Auckland Arts Festival - Awa: Elements flow in personal dance creation

By William Dart

Atamira Dance Company tells a new story of New Zealand rivers, one that pays homage to a deceased father.
Atamira Dance Company tells a new story of New Zealand rivers, one that pays homage to a deceased father.

Under dynamic director Moss Patterson, Atamira Dance Company has pursued an extraordinary trajectory and achieved major international triumphs.

These started with 2014's Moko, which was presented at the US's Jacob's Pillow Festival and the Beijing Dance Festival, while last year's Pango/Black, danced to the guitar of Shayne Carter, was performed in Taiwan and China and is now destined for Korea.

Funding has also been secured for Marama, a new collaboration with Korean colleagues.

These works, along with next week's Auckland Arts Festival production of Awa: When Two Rivers Collide, represent what Patterson describes as a very conscious progression.

"They're all interconnected, picking up and following on from the experience we've gathered and the skills learned along the way."

Awa comes with its own lineage, being the latest of Patterson's projects with Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra. It's a partnership that has produced Firebird in 2014 and Ruaumoko last year, both incorporating scores of young dancers.

Patterson warns that Awa is a departure. The dancing is restricted to six professional dancers, Chinese and Maori, while 80 young singers, representing Pakeha, Maori and Chinese communities, provide musical commentary.

Maori taonga puoro and a traditional Chinese pipa are complemented by a group of APO string players delivering Bach fugues.

"It's not the usual big presentation," he says. "It's quieter, deeply connected with the sound, light and movement of the world and the challenge here is to weave all the various elements together."

Patterson talks of breaking down barriers and how keen he is that his artists share in each other's conversations. Casting its geographical net from Tongariro to Northern China, Awa introduces us to its hero, Te Uru Rangi, a man once obsessed with taming a mysterious river and now a spirit who wanders in mystical torrents.

This new theatre work is based on the story of Patterson's own father, who moved from the central North Island to work in China on the Yellow River and passed away in his work camp after an unexpected heart attack.

"I was 20 at the time, and when he was returned home in a closed casket, it was awful," Patterson remembers. "We never really got the chance to see him again in the flesh and have those precious moments to say goodbye."

The whole concept of a wandering spirit appealed to the choreographer.

"Trying to calm it down and bring it home," Patterson muses. "Te Uru Rangi was the name that my father had given to me as a child and there's a little bit of me here trying to bring him - as well as myself - home at the same time."

What: Auckland Arts Festival, Awa: When Two Rivers Collide
Where and when: Town Hall, March 25, 5pm

- NZ Herald

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