Journey of the Celts

Aurora Centre, Burnside, Christchurch

06/10/2014 - 07/10/2014

The Body Festival 2014

Production Details

Journey of the Celts

The Highland Dance Company of New Zealand presents the story in dance of the Scots emigration to Aotearoa and the preservation and growth of their Celtic culture at the edge of the world.

Featuring 25 of New Zealand’s elite Highland dancers including past and present New Zealand champions, complemented by world class bagpiping and the haunting rhythms of the Highlands.

Following a sell-out debut South Island tour of Journey of the Celts in 2013 , The Highland Dance Company of New Zealand combines with an additional cast of young, local highland dance talent to bring this combination of traditional Highland dance and innovative, contemporary choreography to the audiences of Christchurch.

Date/Time         Mon 6th and Tues 7th October at 7.00pm

Tickets                 $25, $20 concessions from Ticketek 0800 842 538 booking fees apply.

110 minutes

Dancing forward with the past

Review by Emily Napolitano 07th Oct 2014

The turbulent and colourful history of Scotland is proudly celebrated in this presentation of the Journey of the Celts from the Scottish Highlands to Aotearoa New Zealand. The Highland Dance Company of New Zealand maintains time-honoured Highland dance technique presented within a modern setting, blending tradition with strong elements of contemporary dance. Contemporary music meshes with traditional bagpipes and drums, drawing on influences from jazz and hip hop. Many of the pieces also display a modern take on traditional costumes – women wear gold lamé kilted skirts with sleeveless spandex one-shouldered tartan tops while men wear shiny black kilts with sleeveless body moulding shirts. The narrator captures it perfectly with the phrase “…dancing forward with the past.” This is a beautiful embodiment of the journey of life itself – we carry our traditions with us yet are open to the inspiration of changing times and the cultures we meet along the way.

The stage is dramatically lit, empty of props except for white scarves hanging from the ceiling. An image of Scotland in all its rugged beauty is projected onto the backdrop. A recorded narration of the history of Scotland introduces each piece while the images change on the backdrop, supporting and enhancing the story unfolding onstage.

The show begins with a timeline of the main episodes in Scottish history, dramatically accompanied by smoke machines. These events are displayed on tartan wrapped signs carried by the dancers in front of an image of a Scottish castle. ‘The Gaels’ introduces the company females, followed by the company males in ‘Blood on the Loch.’ This traditional sword dance highlights the nimble footwork of the men as they dexterously jump over their swords while also manoeuvring through impressive formation changes. ‘Bloodshed’ continues the history of Scotland, paying homage to the wars fought through the ages. Costumes for this piece include long red scarves attached at the wrist and back of the knee, and are used as props along with large red flags wielded through a complex and striking series of flag choreography.

In ‘Road of Tears’ Liz McKay soulfully relates the tribulations preluding the Scottish emigration. A full cast of young local dancers steals our hearts in ‘Spirit of the Heather.’ The girls wear shimmery pink gossamer and tiaras and display impressively controlled technique as they beautifully embody the irrepressibly high spirits of the Scottish people. The next piece, ‘Hardship,’ has a darker theme, and features dancers in black and blue latex with eye masks and hard shoes. This hip hop inspired performance illustrates the perseverance of the Scots through the hard times of the Highland Clearances and the potato famine.

The emigration to New Zealand is movingly depicted in ‘Touch the Sky’ and ‘Celtic Sea.’ In ‘Touch the Sky,’ dancers clothed in blue and white call to mind the sky and clouds along with the foam on the waves, and embody the hope of the emigrants as they travelled in search of a new life. This theme is continued in a graceful solo adage by Shirana Rengasamy dancing in a blue dress to the backdrop of waves on the ocean.

The younger cast dancers return with a light-hearted sailor number in ‘Hornpipes Aboard Ship.’ Highlights are not only the joyful zest of the young dancers (particularly the two very young boys who join the crew) but also the way they support the company dancers by swaying fabulously in unison upstage to the rhythm of a ship on the ocean.

Light-footed leaps and traditional Highland costumes are out in full force in ‘Dancing Feet.’ Particularly intriguing are the women’s kilted skirts, which feature a straight front but cleverly pleated sides and back that allow the skirt to swing beautifully with the spirited footwork.

Act two opens with ‘Arrival in Aotearoa’ featuring a beautiful karanga set to a backdrop of native New Zealand forest. Dancers wear full black skirts attached at their wrists in strongly contemporary choreography. This is followed by ‘Aotearoa’ in which dancers manipulate long white scarves to beautifully evoke the land of the long white cloud. The joy of finding a new home is evident in ‘Tin Symphony’ and ‘Settlers’ Ceilidh,’ featuring traditional folk dancing and hard shoes along with impressive lifts and partner work.

The mood becomes nostalgic with the heart rending bagpipes of Willie Rowe, accompanied by Lewis Gibson and Angus Hendry. Liz McKay joins them in a poignant rendition of ‘When the Pipers Play.’ The piece that follows, ‘Amazing Grace,’ is a jazzy take on the old spiritual hymn. Dancers wear black gossamer fringe sparkling with glitter and asymmetric grey tartan capes. The ‘Finale Medley’ features the entire cast of young local dancers in colourful traditional Highland garb, who joyously embody the preservation of historical culture while also symbolizing the spirit of growth and new direction.

The impressive final dance, ‘Red Hot Highland,’ features rousing music by Kontiki Tangle, playing “traditional Scottish tunes with a twist.” The full company members dance their hearts out in this exciting celebration of the brave and enduring spirit of a bold people who helped shape New Zealand into the country it is today.

Journey of the Celts is an energetic trip through the annals of time, honouring the courageous spirit of a gallant nation. The Highland Dance Company of New Zealand has a perfect vehicle in their blend of contemporary and traditional dance. 


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