Courtney Rose Brown
With the seating block greatly reduced to allow a larger dancing space for the performers, Circa One is transformed in a way that is rarely done. Albeit still about three meters smaller in size to their usual performance standards, (which we find out in the Q and A after the show.) However, it is not apparent within the performance as they fully command the space.
The opening begins with the removal of the white cloth and a karanga, revealing more of Collin’s design. The same material has formed wings on the side of the stage, as well as covering the back wall, with a white floor. The use of the white cloth also aids transitions which builds several striking moments in the establishment of location and in presenting journeys. This is supported by projection, where the white of the set unifies the two beautifully, as it provides a blank canvas for Rowan Pierce’s astounding AV design to paint over.
Pierce seamlessly operates the AV with the overlaying of images in inventive ways, often manipulated recordings of the performers dancing played on top of their live performance. The projected images are local images taken from Ranapiri-Ransfield’s own Marae and of Mokoia island, interweaving the stories of the creative team and of Maori history. Ranapiri-Ransfield’s recorded voice flows through the stage, first heard with her karanga that invites us into the space and in waiatas throughout.
Dancers (Emily Adams, Jana Castillo, Bianca Hyslop, Maria Munkowtiz and Nancy Wijohn), lie under a white sheet, with projected images of their bodies on top of their covered bodies. Underneath they move as heart beats and testing the boundaries of the sheet, with attempts to escape. The soundscape creates a womb like atmosphere, as begins their creation. Victoria Kelly’s original musical composition for Mana Wahine is epic and I don’t say this lightly. Kelly’s design is evocative to the piece, solidifying and supporting moments, with a surreal, yet grounding and breathtaking journey.
Moments of touch and intimacy between the performers create relationships and extend aspects of the journey. Often with a mix of strength and vulnerability in paired dances, where the emotions are tested as they are balanced and shared. The resilience of the women is empowering as they explore aspects of gender through Elizabeth Whiting’s costume design. Dressed in a base of white shirts over cream singlets and underwear, additions of black costume pieces are added. One in particular that stood out to me was the black hoop skirts, which when introduced evoked strong imagery of Fantails. Using the skirts, they suggested stereotypical characteristics of women, including and falling back into rhythms of cleaning and cradling a baby.
Throughout the performance, many battles take place. Emphasised with breath (recorded and their own) as well as battle cries, these showcase the dancer’s physical strength (often they hold the weight of each other) as well as the strength of their mentalities.
Mana Wahine gives women a voice, and a range of voices that are unapologetically their own. Performing how through vulnerability; strength, grace and beauty can co-exist. The magical experience of Mana Wahine, fills the room with pride, creating a community and in the moment a spiritual journey.
There is no questioning of it, Mana Wahine is an outstanding show. Finishing with thundering applause, accompanied with whistling and the stomping of feet, they conclude with a standing ovation and an one man haka.
Mana Wahine’s sold out season runs at Circa Theatre till Saturday the 25th. The last chance to see it is with their additional show on Friday at 1pm, so get in quick! However they are looking to tour the show overseas next year; what a great excuse to travel!