Rotunda

Q Theatre, Rangatira, Auckland

29/08/2013 - 01/09/2013

Production Details



Rotunda is The New Zealand Dance Company’s first full-length work. A unique production, Rotunda features the powerful collision of a live brass band with the raw beauty of contemporary dance. Created by the company’s Artistic Director, Shona McCullagh in collaboration with the NZDC dancers, musician Chris O’Connor and celebrated singer, songwriter and composer Don McGlashan as Musical Director, Rotunda brings to life the world of the band rotunda as an iconic symbol of New Zealand community.

Produced in preparation for the ANZAC Centenary, the performers’ journeys go to the heart of change and crisis, where courage and compassion are illuminated by a haunting, jaunty and deeply felt score. Performed by North Shore Brass, the rich vein of contemporary brass music from New Zealand composers Gareth Farr, John Ritchie and Don McGlashan are woven with traditional hymns to conjure the emotional landscape of a seminal time in our nation’s history.

With a gorgeously transformative set by Joe Bleakely and striking costuming by Jane Holland, Rotunda resonates with contemporary culture where conflict, both political and personal continue to challenge us.

Rotunda contains content inspired by war stories and parental guidance is recommended.


Dancers
Hannah Tasker-Poland
Tupua Tigafua
Justin Haiu
Lucy Lynch
Gareth Okan
Carl Tolentino
Emmi Coupe
Emma Dellabarca

Musicians
North Shore Brass
Chris O’Connor (percussion)

Composers
Don McGlashan
John Ritchie
Edward Elgar
Gareth Farr
Alex Lithgow

Set Design
Joe Bleakley

Costume Design
Jane Holland

Lighting Design
Paul O’Brien

Dramaturgy
Michelanne Forster

Production Manager
Andrew Malmo



Rotunda at Q Theatre

Review by Bernadette Rae 31st Aug 2013

The buzz in the pre-performance foyer is palpable. Inside Rangitira’s space, though, set suitably “in the round”, the chatter quickly settles to a hush. A shadowy figure stoops to more closely examine a patch of white, a silky light.

Then, the soft hum of floor fans and the gauzy silk comes to life in a ghostly dance: a pale spectre, a wraith, a memory.

The band arrives but not in brassy magnificence. Their first sounds come not from gleaming instruments but just from their choreographed breath, the trumpeter’s power, the dancer’s fuel, the essential measurement of all life and death,

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Virtual rotunda unites modern dance and brass band music

Review by Raewyn Whyte 31st Aug 2013

The iconic circular wooden rotundas which are found in New Zealand parks are places where brass bands rehearsed and presented concerts, particularly during the war years in the first part of the twentieth century. These concerts offered solace to the local community, an occasion to exchange hopes and fears and share news from the battle front, pass on tips about ways to get more food or clothing or whatever was needed beyond the ration provided.  The music for such concerts was by turns stirring, martial, patriotic, melancholic, with adaptations of traditional and popular tunes mixed in for good measure, providing comfort in troubling times. 

The New Zealand Dance Company’s Rotunda brings an array of that iconic brass band music into the theatre, played live by the blue-suited 25 member  North Shore Brass, making Q’s Rangatira auditorium a virtual rotunda for the duration. In the process we discover that Q’s acoustics are perfect for live brass band, that brass music is eminently danceable, and that even people who say they hate brass music are able to enjoy this particular concert.

Compositions by John Ritchie, Alex Lithgow and Edward Elgar are played alongside E Pari Ra, Coventry Carol, the hymn Jerusalem, and some new tunes by musical director Don McGlashan who has selected and arranged the scores for the 70 minute programme. Percussionist Chris O’Connor in a red jacket also joins the band, with his own incidental drumming at times the bridge in transitions or the cue for dramatic action.

The work draws on recollections of the daily Kiwi experience during the early twentieth century war years, the Boer War and World War 1, translating them into extended sequences of dance. Much of the movement is referential, drawing on real life sources such as mace manipulation,  military drilling, marching, pacing, the thrust of a bayonet, semaphore, statue poses, Edwardian social dancing, mateship, etiquette. Movement sequences,  collaboratively developed under the direction of choreographer Shona McCullagh, intermix the referential movement with modern dance staples – leaps and slides, curving turns, rolls, falls and lifts, running in circles – plus infusions of comedy, grief, melodrama, frustration, anger, bathos.

Initially we meet four young men living everyday lives, larking about dressed in mustard merino long sleeved grandpa underwear and brown figure-hugging military- styled trousers with knee pads built in – costumes cleverly designed and crafted by Jane Holland. There are military jackets, coats and headgear at times also.

