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Choreographer Moss Patterson brings the cultural history of Manukau alive

Experienced dancers mentor youngsters in works by Moss Patterson.

Multicultural and multimedia work One: The Earth Rises fuses tai chi, Polynesian dance and Māori kapa haka.

When Moss Patterson left his role as artistic director of Atamira Dance Company last year, he wanted to head in a new direction – creating performances that were about more than just dance.

To do that, he founded his own company, Tohu. This year’s Tempo Dance Festival will debut Tohu’s One: The Earth Rises, a multicultural piece, fusing tai chi, Polynesian dance and Māori kapa haka, as a representation of the whakapapa of Auckland’s Manukau region.

RelatedArticlesModule - One: The Earth Rises Moss Patterson

Patterson (Ngāti Tūwharetoa) has incorporated live music and art into the piece.

“I love choreography, but I’m not interested in straight-out dance pieces. I’ve been a choreographer for more than 15 years, so I’m looking to creating holistic art spaces where we have art experiences. That’s exciting and where art is going.’’

One tells of a sacred taonga unearthed in a Chinese market garden. Instilled with magical powers, the manaia travels across time and the Manukau region, where Patterson lived and worked while head of performing arts at Te Wānanga o Aotearoa. “Manukau is the best place to develop a dance piece that describes not only the whakapapa of Manukau but the diversity of Aotearoa.”

In One, works by Māori sand artist Marcus Winter and a Chinese calligrapher will be projected on stage as they are created. The electronic soundtrack, by Pitch Black’s Paddy Free, will play alongside traditional Māori music and the voices of 12 members of the Auckland Chinese Philharmonic Choir.

Moss Patterson.

While other New Zealand dance companies often tour the United States and Europe, Patterson has long looked to Asia, where his works have toured three times in the past four years and he has forged strong artistic relationships. Not long back from performing a piece in Seoul, he is developing a new work, which will premiere in Taipei in November with Taiwanese choreographer Bulareyaung Pagarlava.

China has figured in Patterson’s life in another way. He grew up in Turangi, where his engineer father, Dale, worked on the Tokaanu power station, then Central Otago when he transferred to the Clyde Dam. Patterson’s father died of a heart attack while working in China on the Yellow River dam project. Patterson’s Atamira work of last year, Awa: When Two Rivers Collide, was inspired by his father’s death, about a lost spirit trying to return to Aotearoa from China.

On his latest Asian excursion, dancers performed his Mārama/Moon, inspired by the Māori lunar calendar. His dancer daughters, Anahera, 14, and Maia, 12 opened the show in Seoul. “We try to make it a whānau experience,’’ he says.

There are youngsters in One, too. Professional dancers will perform alongside emerging dancers from local high schools and tertiary institutions. The tuakana and teina kaupapa philosophy – older learners and younger learners together – is part of Patterson’s life: he spends about half of his time working with professionals and the rest mentoring young dancers working on community dance projects. “People from the community who have had little to no experience on stage can have the most profound effect on audiences. It’s very uplifting working with untrained but creative people. It’s like soul food.’’

Patterson was recently commissioned to produce a work – an interpretation of te reo Māori – for the Royal New Zealand Ballet. “That’s what really fires me up, being able to work on something that has ancient roots but at the same time is fresh and new.”

One: The Earth Rises, Vodafone Events Centre, Manukau, October 3. Atamira is touring Patterson’s Pango/Black, Napier Municipal Theatre, October 20; War Memorial Theatre, Gisborne, October 24; Baycourt, Tauranga, October 26; Gallagher Academy, Hamilton, October 30; TSB Theatre, New Plymouth, November 1; Forum North, Whangarei, November 7; Q Theatre, Auckland, November 16 & 17.

This article was first published in the October 6, 2018 issue of the New Zealand Listener.