Regional | Art

Atamira marks 21 years with the opening of Te Wheke

Te Wheke is a powerful new full-length dance work from Atamira Dance Company, the inspirational collective that this year commemorates its 21st year as the leading creator and presenter of Māori contemporary dance.

Atamira is a collective of Māori dancers and collaborators which has completed over 38 productions since 2000, including many nationwide and international tours. Artistic director and founding member Jack Gray spoke to Tapatahi this morning ahead of the opening night of the latest work, Te Wheke.

"We are really proud to still be creating work as a Māori contemporary dance company, and over the two decades it has been an incredible time of bringing together many different artists to collaborate and create new work" says Jack.

Celebrating 21 years

The company actually intended to have a 20th celebration last year but Covid-19 intervened and 2020 was a very difficult year. Atamira instead used the time to contemplate and reflect, to come up with ideas the world needed.

“Twenty-one years ago, when Atamira Dance Collective was founded there was no Māori TV or radio,” says Gray. “As young urban Māori, we wanted to see ourselves. Dance has always been the platform by which we can transpose timeframes and look at things from our tīpuna. Young Māori in 2021 feel empowered and global. So, with this work, we embody the symbolic bones of the past as we gesture towards future potential.”

Some of Aotearoa’s leading names in dance are involved in this milestone production, including Sean MacDonald, Taane Mete, Kelly Nash, Jack Gray, Dolina Wehipeihana, Gabrielle Thomas, Kura Te Ua, Bianca Hyslop and Louise Potiki Bryant, who foster the performances of some exceptional experienced and emerging talents. Te Whānau Atamira has come out in force to mark this momentous occasion and to honour the legacy of this company’s contribution to Māori contemporary dance.

Jack says “It’s really important that the young ones are there, and they also give us a spark of life as well and come up with really fancy new ideas that we wouldn’t have thought of back in our day as well.”

“I think that whenever you come to an Atamira performance, you’re engaging in a type of wānanga where you’re not just in the here and now, you’re also able to see glimmers of the past and then also kind of consider your own future.”

Te Wheke opens tonight at the ASB Waterfront Theatre for two nights before heading to Wellington for three nights at Kia Mau Festival from June 17-19 followed by one-off performances in Ōtautahi on June 24 and Whangārei on August 13, with more appearances by Atamira expected in October.