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Creating ‘Mana Wahine’: Jana Castillo dances with Okareka Dance Company

By Rain Francis of Dance Informa.

Jana Castillo first met Taiaroa Royal and Taane Mete when she was studying at the New Zealand School of Dance. Years later, she would go on to work with the choreographers and co-directors of Okareka Dance Company on the World of Wearable Arts (WOW) show.

Now, Castillo is performing in Okareka’s brand new work Mana Wahine, a creation that celebrates the strength of women. Before she headed off on a national tour of New Zealand, Dance Informa caught up with her to find out what is involved in creating a new contemporary dance work.

Hi Jana! How did you come to work with Okareka on Mana Wahine?

“While working together on WOW, a great connection was formed. Tai and Taane told me ideas of a new show they wished to create with [choreographer] Malia Johnston. The show involved an all-women cast and I became quite excited by the concept and also about the idea of working with people who inspire me. A few months later, I was offered a contract to join Okareka Dance Company for Mana Wahine. Of course I said yes, and now here I am in Auckland working with a great team.”

What was the creation process like for Mana Wahine, and did you enjoy it?

“The choreographers and dancers collaborate in the studio to generate movement and ideas. The choreographers come in with an idea and inspiration and it’s my job as a dancer to help nourish and uncover the possibilities. I love working in this way because you really feel a sense of ownership and connection about what you are creating and eventually performing.”

What has been the most challenging aspect of the process?

“The initial creative process can prove to be exhausting in more ways than one. Generating movement all day is not only tiring on the body; the mind and emotions are pushed to levels that can be insightful, but sometimes overwhelming. However, I have learnt to trust the process, because in every creative project you come up against frustration or challenges; it’s an essential part, which provides you with an opportunity to work on your problem-solving skills.

Another personal challenge I have is managing a neural tic disorder, which causes me to make involuntary movements and vocal ‘tics’ at times. This disorder has, in a way, forced me to look after myself and make sure I focus on recovery as well as training. I would like to make it known that people with movement disorders and certain neural disorders can still function highly in a professional dance environment.”

What has been the most fun or rewarding part of working on the show?

“I love my job, so being in the studio dancing and creating all day long is so much fun and rewarding. I feel connected to the people I work with, my surroundings, myself and – when the time comes – the audience. I also love the other dancers I am working with. We work hard but laugh along the way, which I think is important. Also, I can’t wait for the tour and of course, the performances!”

With the work being about women, are there personal aspects you have brought to the creation?

“I think with any creative process you bring a personal aspect. With this one in particular, I am inspired by my ‘mana wahine’ – my mum, my sister and also the land. Strong grace is a quality of movement I like to work with and a quality I believe many women have. I am inspired by the women I am working with; this is the first time I have been involved in an all-women piece, so I am enjoying the energy and environment.”

What is the creative team like to work with?

“They are a joy to work with! As I mentioned before, I am really enjoying working with all three choreographers. Every person in this project is an essential piece of the puzzle and we all are working towards the same goal. I love to collaborate with people who have different skills and ideas. As a lover of music, I am excited that we will have an original score by Victoria Kelly.”

Without giving away too much, how would you describe the show?

“Get ready to see some strong, fit women! Each woman in the piece has a different quality and presence, and we utilise our different skills. We explore many aspects of ‘mana wahine,’ so not just strength and femininity but also aspects of the land and creation.”

What do you think the audiences will take away?

“This is a hard question to answer, because we take away different things due to our different perspectives. However, everyone on the team is working hard to create an atmosphere that I hope will provide inspiration and connection to the many different aspects and qualities of women. I personally look forward to audience feedback, as I love to discuss works and listen to other people’s point of view. Throughout this process I am gaining different perspectives and in turn, have found a new understanding and appreciation of the role of women and also what it is to be a woman.”

Kiwi audiences can catch Castillo performing with Okareka Dance Company in the Mana Wahine National Tour. See dates and locations listed below:
Auckland: 2-5 July, Rangatira at Q Theatre
Dunedin: 10-12 July, Regent Theatre
Whangarei: 15 July, Forum North
Kerikeri: 19 July, Turner Centre
Kaitaia: 22 July, Te Ahu Centre
Mangere: 26 and 27 July, Mangere Arts Centre
Tauranga: 29 July, Baycourt Theatre
Hamilton: 1 and 3 August, Playhouse, Gallagher Academy of Performing Arts
Waipawa, Hawke’s Bay: 7 and 8 August, CHB Municipal Theatre
Wellington: 13-15 August, Te Whaea

Visit for ticketing, venue and further information regarding this event.

Photo (top): Jana Castillo of Okareka Dance Company. Photo by Stephen A’Court.

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