North America, the Pacific and throughout New Zealand in six different dances with Atamira, presents a solo performance weaving physical opposition with illusion and videographer Rowan Pierce blurs reality with virtual bodies to highlight the physical world merging into light.

What: Manaia
Where & when: Q Theatre Loft, July 5-9

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