Ecology in Fifths

15 Courtenay Place, Wellington

11/11/2010 - 20/11/2010

Te Whaea National Dance and Drama Centre, 11 Hutchison Rd, Newtown, Wellington

27/08/2020 - 29/08/2020

Guthrie Smith Arboretum, Hawkes Bay

25/10/2020 - 25/10/2020

Toitoi - Hawke’s Bay Arts and Events Centre 101 Hastings Street South, Hastings

22/10/2020 - 23/10/2020

Hawkes Bay Arts Festival 2020 (Harcourts)

Production Details

Inspired by H Guthrie Smith’s (1921) Tutira: The Story of an NZ Sheep StationEcology in Fifths unravels the NZ myth of a ‘clean green and natural landscape’ — revealing the environmental tensions that lie underneath our grassy paddocks and forest canopies.

 This new work by The Playground had its first development season in 2010, when it received glowing feedback from test audiences and reached its goals in presenting an excellent first draft of the production. It is now scheduled for choreographic development and a premiere tour in 2020, starting with Te Whaea in Wellington, followed by La MaMa theatre in New York City, and Hawkes Bay Arts Festival in Hastings.

Spectacular performance design by director Sam Trubridge and stunning choreography by Sean MacDonald combine to present a powerful, poignant lament for the lost ecologies and history of Aotearoa NZ. An immersive soundscape by NZ composer Bevan Smith transports the audience through the evolution of the story: a transformation occurs, as Guthrie Smith’s principles are interwoven with Māori myth and legend. 

Suburban rituals, pastoral tragedies and earthy reveries unfold with happenings “that assault both our senses and our conscience” (Deirdre Tarrant, Capital Times). This evocative production exposes “the ineffectual and damaging attempts by the human race to tame the terrestrial ecosystem” (Jenny Stevenson, Theatreview). 

Ecology in Fifths is a new production by the makers of Sleep/Wake (Auckland Festival 2009, NZNP Festival New York 2015) and the acclaimed annual Performance Arcade festival on Wellington Waterfront (2011-2019). This new work develops the company’s unique style and explores the integration of musical composition, choreography and set design. This orchestration of performing elements reflects upon the ecologies in our everyday lives, illustrating how microcosmic events can have a significant effect upon global crises.


2020 Harcourt Hawkes Bay Arts Festival 2020 –
Performance  at Guthrie Smith Arboretum is at 1pm. 

Direct bus service to Tūtira available, tickets are limited, for bookings contact the Festival office on 06 651 2487.

The Playground NZ acknowledges Tangoio Marae Trust and the tangata whenua of Tūtira, Ngāti Kurumokihi



Adult $44.00
Concession $39.00
Group – 10 or More Tickets $39.60

2010 season:
The work is presented as part of the Massey University Blow Festival
in a site specific space at
15 Courtenay Place
Wednesday 10 – Sunday 21 of November
The show starts at 8pm

2020 Season

Sean MacDonald will be joined in the performance by dancers Hannah Tasker-Poland, Emmanuel Reynaud, Brydie Colquhoun and Luke Hanna.

2010 Season

Elizabeth Barker Anita Hunziker Alex Leonhartsberger Joshua Rutter

Produced by Josephine O'Sullivan
Music composition and sound by Bevan Smith
Sonic Architecture & Performance Rowan Pierce
Design realisation & engineering Laurenz Walterfang

Physical , Performance installation , Multi-discipline , Dance-theatre , Dance , Contemporary dance ,

1 hour

Thought provoking and devastatingly stunning

Review by Kim Buckley 23rd Oct 2020

Walking into the function room at the refurbished Toitoi in Hastings and setting eyes on the set piece evokes a feeling of curiosity. Will there be water? What does it feel like? Is it real? We take our seats front and centre and see our feet resting on plastic. There must be water. 

What unfolds is a metamorphic labyrinth of myth and legend, fact, magic, ancestry, sound, movement, and an emotional, ecological and terrestrial degustation. 

Sean McDonald and the dancers Brydie Colquhoun, Luke Hanna, Emmanual Reynaud and Hannah Tasker-Poland have created a work that is spine tingling. I am enthralled, absorbing the full and powerful maturity of McDonald’s movement, in his elemental mana. Rehearsal Director Malia Johnston and Sam Trubridge’s performance design and direction bring this work into its majesty.

