My stage debut

I am currently on tour in Australia with the New Zealand Dance Company, performing in four centres throughout the country.

The NZDC is a young company that has had significant investment from Creative New Zealand and I think that their foresight in supporting the formation of this company is paying significant artistic dividends. Shona McCullagh is the creative genius behind this group of artists, in the dual-role of Chief Executive and Artistic Director.

The company is touring  Shona’s work, “Rotunda”. This is an extraordinary evening of dance that commemorates the sacrifices made by the men and women of New Zealand and Australia in the First World War. The work has already had a significant life of its own, having been premiered three years ago, followed by its European premiere last year.

The title of the work derives from the town and city band rotundas that are common sights throughout Australia and New Zealand. These rotundas were the venues for local brass band performances that entertained, marked occasions and ultimately consoled local communities. Rotundas also became memorials for conflicts such as the Boer War, WW1 and later conflicts.

As a result, Shona uses the brass band ensemble as the main musical performer. There is huge significance in this. Brass bands are associated both with the military – no doubt being used to rally support for the war effort – but also with the solemn commemoration of those who made such great sacrifices in this immense tragedy of European and world history.

In addition to the resonance of the sounds of a brass band, Shona has choreographed a contemporary work that has a distinct narrative structure. Thus, Rotunda is immediately accessible to audiences – even those who have not experienced the extraordinary language of contemporary dance.The work’s success over the past three seasons suggest that this is one anti-war artistic statement that will not be forgotten.

The choreography is wonderfully varied and perhaps at its most profound in a moving pas de deux between two men, one of whom who is trying to revive his dead friend. Shona also has the band very much part of the choreography, with a surprise appearance at the back of the hall and a march through the audience to their places at the back of the stage (which is circular, like a Rotunda). 

During the march, I need to stand center stage, in costume (uniform), mace in hand, twirling all the while trying to remember various steps! I also have to run from one place to another off-stage, while trying to avoid colliding with the dancers who are in the process of leaving the stage.  It is great fun (although I live in fear of dropping the mace) and it has certainly strengthened my admiration for all dancers and opera singers! For me, this was my first experience of getting a small taste of the reality for stage performers, and it has certainly given me further insight into their reality. May I say that I am most at ease conducting – not for me the bright lights and grease paint of theatre, but rather the cramped and dingy confines of the pit!