If Moss Patterson is hard to pin down, it's hardly surprising.

The choreographer and artistic director is always on the go, effortlessly jeté-ing between professional engagements and community-based gigs. His most recent community piece, One: The Earth Rises, was for Tempo Dance Festival, and Patterson says such projects are satisfying but intense.

"Working with communities requires so much compassion. You have to consider people's lives and environments and show a lot of empathy."

You mean you can't yell at them like you would professional dancers?

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"Well, it's a different type of yelling," Patterson says, good humouredly. "Sometimes we're working with 200 people; you have to talk loud to communicate."

If talking loudly to a crowd of people weren't exhausting enough, Patterson did so while forming a new company, Tohu Dance Theatre. He treats Tohu as a holding space for all of his work, encompassing his love of dance, theatre, music, art and writing.

However, Patterson's next project, Pango, which begins a North Island tour on Saturday, is for not Tohu but Atamira, the dance company where he was founding artistic director from 2010.

Unlike One, Pango is fully professional and was originally commissioned for the Pulima Art Festival in Taiwan. It also featured at the Guangdong Dance Festival in Guangzhou, China, the first New Zealand work to appear there.

The version we'll see is subtly different to the one that appeared in Asia. During the original rehearsals, Patterson asked the dancers to respond personally to ancient prayers and whakapapa all relating to the beginning of time, Te Kore, the void where potential is limitless.

Three new dancers means that Patterson has gone through the same process and extracted three new personal responses to the same material, which are integrated into the work.

"Using prayers and whakapapa for inspiration was awesome but very challenging; it took us to a deep level. We became very close because we were sharing our feelings. As a good group of Kiwi blokes, we had the great experience of sharing each other's emotional rides."

While the dancers react to prayers and whakapapa, the live musicians react to the dancers, improvising within a framework set by Patterson, who enlisted James Webster, one of our senior players of taonga pūoro. But Patterson says Webster brings more than musicianship.

"He's able to interpret a lot of where we take the dance in terms of Māori philosophy and he also provides a repository of knowledge from which we can draw. In a lot of ways, he acts as a kaumātua and a kaitiaki or guardian."

Pango's other key musical figure comes as a surprise.

"I grew up in Dunedin and listened to a lot of Flying Nun bands," Patterson says. "I thought I'd love to have that influence in this piece; there's a sense of wanting to do something different, and a no-apology sentiment, but also a very creative, simple beauty."

So, Patterson's first and only choice to inject that simple beauty was Shayne Carter, the legendary frontman of Straitjacket Fits and Dimmer. A sonic explorer from way back, Carter quickly bought in to Patterson's vision.

"He said, 'That sounds fantastic,' and he was really open," says Patterson. "He goes, 'Look, I'll come up [from Carter's home in Dunedin]. We'll have a cup of tea and do some recording, we'll see how it goes.' Three days later he was on a plane."

Patterson picked Carter up at the airport. The rocker was easy to spot.

"There he was, Shayne Carter, with his white boots and a guitar, leaning against the wall. I couldn't believe it."

Carter, Patterson and Webster convened at the home of another Kiwi music great, Don McGlashan, and recorded some tracks. Webster didn't know who Carter was.

"I took a photo with him and people were posting on my Instagram, 'Oh, is that Shayne Carter with you, James?' I was like, who the hell is Shayne Carter? Then I looked him up and [learnt] he's an iconic New Zealander. But he's a top guy; we're sort of the same age, too, so we're the old fullahs of Pango."

But Pango isn't just a get-together of like-minded souls; there's an important subtext, too.

"I'm interested in empowering brown people," Patterson says. "I'm also interested in creating greater respect and practising openness and understanding. We can only do that by having courageous conversations with each other. This piece is a courageous conversation."

Lowdown
What: Atamira Dance Company - Pango
Where and When: Touring the North Island from 20 October; Auckland dates: Q Theatre, Friday, November 16 & Saturday, November 17
See atamiradance.co.nz