Atamira Dance Company's 2016 development season, Manaia, presents three short works which engage with some aspect of that mythological entity, a bird-headed man most often found as a carved design motif in buildings, stone and pounamu jewelry.

The manaia is known as a shape-shifter which can slip between space and time, and operates in the space between the human and spirit worlds, at times offering protective powers. These shape-shifting capacities are celebrated in Te Waenganui, choreographed by Gabrielle Thomas, a rich exploration of slowly mutating manaia-like sculptural forms which seems to explore all the possible variations in triadic spatial arrangement.

Beautifully danced by Paige Shand, Tyler Carney and Imogen Tapara, the dance has moments of poised stillness topped by curving yet crooked manaia arm shapes, and cycles of dynamically varied motion featuring swirling, swishing, rolling and stepping interspersed with short solos and duets, still moments, occasional partnering and floor work. Quietly rhythmic, smoky music by Peter Hobbs accompanies the dancing.

Nancy Wijohn's self-choreographed solo Pito centres on a huge hanging rope which coils, serpent-like, onto the floor, and she takes various positions in relation to the rope, becoming a manaia form. She tests her strength against the rope, leaning and slipping against its surface, climbing and hanging from it, uncoiling it to stretch across the space as she pulls against like an anchor stone, then tying it into a series of clumping knots. Symbolically, the rope marks the boundaries of life and death and maternal connection, and these are the focus of Wijohn's exploration. A score by James Risbey provides the sound environment, and repeating projections of a flitting woman haunt proceedings.

Kelly Nash's boldly theatrical seeks to revision the terms and outcomes of the demigod Maui's attempt to gain eternal life by re-entering the birth canal of the goddess Hine Nui Te Po. Sean McDonald is the raging Maui, Hannah Tasker-Poland is the inviolable goddess and their encounters involve some startling elements. Vocal accompaniment by Milly Kimberly Grant is a powerful feature, her manaia-like bending of aural boundaries offering spiritual protection.


There will be further development before the works are toured.

What: Manaia
Where & when: Q Theatre Loft, until Saturday