Dance performance shares stories of tūpuna, wāhine and warriors from Māori mythology

By Jessica Tyson

This week the Atamira Dance Company will present a full-length dance work from one of New Zealand's most distinguished dance artists, Sean MacDonald.

This is only his second time choreographing his own work after at least 30 years’ experience as a professional dancer and the opening at Auckland's Q Theatre tonight will be the first show performed there since the first Covid-19 lockdown.

The performance is called Ngā Wai and inspired by the sacred waters and whakapapa of Waimārama, Sean's ancestral home in Hawke's Bay.

A highlight is the seven professional dancers in the work, including MacDonald, representing different tūpuna and characters in Māori mythology.

“When I was thinking about this work I wanted to find some stories of some strong wāhine and from Waimārama. I found them via my uncle Rob who knows all the history of the area," says MacDonald, of Ngāti Kahungunu and Ngāti Raukawa.

“They’re a mix of real and myth and then I’m blending them for this story, so who we whakapapa to, Hine Ngāti-Ira, to Tangaro’s daughter, Hinengu, who is the giant squid in the ocean, to Pohokio who is an awa (river) but she’s also a really fierce warrior with the patu. Then I’m trying to draw on Takitimu and that’s come from Samoa all the way to Waimārama.”

Mana wāhine

Dancer Kasina Campbell, Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Porou, Ngāti Kahungunu dances the character of Hine Ngati-Ira.

“She's the puhi (princess) of Rangitane. Her character is betrothed to the son of the general from Ngāti Kahungunu who, at that time, was about to invade. So in my particular story, her betrothal, is a part of her life timeline as a wahine and what in that time her responsibilities were,” Campbell. says

Brydie Colquhoun, of Ngāpuhi, Te Rarawa and Ngāti Kawa, performs the role of Pohokio.

“She was really well known for patu," Colquhoun says. "She used to be a really fierce warrior and she would fight with patu and she also would have kore kakahu, no clothes. So she’d be a really strong wahine,".

She says performing this role was her first time using patu.

“We’ve had some really incredible teachers coming in, some on Zoom as well because of all of the different situations at the moment so there have been lots of people adding to the kite.”

Campbell says she hopes the performance will inspire the audience to think about their lineage “and how that trickles down to them”.

“But ultimately I hope that most wāhine, all wāhine, walk away feeling a little bit taller, knowing that they hold the blood of a hapū and of an iwi and that’s particularly how I’m feeling when I’m performing as  Hine Ngāti-Ira,” Campbell says.

Ngā Wai will be presented at Auckland's Q Theatre from Wednesday with the final night on Saturday.