An evening of returning and homecoming: Onepū at the Christchurch Arts Festival

It was a dark, rainy, freezing Friday night ... but inside the Christchurch Town Hall it was light, bright, and cheery. The foyer was filled with a huge range of people, all ages, all style of dress, and all ready for a fun evening out. 

Onepūopens a new window, choreographed by Louise Potiki Bryant, with music by Ariana Tikao and presented by Atamira Dance Company, is based on the Kāi Tahu story told by Teone Taare Tikao, and tells of six atua wahine / goddesses who control and release the winds around the world. It is a story told through the use of contemporary dance, with music, lighting, movement and sound representing the different natures and elements of the different winds: Hine-aroraki who controls the flight of birds; Hine-aroaro-pari, the wind that echoes inland and along cliffs; Hine-hauone, who controls the easterly and northerly winds; Hine-rōriki who controls the northerly winds; and Hine-rōtia, who controls the westerly winds, including the māuru, with its tidings of those who have passed.

Each character's movements were in a different style, conveying their characteristics, feelings, and thoughts through their dance, and the music and lighting added something really special to the piece. From soft and gentle, to friendly, light, and frolicking, to jerky, syncopated movements and music, each dancer really embodied their atua, and without using words told the story of their place in the world.

As a Kāi Tahu story, based upon the tellings of a great Kāi Tahu man, and being brought to Ōtautahi / Christchurch for the first time, this was always going to be a special performance. It was a homecoming for the story, and an opportunity for Tikao's great-grand-daughter, Ariana Tikao, to perform in front of her whānau. For many, myself included, it was also a return to the James Hay Theatre in the Town Hall. This was such a powerful event to be a part of, and when the performers and a couple of members of their production team came on stage for a short question and answer session afterwards, it became clear just how special a performance this had been. Members of the cast's whānau stood and spoke about the impact it had on them, and how proud they were to see their whānau members up on stage, performing this story. It was very moving to hear.

Christchurch has always been a place full of arts and culture, and events like the Christchurch Arts Festival provide a showcase for up and coming artists, and new pieces. This was my first time at a contemporary dance performance, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Although this year's Christchurch Arts Festival is now finished, I'm looking forward to seeing what will be brought along to the next festival, and to listening to some of Ariana Tikao's musicopens a new window and reading Teone Taare Tikao's Tikao Talksopens a new window in the meantime. 

Christchurch Arts Festival 2019

The biennial Christchurch Arts Festival brings a mix of performances to Ōtautahi. The 2019 Festival highlights Christchurch creations. The 2019 Christchurch Arts Festival runs from Friday 26 July to Sunday 4 August. Browse the full festival programme to see all the events, concerts, activities, and exhibitions. Visit our page on the Christchurch Arts Festival for event previews, reports and more.

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