Language of Living

Aurora Centre, Burnside, Christchurch

03/05/2014 - 03/05/2014

ASB Theatre, Aotea Centre, Auckland

10/08/2012 - 11/07/2012

Production Details

Language of Living2014 National Tour

Invercargill  |  Christchurch  |  Nelson  |  NewPlymouth  |  Tauranga

Fresh from their acclaimed performances at the Holland Dance Festival, The New Zealand Dance Company will embark on a nationwide tour bringing their innovative choreography and stunning design to five corners of the country. This 2014 National Tour will present the critically acclaimed Language of Living, not only to new North Island centres, but also across Cook Strait to the South Island.

In a five centre, one month, one night only tour, New Zealanders can enjoy the brave and beautiful works on this programme performed by some of the country’s finest artistic athletes. Experience the work of five innovative New Zealand choreographers, together in an evening of cutting edge creativity.

Sarah Foster-Sproull’s Human Human God is a poignant and comical piece about Generation Y by a Generation X-er, while Release Your Robot is Justin Haiu’s street dance inspired work about a robot who seeks higher truth. Arts Laureate Michael Parmenter’s duet Tenerezza plays on the notion that no movement occurs without initiation by the other, while Trees, Birds then People by Artistic Director Shona McCullagh draws on the territorial nature of NZ birds and people for inspiration, and with a poem by Shel Silverstein in mind, Tupua Tigafua‘s new piece Dreamy McFloat, marks the company dancer’s choreographic debut with The New Zealand Dance Company.

The company’s vision for creative alchemy is brought to life by a visual feast of stunning costume, video and set design as well as an exquisite sound experience featuring compositions by CPE Bach, The Electric Boutique, Gareth FarrEden Mullholland, Antonio Vivaldi and Sekai Mailata.

More info:

Inaugural season – 2012

Language of Living Season 
ASB Theatre, Aotea Centre, THE EDGE, Auckland
Friday 10 August 2012, 7.30pm (Gala Opening)
Saturday 11 August 2012, 7.30pm


Justin Haiu
Hannah Tasker-Poland
Tupua Tigafua
Carl Tolentino
Lucy Lynch
Gareth Okan
Chrissy Kokiri
Katie Rudd



Dancers: Craig Bary, Sarah Foster-Sproull, Alex Leonhartsberger, Tupua Tigafua,  Hannah Tasker-Poland,  Justin Haiu, Ursula Robb,  Lucy Lynch    

 Rehearsal Directors:  Charene Griggs & Craig Bary

Costume design: Andreas Mikellis
Lighting design: Matthew Marshall
AV design: Theo Gibson, Shona McCullagh, Macoto Murayama 


2 hours

Dance as inspired theatre

Review by Elizabeth O’Connor 04th May 2014

Striking and dramatic lighting, music from old to disturbingly new composers and film interludes all help place Language of Living firmly in the high-tech present, but the focus is invariably on the characters, relationships and situations portrayed by the dancers.  Their strong, controlled performances do not constrain a freedom and richness of expression which lift the show from the realms of pure dance to inspired theatre.

“Dreamy McFloat” (Tupua Tigafua) opens the evening with a delicate blend of lyrical and percussive movements.  The mesmerizing images of faintly-lit boat on ocean and day-dreaming woman leave the audience silent.

“Release your Robot” is an outstanding rendition of character and predicament by choreographer/dancer Justin Haiu.  A man trapped in conformist routine lurches hopefully and hopelessly towards freedom and expressivity.

“Trees, Birds then People” (Shona McCullagh) Native birdsong and Gareth Farr’s music are given form in a quirky and amusing evocation of bird behaviour and its parallels with human.

“Tenerezza” (Michael Parmenter with Justin Haiu with Craig Bary) presents interlocked images of love and combat, tension and yielding, with superb transference of impulse from one body to another.

“Human Human God” (Sarah Foster-Sproull and dancers) occupies the whole second part of the show.  It investigates the search for God and meaning within the self, and the resultant self-indulgence and inability to empathise with others.  Tortured and exultant by turns, Eden Mulholland’s music is embodied with impressive virtuosity by all eight dancers. 

Neither the costumes nor the spoken text distract from the bodies moving on the stage.  Like the technical elements of the show, and the music chosen for each piece, they enhance the humanity of the work and lend weight to the company’s claim that “Dance is the most beautifully truthful language of living”.


