Mana Wahine, Okakeka Dance Company – Q Theatre

It’s a great thing when a performance of any sort embodies its name as convincingly as Mana Wahine does from Okakeka Dance Company’s latest show.

Throughout the nearly 90-minutes of superb modern dance, the strength and value of women is explored in many contexts, in a polished and inspiring display.

The audiovisual effects employed in Mana Wahine were some of the best I’ve ever seen for a dance performance, adding quirk and depth to the dynamic and rich choreography of the work. The five female dancers first come to light on stage lying under a sheer white shroud that covers the entire stage. They begin pulsing with staccato, coming-to-life movements accentuated by ghostly silhouettes beamed upon them from the rear of the theatre. This moody and eye-catching intro sets the tone for the rest of the performance. The spot-on projections of faces, moving water and forest scenes illuminate the minimalist, marae-inspired set and create a fitting backdrop for the impressive physicality and skill of the cast.

The exploration of women in all forms shines throughout the show. We see physical strength, fear, fragility, and fun all brought to life for the audience. The use of costume, from the tight, nearly nude base underwear that the women all sport, through to black crinoline skirts and men’s coattails worn backwards, blurs the line between costume and prop. The changes are all used cleverly. A particular highlight, which was adored by the audience, was the sequence where the cast are in the tails dancing as social chattering birds.

The fabulous set, costume, exceptional choreography and skill of its cast and directors make this piece really stand out. Add the masterful use of music, from traditional, haunting waiata through to electronic funk, and you have a hugely enjoyable theatrical performance.

Mana Wahine is a must-see on this year’s Matariki Festival calendar. The show is on at Q Theatre until 5 July.

Reviewed by Natalie Ridler