We follow these young men as their lives are reshaped by preparations to go to war. We see them psyching themselves up to deal with the all too hideous reality of a situation in which one must kill or be killed, subsequently dealing with the immediate aftershock of having killed and survived, and then the long, ongoing aftermath which affects everyday interactions for years to come.

Tupua Tigafua and Justin Haiu are the greatest of mates, the best of friends, leaders of the pack. As performers, they both have the ability to create and switch from humour to pathos in an eyeblink, and we get flashes of Tigafua’s characteristic audacity and Haiu’s astounding mimetic ability  throughout the work.

These two dancers have an innate sympathy with one another, with hair-trigger timing of physical interactions and reciprocal weight-sharing that allows them to flow through some extraordinary sequences of dance without seeming to even breathe a little deeper.  Their duet late in the work, with Tigafua trying to compel the recently deceased Haiu back to life, is definitely the choreographic highlight. This draws skillfully on Michael Parmenter’s Piloting method  to facilitate the energetic flow between Tigafua’s  wishful touching and lifting and moulding of Haiu’s apparently lifeless body. Eventually though, hope is exhausted, and the circling Angel of Death takes Haiu away, leaving the grieving Tigafua alone.

Gareth Okan tosses off tricky jumps  and distorted leaps with apparent ease, his body flying through space or hanging on thin air to displace his concerns, and at time it appears that he simply offloads  his worries off  to one side while he gets on with what has to be done.  His challenge here is to develop a richer range of expressive movement by which to embody his role. Anger he does well, but vulnerability and confusion need finer nuancing. Carl Tolentino is also a smooth mover across the floor, well able to toss off the pyrotechnic moves, and late in the work shows a wonderful sense of comedic timing while playing the role of a non-human creature.

We meet four young women too – Hannah Tasker-Poland, Lucy Lynch, Chrissy Kokiri  and Emmi Coupe, all wearing improbably luxurious strappy bras and silky French knickers which surely would not have been acceptable as outerwear in 1918. Two of them cover up somewhat in assymetrically-hemmed  parachute silk overskirts with apron tops for much of the work, though their backs are more or less bare. These are “the women at home” and much of what they do is repetitious, indicating the nature of their daily lives.  Despite their jaunty dancing at the news the troops will be coming home, a beautifully moving delivery of E Pari Ra sung solo by Kokiri to mark a family death, lyrical duets between Tasker-Poland and Okan which move through various stages of a developing but unresolved romantic attachment between them, and interactions with possible future potential between Lynch and Tolentino, ultimately we learn little else of the women’s lives. 

Later, a fifth young woman (Emma Dellabarca) makes her presence felt – she’s an Angel of Death in black bra and knickers, a haunting presence circling the space in wait for spirits ready to cross over.

The work seems well designed for touring in the sense that it is easily portable. Suitable lighting (designed by Paul O’Brien)  and a local brass band can be sourced anywhere in the world, and all the music is scored. The set (by Joe Bleakly) comprises twenty or so fans which are grouped in a semi circle to echo the seating layout, with their air directed at a gauze cloth which floats and flies and flips on the updrafts when set in motion by a dancer’s toss. A set of hanging drapes temporarily provides a surface for huge silhouettes of the dancers, a display which is co-incident with flashes of light, a sepia lantern and airblown haze, which recalls possible battlefield conditions, though the lighting was so bright that the silhouettes were often lost.  At the culmination of activity, the drapes are clipped to a huge crown which is raised to provide an OTT  grand pavilion of looping cloth, such as one  might see at a palatial wedding or ball. 

The experience gained in this initial season where the work seems very much to be still in progress  will no doubt inform the work’s further development before it is presented at Holland Dance in early 2014 prior to a New Zealand tour. 