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Language of living with the New Zealand Dance Company

Review by Bernadette Rae 14th Aug 2012


The brand new NZDC make their debut with a platinum performance, sophisticated, innovative, polished and professional, and with cutting edge creativity. After a decades’ long diet of less than inspired or inspiring home-grown contemporary dance in the city this new venture shines out like a beacon of salvation!


Five stunning works – diverse, delightful, relevant and revealing – are shown to perfection in a fascinating, all encompassing set with extraordinary lighting and a feast of music, much of it performed live.

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Punching above their weight

Review by Jack Gray 11th Aug 2012

The 2012 London Olympics is a perfect foil to analogise the premiere of the New Zealand Dance Company – insofar that Kiwis are renowned for punching above their weight and achieving relatively high measures of success on the world stage.

For comparison’s sake – while New Zealand sits a creditable 15th on the medal table (today is the last day of the Games) with 12 medals, in terms of per capita achievement we actually come in third (behind Grenada and Jamaica). Table topping USA with a massive haul of 94 medals would in fact be a distant 40th.

The point of this is that for a small country – at the ass end of the world – we really do bloody well to emulate the echelons of artistic endeavour that we tend to idolise in the greater continents and greener grasses of Europe, Americas and so forth.

While the genealogy of New Zealand contemporary dance for me is at worst, foggy and at best, dependent on who tells the yarn – a basic summation can be that through the whirl of burgeoning political and cultural activity (All Black Anti-Apartheid Riots, Anti-Nuclear Protesting, Bastion Point Occupation) experienced in the 70’s and 80’s, we became more self reflective, self effacing and self conscious. In short: We learnt who we were as a Nation. 

And so what did Dance look like for the Nation at that time?

It is a convenient coincidence to note that in August 1977 – exactly 35 years ago – we saw the debut performance of The Last Great New Zealand Dance Company. Yes, you know the one. Leotards and Pop songs baby!

Limbs Dance Company occupy pride of place on the nation’s dusty dance mantle. The recognisable forebears of our dance community we know and are influenced by today. After the imminent collapse of Limbs in 1989 (their studio burnt down), New Zealand dance was then callously flung head first into a vortex of competitive project-based funding, each choreographer and collective attempting to achieve the virtually impossible: long term sustainability and value as a dance artist in this country.   

Those weary battle-axes (said with love) within the dance community who have seen it all – the rise and fall of different choreographers and dance company artistic directors, dancers, tertiary courses, festivals and theatres throughout these past few decades – probably arrived at the launch of last night’s debut performance of Language of Living feeling a mixed bag of emotions. This feeling was palpable and complex. 

Like the 2011 Rugby World Cup Final – New Zealand were on edge. We wanted them (the All Blacks/NZ Dance Company) to do so well, we knew they could do it (they’d done it before), but then somehow our terrible national propensity for choking under pressure nagged at the backs of our minds. We crossed our fingers and held our breath. Waited and hoped, Expectant, but compassionate (just in case).

Thus, The New Zealand Dance Company finally arrived, the last (or first) one standing after a decade-long series of inexplicably failed attempts by various configurations of choreographers and directors, determined to bring the vision of a full-time, funded and functioning National Contemporary Dance Company to life.

Before the show even started we were already exhausted (so to speak). And we wanted it to succeed. Good Lord – we just wanted it to succeed.

I’m not going to write a spoiler of the show – I will leave that to the inevitable pens of the reviewers I saw sitting in the audience, The Listener, The New Zealand Herald, Metro Magazine amongst others. I also hope that the general audience (I call non-dancers “The Others) responsibly take something away from what they experienced. Tweet it, Facebook it, Share it, Like it. Utilise the technologies we have at our fingers today to continue transforming, adapting and evolving lived and visceral experiences into other manifestations.

At the after function while the thoughts of how I saw the show swirled around my mind, I noticed that everyone was in the same space of processing. The cultural significance of the show and company seemed to overshadow the simplicity of the theatrical exchange.

You show me, we receive.

In Maori terms we call this Ihi, Wehi and Wana. What spirit/essence was evoked, felt, shared and then became something in the space – way beyond the actual happenings itself?

The dancers were exceptional. Actually great human beings – humble, hardworking, diligent, diplomatic and real.

