Story of mana wāhine told through dance and video

Louise Potiki Bryant’s work lives and breathes the intrinsic spiritual power of women, or mana wāhine. Brittany Baker got to hear from the choreographer, dancer and video artist ahead of her visit to the region as part of Winter Fest.

Hello Louise! Thanks so much for taking the time to chat to us. You’re a choreographer, a dancer and a video artist – how do you juggle it all?
Yes, being a video artist as well as a choreographer can be time consuming. The hours can be long, but I find it very rewarding and fulfilling work.

There are times when the focus of my work is more on my video art practice, and there are times when my focus is more on my performance practice.

Other times my video and performance practices come together, such as when I am the video designer as well as the choreographer for a work. I also design the scenography for my works. All of which gives me the ability to have the overall vision for the world in which a dance piece is set, which I really enjoy.

My video work is often very textured and layered and I tend to think of my video art as a moving painting or a collage. When I was younger I used to paint and I was always trying to achieve a sense of movement in my paintings. So when I discovered video this became the perfect medium to achieve the movement I was after.

Also because I’m a choreographer I am always considering movement, form and structure and this translates well to editing video in that there is a sense of choreography in my video design.

I also work as a video designer for stage productions, operas and music events and I have made several dance films, music videos and video installations for gallery settings. So life is often busy but always interesting.

Onepū in coming to Taranaki this month and is set to stir deep emotions and take audiences to another place and time.
Photo credit: Julie Zhu

How do you create your choreography?
When I choreograph I aim to work with dancers in a holistic way. For me, my works often exist within the realm of te taha wairua, of spirit, and I aim to honour the unique and special qualities of each dancer. I work very collaboratively with dancers.

Before I begin any rehearsal process I do a lot of research into the kaupapa for the work. I also often begin with an overall structure and idea for the progression of a work. Often times I start with movement sequences which I have set prior to working with the dancers, but our rehearsal period also begins with a lot of exploration and experimentation around the kaupapa or themes for the work.

I then set choreographic phrases based on what emerges in our explorations. Often the sound-score also really informs the work.

How do you believe video adds to the experience of contemporary dance?
Video can create a textured and vibrant world within which a dance piece can exist. I use video as another layer to enhance the energy and dynamic of the choreography or to support the kaupapa of the work.

For Onepū I created the video from different water textures such as rain drops on water, and I animated imagery based on different dynamics of the wind, the movement of the trees, birds flying and feathers falling, all to acknowledge the different roles played by each dancer.

What inspires you?
I am inspired by te taiao / the natural world. My work is elemental and reflects upon our connections with the whenua, with our tupuna and with each other.

Many of my earlier works were also inspired by history, whakapapa and whānau stories handed down through the generations.

My work is also informed by kaupapa Māori, by my Ngāi Tahutanga, by te taha wairua (spiritual well-being), by mana wahine (the intrinsic spiritual power of women) and by atua wāhine (female deities).

This work from Atamira Dance Company is a meditation on the different qualities brought to us on the winds of each these mighty atua wāhine.
Photo credit: Julie Zhu

You’ve co-created the latest from Atamira Dance Company. Can you tell us a bit about Onepū and its creation?
Onepū (sand) is named to reflect the sand bank Pikopiko-i-whiti which encircles the world and upon which six atua wāhine stand within the different directions of the wind.

The work is inspired by a Kāi Tahu tradition as recounted by Ngāi Tahu rangatira Teone Taare Tikao in the book Tikao Talks. These atua are strong forces of nature with the enormous power of controlling and releasing the winds of the world. Onepū is a meditation on the different qualities each atua wāhine brings to us.

Teone Taare Tikao was born in 1850. As a boy he was sent by his father to study under two tohunga in Banks Peninsula for nearly 10 years. In 1920 he was interviewed by historian Herries Beattie and his book Tikao Talks – Traditions and Tales of the Canterbury Māori as told by Teone Taare Tikao to Herries Beattie was subsequently published in 1939.

The choreographic process for Onepū began with research into the above kaupapa and experimenting and devising movement material based on these atua wāhine.

Louise is joined onstage by five other wind dancers – Rosie Tapsell, Tanu Richardson, Jasmin Canuel, Presley Ziogas and Imogen Tapara.
Photo credit: Julie Zhu

At the beginning of 2018, I had a workshop with the cast where we began the development of a dance vocabulary for each dancer based on their particular atua wāhine and the different qualities of the winds. We also spent time at the beach on sand banks embodying the qualities of the winds there.

The next stage of development was the creation of the soundtrack. With Onepū the soundtrack came very early in the process. The soundtrack is co-composed by Ariana Tikao and my husband Paddy Free.

Ariana Tikao is the great grand-daughter of Teone Taare Tikao. Before I began the choreographic process I asked Ariana’s whānau for permission to create a dance work based on Teone Taare Tikao’s telling of this pūrakau and we are very blessed they allowed us to do so. It is a huge privilege to be able to tell this story, and for me dance is the perfect art form to express these qualities of the different winds.

For the soundtrack we had a recording session with Ariana where she played different taonga pūroro (Māori musical instruments) and sang waiata she had composed.

Onepū is an atmospheric performance of dance and music, featuring six atua wāhine (female deities) who control and release the winds of the world.
Photo credit: Julie Zhu

We decided on a particular taonga pūoro for each dancer and the musical score which emerged from this really helped to shape the overall structure for the work. We are also very lucky to have Ariana perform waiata and taonga pūoro live in the work. The soundscape is therefore a mixture of live and recorded elements.

In October last we then had a very intensive rehearsal period where the choreography for Onepū was developed for the premiere at Tempo Dance Festival 2018.  This year we’ve been able to have another rehearsal period where the choreography has been further refined.

Who does Onepū connect with and why?
Onepū connects with all ages and people of different backgrounds.

Is there a signature dance move or style that can be attributed to yourself?
There are certain ways of moving I am drawn towards, but I am also conscious of aiming to create unique dance vocabulary for each dance work I make.

I am drawn towards movement which I find surprising or unusual and I aim to develop movement which is specific to the concept of each work I make.

  • Onepū will be taking the stage on August 22 as a part of Taranaki’s Winter Fest. For more information or to book tickets, visit the Winter Fest website.