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Monday, October 3, 2022

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Review: ‘Kaha’ is a beautiful piece of dance theatre

At the heart of Atamira Dance Company’s new work, Kaha is the belief that we are all part of the human family and therefore belong together. While wrapped up in Māori creation stories, these act as a metaphor for the journey of all humanity.  

The story begins with a man in jeans and a white collared shirt on stage. A karanga calls out and seven dancers dressed in brown enter. Time and our journey has started. 

In reo, the man tells us we are all connected. Now alone, on stage with the sound of the ocean, he dances back and forth seemingly buffeted by the wind. Is he a fish, seaweed, or something more ephemeral? 

He speaks in English now and then and one of his utterances was “I’m feeling whispy.” Perhaps he was a cloud, or even the air itself. Another piece of dialogue indicates that he probably is some part of nature, disturbed by a marvel of human technology. Piano music plays and his movements become more soulful and free-spirited.

When he leaves the stage, the other dancers, seven in all, perform a number of routines to a range of music. This troupe works in unison very well, and their movements seem to evoke and pay homage to different styles, and perhaps cultures. Some seem tribal and primal, others seem to evoke hip-hop culture, and still, others appear to be stylised martial arts. All of them exciting and artful. 

Kaha is all about people, our origins, and our myths. But central to it all is our shared humanity and commonality. We are all one people, no matter where we come from. This was illustrated in dynamic fashion by a powerful piece led by dancer Oli Mathiesen. With his fellow performers behind him, he knelt down and, using his teeth,  pulled a strip of tape that demarked the stage edge up from the floor. Tearing it up and throwing it away, he declared in reo that he is takataapui (LGBT), and that he and his community are also part of the wider community and share that sense of belonging. It was a very powerful and emotional moment.

While Kaha paid homage to the magnificent diversity of our collective human cultures, by rooting it so firmly in Māori culture it connected that diversity beautifully on these shores. 

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