My interactions with the company at the afterparty were brief but authentic. Craig Bary deserved a big hug. In Michael Parmenter’s Tenerezza he was solid, commanding, flawless, comforting. His post-show smile put me at ease: keen enthusiasm a good sign of dancerly joy (always important to me).

Dancer intern extraordinaire Lucy Lynch (I Love Lucy) was a personal favourite for her musicality, vigour, desire and her flailing hair.

Hannah Tasker-Poland always presents herself immaculately onstage and off. I joked that she looked amazing in a section of Foster-Sproull’s “You were so awesome flopping all over the place girl!” A sly smile and a reveal: “I made that part up!” You can always tell who looks the most ingrained in any given moment. It’s almost like the dance is deep in their blood. 

Justin Haiu is a gracious, sweet, affable chap – the likeability factor through the roof. His cute admission: “I don’t know about me doing contemporary dance aye?” – highlighting exactly why he (with his exemplary talents as a hip hop dancer) is such an asset (and new potential) for the company. His fluid/syncopated movement read so eloquently in the works (particularly his solo Release your Robot) that I yearned to see how others could adopt his dance style.  

Post-show Alex Leonhartsberger was smiling and relaxed, a far cry from the vivid image of angst, contortion, energetic transformation he embodied throughout the show. His solo in Human Human God was a big upward curve in the show. It felt like he drew into himself all of the space (and everything in it including us) and then just held it, before releasing us, whimpering. I teased him about his good kiwi accent before he replied “Is it not Russian enough for you?”

The final words I shared with were the three wahine toa of the show.

Sarah Foster-Sproull. What a legend mate. This woman just makes me happy. She’s a goer; she juggles being a Mama with her career. Choreographing the entire second half is a remarkable achievement for someone so young (though she haughtily protested saying at her age – pfft – she knows what her body needs and how to take care of it!). I enjoyed Sarah’s maturity. She languidly dances Shona McCullagh’s piece Birds, Trees, then People with knowing. And that is what we, as audience receptors, can be moved by.

I loved parts of her Human Human God (Eden Mulholland’s sound-score rocks) and acknowledge that it still has space to grow, time to evolve. It was fresh and had its moments alright. The dancers got to play (!) There was a hilarious rap by Haiu and Tupua Tigafua (who is a marvellous comedian and incredibly physical performer) that took the mickey out of Bary, before they turned their attention to a Highland Flinging Hannah Tasker-Poland. Alex’s dry comments on the microphone contrasted with the relentlessness of the group sequences.

Finally, it is the two hardworking masterminds of the company Shona McCullagh and Frances Turner that deserve all the credit for “birthing” (as Turner so rightly called it) their company. Resplendent in the most Oscar worthy of gowns, the dynamic duo took their moment in front of the appreciative audience to acknowledge their massive achievement. And it really truly is.

This company, like the others (Black Grace, Footnote, Touch Compass, Atamira) operates on a knife’s edge. But as with most things, we have to go back to the essence in order to continue paving the way for our success as well as our excellence. The New Zealand Dance Company has begun with a new starting point from which they can and will now be judged: as all dance artists, do, they exist to reflect New Zealand’s people, place and identity, to sing with their bodies and be a hotbed of creativity and a safe place for the bravery that inspires us, and the audience.

The merging of intergenerational choreographic processes within the programme naturally mapped together uneven edges of diversity much like we do as a nation.

Evolve by Shona McCullagh featured the return of global superstar, our own Ursula Robb to the NZ stage again after an absence of 17 years (where did the time fly??). Brave risks were taken with set and lighting design, with Macoto Murayama’s spectacular digital imagery playing multiple arrangements of architectural spaces in evocative ways.

The Language of Living reflected new and old parts of us to perch bird-like in our subconscious:

[Proviso: Don’t read this korero to convince you to see the show, validate the choreographers, dancers or production people]

Go see it (or their next show Rotunda in 2013) to witness our very own homegrown work.

The quintessential elements of our nation include at one end the Tall Poppy Syndrome to the other end, which is our Number 8 Wire mentality. When asked after his keirin cycling bronze at the Olympic velodrome how he wanted to share his success with New Zealand, Simon Van Velthooven from the Manawatu said without hesitation: “I’ll invite everyone to my house for a barbeque”.  

In this way his response suggests an important cultural value – Our failures as are our triumphs are shared.

Best of luck NZDC (directors/dancers/designers/collaborators/sponsors et al) – we’re all rooting for you!


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