There is another performance tonight in the same venue, do not miss it. The performance at the Guthrie-Smith Aboretum in Tutira [On Sunday 25 Oct, 1pm] will the one to see. This is the place of inspiration for McDonald, and the work as a site specific performance will be, I imagine, even more profound and hair raising. Thought provoking and devastatingly stunning.  


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Considered, live, wonderful, urgent and disturbing

Review by Deirdre Tarrant 31st Aug 2020

How lovely to enter a theatrical, ‘considered ‘space and share wonderful dancing, live and real!

So much of seeing this work conceived and directed by Sam Trubridge originally ten years ago, came back to me  on this viewing a decade later. This time, for me, there was less the element of impact than the consternation that ten years further on, the statement being made by this work has not shifted?

I feel the world we now live in has moved significantly and awareness of our ecology and our need to value and respect our land is a part of our 2020 reality, but maybe not ?

The impact and strength of this work has not diminished and is a tribute to the vision and concept of director, Sam Trubridge and his collaborators and team.

The excerpt from Tutira, the story of a NZ sheep station that forms the programme note was written by H. Guthrie-Smith in 1921 so this is an issue that has generated responses for many years. Land is at the heart of mankind’s connection to the world and ownership a contentious issue in every culture.

We enter and sit (Covid Level 2) spaced on four sides of a square paddock of earth raised and boxed by white boards. Bird sounds and calm envelope us as lights evocatively designed  by Marcus McShane create a verdant green. There is a single tree – the tree is chopped – mythology is evoked – dancers pace, touch, test, pick and traverse the green in patterns of timeless steps. Ensembles, pairs, individuals – humanity on the move and gesticulating as their lives progress.    Possession, rights, staking claims, tension and conflict develop…there is a simplistic movement vocabulary but clear emotional narrative as Manu, Luke, Hannah and Brydie each find their own personas and ‘take’ their piece of land.  Stripping the green and baring the earth,  they peel layers as they are tortured,  twisted, contorted and ultimately  exhausted by the effort.  Relentless in their selfishness…we smell the soil as the grass is rolled  and stacked at our feet.  We are all implicated and all responsible.

There are demonic and ominous rumblings as the earth moves in anger and revenge.  Microphones, distorted voices and  masks form part of a protest that engenders palpable pain and wails of anguish. The earth belches a spiritual  but very visceral figure ( Sean MacDonald ).  The movement sound and set crescendo in destruction and ultimate catharsis – reborn ? A lesson acknowledged but not learned as the dancers vanish, the spirit settles, a new branch of a regenerated tree emerges and miniature meeting houses are left. We need to talk.

The sense of the urgent is undeniable – the cultural passion of the Maori who are caretakers of this particular  land is brilliantly developed by Luke Hanna.  The beauty and essence of Papatuanuku our earth mother is powerfully embodied in Hannah Tasker-Poland. The farmer pakeha who uses but ultimately ravages the earth is Manu Reynaud. The potential life source  that earth holds in perpetuity  for us grows out of Brydie Colquhoun and the torment and anger of wrongs as well as the promise of good emanates from Sean MacDonald.

An excellent cast who take us with them and push the uncomfortable within ourselves. We leave disturbed by the work and within ourselves.

This has been and is a year of calamity and disquiet. Revisiting the rights of our land is timely. Thanks to all who made this work both originally and now.


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Exploiting the land

Review by Deirdre Tarrant 19th Nov 2010

In its developmental stage this new exploration by Sam Trubridge and his team of collaborators takes a close-up and ‘hyper-visible’ look at issues of ecology. It is inspired by the story of the sheep station Tutira (which if my memory serves me is up on the Napier/Gisborne road?) and the documentation of change and preservation that this early analysis of human exploitation and preservation of the natural environment of New Zealand gave us to study.

A square of verdant grass and a green tree pushing its way through in the natural order of things gives way to a range of happenings that assault both our senses and our conscience.

