Moko: An expressive and technical onslaught

Atamira  Dance Company
Skycity Theatre
April 19

Atamira Dance Company’s latest work, Moko, consists of a series of dances which are like moko in that they are a set of visual and movement designs which are descriptions of people, history and landscape.

Just as moko provides the individual with a statement about their genealogy, so too the movements of the dancers in Moko traced out patterns in time and space which are abstract as well as physical descriptions along with interrelated narratives.

The elements of the visual design were, strongly influenced by traditional Maori design and construction and, according to the programmer, artists such as Ralph Hotere and Frank Auerbach, writers Carl Jung and Kahil Gibran and the music of Flying Nun but there were also references to others such as Shane Cotton, Len Lye and Cirque du Soleil.

Before the show even started we were confronted by a completely dark stage with two intersecting red lines reminiscent of Ralph Hotete's cross forms indicating a meeting place and the divisions which rule our lives

When the dance suddenly erupted it was to a heartbeat rhythm, the sole male figure on stage pulsing as though a new life was being created, a cross between an awakening god, Frankenstein’s monster and a new baby. As he hurled out primitive cries, his body contorted and movd with merciless physical energy.

He was joined by other dancers who emerged from the gloom, their movements a mixture of the traditional, reptilian and yoga. They appeared to become the male dancer’s inner and exterior demons and angels, taking on his fears, desires and temptations.

As the dancers surrounded the male dancer they manipulated and moved him with some beautifully contrived passages such as when the dancers crowd behind him and then using their upright fingers create a shimmering spine along his shoulders and arms. This highlighted the evolving theme of transformation throughout the series of dances.

The first duo of the work also introduced another theme which kept occurring, that of attraction and repulsion.  The duo was intensely physical and sensual, filled with moves which stressed the way in which dancers can interact to create emotional drama. Such moves also provided abstract ideas about the nature of dance and the way it can mirror the nature of force fields and the behavior of atomic particles, their movements, their orbits, their attractions and collisions.

Another duo later in the work where the two dancers were connected by long red flexible arms of material continued the theme of personal, physical and spiritual connections.

Moss Patterson the director and choreographer along with assistant choreographer Kelly Nash have created some  brilliantly conceived dances which, while owing much to other dance companies  such as the Australian Bangarra Dance company, have a unique style which combines the mythic with the contemporary, the descriptive with the emotional.

The sets (Robin Rawstone) are cleverly adaptable,  the sound design (Peter Hobbs) has an engaging freshness and like the visuals (Dan Mace and Puck Murphy) and lighting (Jeremy Fern) wrap the dancers in an almost surreal world worthy of mythic heroes and heroines with dancers who exhibited amazing technical and expressive skills.

It is a visually dramatic series of dances in which lighting, sound and set design come together to create a total art installation, a visual and aural onslaught, almost operatic in its intensity.

At times the impact of the dramatic sets, the amazing lighting, projected visuals and music the dancers themselves seemed to be minor players in a vast art installation and in the final sequences much of the dance was repetitive, failing to build to a dramatic finish.

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