Nan's connection to whenua inspires Te Arawa choreographer

By Jessica Tyson

Co-directed by Te Arawa dancer and choreographer Bianca Hyslop, 'Pōhutu' is a dance piece which has been specially chosen as a headline act for the upcoming Tempo Dance Festival in Tāmaki Makaurau.

Pōhutu is inspired by Hyslop's 88-year-old grandmother Ramari Rangiwhiua Morrison, who has Alzheimer's, and her connection to the land at Te Whakarewarewatanga-o-te-ope-taua-a-Wahiao, Rotorua.

“She’s living back home in Rotorua now and I guess I was looking at her Alzheimer’s as a way of seeing her return back to that land," says Hyslop.

“Whakarewarewa is a natural geothermal landscape and it's forever changing itself ... I see the disease, or Alzheimer’s, as her mimicking that land or going back to that place that she was born.”

Hyslop has been a freelance dancer for over 10 years and Pōhutu is her first full-length piece of work. 

“It’s been a real collaborative process.  I’m working with my partner Rowan Pierce who is doing the studio visual design and the musical composition and the stage design.  He’s been a huge part [of the] journey in creating this work together.”

Bianca Hyslop (Source: File).

Hyslop had the help of co-deviser and dancer Rosie Tapsell of Ngāti Whakaue, costume designer Emma Ransley and mātanga mātauranga Māori advisor Tūī Matira Ranapiri-Ransfield.

“We're using elements such as patu, mau rākau, Māori weaponry and it’s really important as a learner to have someone like her, with all that wealth of knowledge to be in the studio working alongside us.”

The performance also features a set design which resembles a wharenui.

“It’s a clean slate to begin with and then we add layers to it.  So we add reo, language, architecture.  It’s all of memory, of time and place.”

Tempo Dance Festival

For Tempo festival director Cat Ruka, Pōhutu was an easy choice to include as a headliner in the festival.

"When I saw the show I was blown away by how innovative it was.  It’s a show that’s grounded in the ancient and really steeped in mātauranga Māori but at the same time it’s really innovative and it's really experimental and she has taken really amazing risks."

Ruka, of Ngāpuhi, says a huge focus for the festival this year was to have a strong representation of tāngata whenua in the programme.

"So that we can really settle our tāngata whenua relations and understand where they're coming from in terms of being quite grounded in te ao Māori."

Hyslop hopes the dance will inspire viewers to want to learn more about their own whakapapa.

“Contemporary dance is a full expression of yourself, hinegaro, manawa, tinana, wairua.  I've learned a lot about my identity and who I am through this practice," she says.

“I really hope to empower other people to do the same.”

Pōhutu is one of seven Māori performances taking part in the Tempo Dance Festival which will run from October 2.