• Tue, 5, Jul, 2016 - 5:00:AM

Choreographer Kelly Nash on the intersectional Māori dance production 'Manaia'

Image: Hannah Tasker-Poland / Jinki Cambronero

Kelly Nash, one of three choreographers in the upcoming production, Manaia, creates a relationship between dance and an expression of identity. The performance hopes to paint a world from an intersectional wahine Māori perspective, through an exploration of Māori mythology.

Having had the pleasure of interviewing Kelly, I am both excited and encouraged that Aotearoa will be showcasing Manaia in Auckland amidst celebrations of Te Wiki o te Reo Māori, and a wider movement to legitmise and honour variations of the female experience.

As young Māori women, our experiences of our world continue to lack meaningful exposure, shrouded by the mainstream. The promise of Manaia’s self-reflexive gendered and racialised narrative is one that is revolutionary and important.

Ngā Mihi nui Kelly, kia mau te wehi!

What can audiences expect from Manaia?

Manaia is a contemporary dance show formed within the kaupapa of Atamira Dance Company. It is deep in cultural process and ways of thinking which exude from the dancing bodies, with the guardian of Manaia protecting each idea expressed in each work. The three woman choreographers involved, explore the web of themes closest to them including the Manaia as a seahorse-like creature, to ignite, provoke and engage the audience in a contemporary setting and create connection. There are three distinct perspectives, a solo, a duet and a trio.

What is it that personally led to both your relationship with dance, and the conception of Manaia?

What led me personally to my relationship with dance was a series of accidents, combined with a love of dancing carried forward from my mother’s side. Though now at this time after mainly performing for years I am being supported too and love to choreograph. I have had a long term relationship with Atamira Dance Company as many of the founding members were my peers during my training in the late 90s. I now have the opportunity to be commissioned for the Manaia programme this year.

What is the connection you see between the myth of Manaia, and the story you wish to tell? 

The conception of this work began out of me thinking how I could place, communicate, and reflect my thoughts on life and capture it inside a Māori worldview for an audience. I don't see Manaia as a myth but as a force, an energy and a presence that links me in a spiritual way, to my Māori worldview. In regards to the story I wish to tell, Manaia I feel is a masculine presence that comes from Atamira, which protects the work I have made and links the three works together.

What is your greatest motivation for showcasing Manaia to New Zealanders?

A big motivation for me is sharing work made by women, for women. Women are the biggest dance audience in NZ and it’s really important that women's perspectives are seen and valued. Too often men choreographers can be in a position as directors of dance work, talking about femininity or portraying female themes, but from a male perspective. For this I think it’s fantastic that Atamira have invested in such talented wahine.

How do you see this narrative that explores a Māori women’s perspective being received in a context where it has largely been ignored?

I don't often see a Māori women’s perspective being ignored with the culture of Māori very much, but like I said in the above paragraph within the context of theatre or dance, there is definitely more room for women choreographers and Māori women choreographers to share different images of what women can be and act like in live performance. In terms of the narrative, I am directly looking at one particular Māori myth, the story of the demigod Maui and his efforts to gain eternal life by re-entering the vagina of the goddess Hine Nui Te Po (Goddess of death). He fails, but the audacity of his actions became a violation in my mind of something that I believe is sacred and constantly abused; a woman’s own possession of her body. I wanted to bring awareness to current issues that woman and men face and help to bring a change and shift to the perpetuating stories that still root themselves in the retelling of social stereotypes held within a culture’s story. I hope the work will be received with fresh eyes and bring conversation about the power dynamic between the female and male in society.

How do you believe dance is unique, or essential, in communicating a spiritual, cultural, and gendered story?

Dance translates beyond words and intellect, but still touches on common metaphoric images, sounds and movements that you can see and reference cross culturally. It is a sensory experience that you feel, allowing you to not know things for a bit, then re-form in a new way. The theatre that this dance is placed in allows for the suspension of disbelief and the ability to present unusual and abstract ways of thinking. This lends itself well to communicating spiritual, cultural and gendered complexities in human nature.

In today’s contemporary, and eagerly advancing society, what can a show such as Manaia offer audiences? 

Hopefully some tangible realness can be absorbed or understood, not through technology, but real time sharing of the dancers’ moment to moment body state and expression. A live presence that incorporates the minds, bodies and sprints of both the audience and the performer.

What struggles, from your experience, most challenge Māori women today, and what do you see as overcoming, or undermining an endeavour to be heard?  

The challenges don't really seem to change but small pockets of awareness come into different communities that can bring change at different times. Feeling ok in yourself, developing feelings of contentment with yourself and the people around you is important. If I slip into wanting myself to be heard or into a challenge state it’s hard for me to be satisfied or find an end to the problems. I prefer to quietly dedicate myself to things I can do well and can benefit others. My challenge at the moment is how to retain the wholeness of my feminine expression without having to overplay masculine traits to be heard or seen. There is something special about being able to sit in your wholeness as a woman, which we can do very well as we link deeply to the womb space in ourselves and in connection to others.

Manaia is on at Q Theatre Loft Space, 305 Queen Street, Auckland, from July 5-9. Tickets are available through Q Theatre – 09 309 9771 or


  • Dance /
  • Maori /
  • Intersectionality /
  • Gender /
  • Mythology /
  • Auckland /

Comments ( 0 )

Be the first to have your say login or register to post a comment

You might also love


Writer All Articles