Four dancers bring their individual interpretations and for me the most compelling was the walking phrase that gathered in and spat out each of the four but held them connected to the grass beneath their feet. It spoke of hope and togetherness that was soon shattered. 

Surfaces and textures were important. Words that ran through my response to the visceral installation that used black plastic to enclose and tiger turf to layer the land included symmetry and individuality, merging, hinging, collecting, burying, tunnelling, mud, stripping, ripping, staking, claiming, spreading, sharing and collecting.

Vicious at times, disjointed and disquieting, this work asks us to take responsibility and not to walk away.

Powerful performances by dancers Alex Leonhartsberger, Anita Hunziker, Josh Rutter and Elizabeth Barker give a physicality to the work but the dynamic balance needs awareness and a tendency to monotone and complacency perhaps is intended to mirror the lack of commitment to ecology that humans have shown and now must redress?

It is all too easy to switch off the reality and this work sat the audience on four sides and gave us no way to avoid it. Generating our own destruction is powerful material and the sound score (Rowan Pierce) and composition (Bevan Smith) carry the work forward as well as sometimes beaching it in a morbid calm.

A challenge is laid down for us to acknowledge and to take or ignore at our peril. Hope glimmers at the end in the form of tiny delicate and fragile stick houses lit by matches and flickering on the desecrated soil.


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Growth, destruction, immobility, struggle ... and a glimmer of hope?

Review by Jenny Stevenson 12th Nov 2010

In his thoughtful depiction, through dance and installation, of the rape of the land in early colonial New Zealand, Playground director Sam Trubridge hits a raw nerve by exposing the ineffectual and damaging attempts by the human race to tame the terrestrial ecosystem and its more recent efforts to restore balance to the planet.

Using the assault of music “to make the space speak” – as choreographer Carol Brown puts it – Trubridge collaborates with composer Bevan Smith and sonic architect and performer Rowan Pierce to bombard the senses through a variety of soundscapes which create sonic imprints on the graphic images as they unfold.

The dancers not only dance but also manipulate the environment, implementing the various scenic changes and depicting the forces of nature through their bodies. They move imperceptibly between inhabiting the landscape and acting as the instruments of its change. 

Trubridge creates a constantly evolving theatrical space in which to enact his rendition of the influential writings of H Guthrie Smith in his book Tutira: the Story of a NZ Sheep Station. In colouration terms, the journey is one that departs from the bright spring green of a lone tree and lush grass and ends with the shiny black of plastic sheeting – all lit with subtle understatement by Marcus McShane. 

The dancers – Elizabeth Barker, Anita Hunziker, Alex Leonhartsberger and Joshua Rutter – are also co-choreographers, which works to a degree but could be improved with further definition of choreographic design. What emerges instead is a highly idiosyncratic movement vocabulary which is effective in imparting the manifestations of the various states of being, including growth, destruction, immobility and struggle.

Leonhartsberger uses his long limbs to distort his body into grotesque shapes in the destructive cycle while Barker enacts an extraordinary dance of juddering limbs that sees her transform into a new being. Hunziker utilises her lovely clarity of line to enhance and extend her movements, while Rutter inhabits the space with a grounded, gravity of purpose. 

Moments that stand out include: the sculptural shapes of the growth cycle; Barker spearing the ground with the fencing stakes to an accompanying thunderous sound; Leonhartsberger entangled in plastic and tunnelling painfully through the dirt; Hunziker frantically patting the earth. Towards the end of the work, the dancers are engulfed in a rising wall of black plastic, which is perhaps the most potent image of all. 

Although the sound distortions were too high for comfort on opening night, they were effective in evoking a visceral response in the audience – even if it was only to block their ears. The work was also highly effective in offering a variety of provocations, as food for thought.  

As it is still in its developmental phase, in the process of working towards a fully-fledged work, there is undoubtedly a great deal of material that will be used by Trubridge in the final-cut. The closing image is stark: the parading of the steel tree-of-life accompanied by tiny tweets of despair. But it also heralds glimmerings of hope of regeneration, through the flickering lights emerging from the gloom. 

The allusion to ‘fifths’ in the title evokes the musical ‘circle of fifths’, with its geometric properties, used as an aid to producing harmony. Perhaps there is a portent in this symbolism. 
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