A huge disembodied face watches us from above. The Kuia glances at us, over that side, over this side, watching us find our seats. Her eyes are large and clear, the whites of her eyes bold even against the white gauze she is projected against. Her black lips and moko reflect her majesty, her mana. We cannot help but revere her. As the lights dim, a bubble of excitement bursts in my stomach and all at once the woman’s face changes, her eyes roll, her face extends with a challenge and the soundscape plunges us from the jovial into something almost sinister.
Mana Wahine is an evocative, experiential interdisciplinary exploration of women and their mana mediated through the form of dance. The dance, at first, is light based. Five forms are lying beneath a white gauze and a projected woman stands, huge, a giantess: she calls to Rangi-nui and Papa-tū-a-nuku with a karanga and karakia. As she does, her voice is intermingled with the trickling of water and five wairua light forms play over her form, rippling, swarming, flowing, until they land on the forms beneath the gauze. The light on their bodies awakens them and the movement begins.
Projection forms an integral component of the show where the distinction between lights and bodily forms are blurred. So too the surroundings are at once a forest undergrowth, a running stream, a rock face – the use of projection is both startling and delightfully experimental. Just as the dancers are clothed with lights, they are clothed with props which are at once costume, visual cues, and fascinating percussion instruments. Each component of costume that is added throughout the show adds to the soundscape and the compositional and tonal shape of the stage. As does the dancers movement itself. The flapping, tapping landing of their feet and hands, the contact their body makes with the floor, with each other, with their props, makes for a rich unworldly soundscape enhanced by the voices – the waiata, karakia and karanga.
Inspired by the story of Te Aokapurangi of Te Arawa the performance interweaves the influence and inspiration of each dancers’ tūpuna, using the mana they have inherited to inform and breathe life into the stories they are telling. Taane Mete, Taiaroa Royal and Malia Johnston, writers and directors of the theatrical performance, have fostered an environment of rich research, exploration and creativity in order to put together a performance so redolent with the past, the experience of the present, and looking into the future of women, their mana, their assurance in the whenua and whakapapa.
I cannot say enough to recommend this show. The experiential nature of it means that the chills of excitement, apprehension, and all those emotions we cannot vocalise, are still flooding up and down my spine hours after it has finished.
The show is moving around the country. It finishes tomorrow night at Mangere Arts Centre but will be on in Tauranga, Hamilton and Hawkes Bay in the coming weeks, returning to Auckland on the 13th – 15th August followed by shows in Wellington. See this site for details