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Collaborative sensitivity

Review by Felicity Molloy 31st Aug 2013

The sound of the shuffle of bushed dancers entering a studio daily, to get into their bodies, is something that I bring to this review, and possibly bends it to a more or less insightful version. The early, soft sound of their voices in discussion, as initial textures of their endeavour, adds to my reflection. And as much as theatre dance is the essential medium for Rotunda, sound (with NZ’s inimitable music director, Don McGlashan) and voice (brilliantly coached by Sylvia Rands) in the newest offering of the New Zealand Dance Company, likewise frames my thoughts.
In the days between yet another struggle for a political clarity, with which to make decisions about the unlikely business of slaughtering humans who are already in torment and misery, I can’t possibly render this review as metaphor for non-violent conscientious dissent. What I can do is signal how in all conscience, McCullagh, her aesthetic team and nuanced dancers are making a shift for their art to speak out against the “tired legends” of chauvinism and the global, political drivel that allows for globally accepted, uncalled for pain.
Where would dance be without the dancers? The generosity of Tupua Tigafua, Lucy Lynch, Justin Haiu, Hannah Tasker-Poland, Gareth Okan, Emmi Coupe, Emma Dellabarca, Chrissy Kokiri and Carl Tolentino and their interpretive contributions to the work are evident throughout. I am essentially a dancers’ reviewer. I have seen ‘them’ in class so again I disclaim impartiality. I love the currency of dancers’ sense of humanity, their difference, their progression and their utter commitment to realising someone else’s dream.
It is not possible to keep the gender of the two groups mingled. Rotunda is essentially a man’s story. The four male dancers, Tigafua, Haiu, Okan, and Tolentino, of equal commitment and physicality seem at times unutterably burdened by their youthful imaginations and an almost grotesque good bodily health in light of their refrain. Two particular moments that surfaced out of the work’s unforgiving themes and had their audience in stitches and awe were the men’s quartet with the mace, and their equally gentle flirtations with the women in an early part of the work. Peaks of the emotional journey are encapsulated later in the work in the two duets; between Haiu and Tigifua (death between comrades) and then from the return from war scene with Tasker-Poland and Okan.
Each of the company women take to heart their roles individually and as seams of the work’s emotional underlay. I watch each woman, separately, together and in this order:  Hannah Tasker-Poland, Lucy Lynch, Chrissy Kokiri, Emmi Coupe and the barely seen death maiden, Emma Dellabarca. Not because of how well they danced, which they all did magnificently, but because of the way they touched my heart at certain times. In movement and choreographic patterns that never exactly repeat themselves, of special note is the provocative and earthy sweetness of Tasker-Poland, the clean-cut dynamics of Lynch and the dynamic zest of newcomer, Kokiri. Her singing of the waiata E Pari Ra tore my heart out.
The movement stories for the women are rendered more equal to that of the men through the choice of costumes.  Jane Holland’s costume design moves between eras and luscious, almost French Impressionist legs, chests and arms peep out of white and satin, evoking feminine and disheveled selves. The men wear deconstructed army green and when their chests are bared we see vulnerable bodies awaiting piercing bullets.
With interesting foresight, McCullagh’s take on the problems of war is of the immediate and heartfelt. The production’s size fits with the work’s emotional scale and is well contained by the size of Auckland’s Q Theatre, a space that allows us to see the dancers’ features, to witness their understanding of the themes and to see thoughtful expressions of camaraderie and love in the duets. In this work, the dramaturg’s eye (Michelanne Forster) is paradoxically useful in exposing the banality of the plot of war and at times fraught as a narrative emerges somewhat overly simplified as theatricalities or couples’ love.
Other design elements for the work are meticulous as frames for the dance. An austere and mobile set is designed by Joe Bleakley. Long pieces of fabric, white and one more ethereal, packed in and out on various cues; sometimes unobtrusively by the dancers, sometimes as if by magic, lastly as the splendid, clumsy rotunda. The organza, the one more ethereal, that is a long slice of diaphanous material flipped and curled like a spirit, twice brought to life by large old floor fans and once, whipped by same, as music from the dancer’s brass.
Haiu’s brief scene of old, abandoned spirits caught as a musical effigy, is rivalled in the moments where the brass bands instruments are laid by the dancers like tombstones on the floor. Paul O’Brien’s lighting plot verges on dark, illuminates white on black, matched by a thoughtful take on the forties tone and a sensuous golden gleam of the instruments. Like the costumes, rare moments of colour are picked out as dark blue above the heads of the soldiers leaving and dying.
And not least but last, the sound of Rotunda’s music, sorrowful and triumphant; a vocabulary of sound that at once embraces national loss and determination. Musician, Chris O’Connor performs on drums and bumps around the dancers in a red coat and bare feet. McGlashan twirls the mace and conducts the band, North Shore Brass performing with gusto, with contemporary brass music from New Zealand composers Gareth Farr, John Ritchie and Don McGlashan that seamlessly complements the score, woven of the historic brass sounds of Alex Lithgow and sombre tones of Elgar.
The New Zealand Dance Company has appropriately built Rotunda around the collaborative sensitivity of a company of choreographic mastery, dancers and musicians, including this time round the utterly fabulous dynamic of the North Shore Brass band. Rotunda, as a result, is a memorable work by this new brave company. It is not just about the grossness of the plot; of soldiers drawn to impossible wars and early deaths, but enactment of a metaphor for any small group of humanity that acts together with courage and vision in difficult circumstances.

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