Review: Tama Ma with the Okareka Dance Company at the Auckland Town Hall

By Raewyn Whyte

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A sustained standing ovation greeted dancers Taiaroa Royal and Taane Mete at the closing of Tama Ma on opening night.

The applause honoured the breadth and depth of their richly satisfying performance, their extraordinary artistry, and the excellence of all aspects of this highly collaborative project. And it honoured their courage, after 20 years of dancing for others, in establishing the Okareka Dance Company as a vehicle for further artistic collaborations of this far-reaching nature.

Tama Ma presents a cyclic tale, starting in birth and ending at the gates of heaven. Autobiographical in nature, it revisits an array of the life experiences of the dancers, in the process acknowledging the significance of family members and spiritual and cultural practices in sustaining their personal and professional lives.

Act One is Pito, opening with a splendidly evocative film directed by Mark Summerville and produced by Heather Lee, with a rich soundscore by Eden Mulholland and contributions from Lindah Lepou and Lasolo Elia.

It is a wild and stormy night in a primeval world, just after the birth of adult-sized twins whose muddied, slimy bodies are still connected by a thick umbilical cord.

When they tear the cord with their teeth, much of it is absorbed by the earth but splashes of blood magically transfer them into our performance arena ... in completely different guises.

Act Two is Tama Ma, cleverly choreographed by Douglas Wright, a demanding duet of post-show, backstage metamorphosis set to Prokofiev's Vision Fugitive and Legend, played by David Guerin.

This dance focused on the realities of the drag artiste, stripping back the layers of personae, costume and makeup until the burgundy-clad exotic dancers were replaced with the men within.

Act Three, Rangatahi, danced on opening night by Mete, is a jointly choreographed solo about childhood memories, such as cold winter mornings huddled as close as possible to the heater, or the potential of a white shirt to be many kinds of clothing other than a shirt. With an ambient score which included fragments of children playing in the distance, and a ticking clock, this was memorable for a series of isolated movements which built slowly into a sustained sequence.

Act four, Hand to Hand, is superbly choreographed by Michael Parmenter and builds on the exquisite sense of timing which Royal and Mete share after more than a decade of dancing together.

Starting in anger, this conversation between two men is conducted entirely through exchanges of full bodied movement punctuated by emphatic gestures. Bodies are lifted and turned and swung and redirected by a judiciously placed palm.

The action flows with an unhurried yet intense sense of pace which is supported by diverse flurries of Mulholland's music.

The final act, Whanaungatanga, choreographed by Royal and Mete for their deceased fathers and in tribute to the late Mahinarangi Tocker. They are free spirits, dancing towards heaven and their tupuna on the golden path of the setting sun, with projections of ferns and leaves and tree trunks at times washing over them. Dressed in voluminous white pants, they whirl and cavort and kick their legs high, and run in circles, until a distant karanga calls them home.

Review:

What: Tama Ma, with the Okareka Dance Company

Where: Concert Chamber, Auckland Town Hall, to Oct 14

- NZ Herald

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