Tāwhiri Warehouse: 11 Hutchinson Street, Newtown,, Wellington

08/03/2024 - 09/03/2024

Q Theatre, Rangatira, Auckland

11/04/2024 - 12/04/2024

Aotearoa New Zealand Festival of the Arts 2024

Production Details

Imprint : Choreography - Malia Johnston & Rodney Bell
Uku – Behind the Canvas : Choreography & Composition - Eddie Elliott

New Zealand Dance Company

The New Zealand Dance Company (NZDC) presents WHENUA, — a captivating double bill, showcasing unique creative voices from Aotearoa New Zealand. Direct from sold-out performances across Europe, WHENUA returns home, poised to awaken our imaginations and vibrate our senses.

In ‘Imprint’, renowned choreographer Malia Johnston (Movement Of The Human) has created a bold new work in collaboration with celebrated indigenous artist Rodney Bell (Ngāti Maniapoto). They present mahi that explores our relationships with each other, the etchings of our collective experience and how our shared impressions feed into place. ‘Imprint’ thoughtfully engages the twin talents of sound designer Eden Mulholland and digital designer Rowan Pierce— who deliver an organic canvas that amplifies the diverse kinetic performance response. ‘Imprint’s’ bravely emotive foundation is balanced with an enchanting landscape that collectively presents exquisite and daring stagecraft. 

Alongside ‘Imprint’Eddie Elliott’s (Ngāti Maniapoto) ‘Uku – Behind the Canvas’, makes for a triumphant return following rave reviews in 2022.

Elliott’s strong voice for tangata whenua is expressed through confronting storytelling at its most raw. Using elements rooted in Te Ao Māori and kapa haka, Elliott’s vision is alive with cultural heritage and visceral personal experiences transmitted authentically and deeply through his movement vocabulary.

WHENUA is courageous choreography from Aotearoa’s national contemporary dance company. Its exuberance in exploring our relationship with land is matched by an unbridled physicality that weaves together stories of our shared humanity alongside our sense of place.

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2024 Dancers- Premiere Season
Katie Rudd, Brydie Colquhoun, Eddie Elliott, Kosta Bogoievski, Bianca Hyslop, Jeremy Beck, ‘Isope ‘Akau’ola

Choreography: Malia Johnston & Rodney Bell
Composition: Eden Mulholland
AV, Spatial & Lighting Design: Rowan Pierce

Uku – Behind the Canvas
Choreography & Composition: Eddie Elliott
Composition: Alistair Deverick, Jason Wright
Lighting Design: Jo Kilgour
Costume & Set Design: Rona Ngahuia Osborne

Dance-theatre , Dance , Contemporary dance , Maori contemporary dance ,

90 mins

The dislocations of contemporary life

Review by Francesca Horsley 13th Apr 2024

The New Zealand Dance Company is going from strength to strength. Recently returned from a very successful international tour of The Netherlands and Germany they are now on a tour of the North Island presenting their double bill Whenua

The six dancers – Katie Rudd, Brydie Colquhoun (Ngāti Kawa, Ngāpuhi), Bianca Hyslop (Ngāti  Whakaue), ‘Isope ‘Akau’ola (Utulau, Lotofoa; Tonga), Kosta Bogoievski and Jeremy Beck (Ngāi Tahu/Kai Tahu) all displayed impressive physical strength, artistry and dance prowess, delivering a challenging and sensitive programme.

Imprint was a delight. A collaboration between celebrated choreographers and artists Malia Johnston and Rodney Bell (Ngāti Maniapoto) it explored themes of connection, anguish (complete with an Edvard Munch scream) and the wear and tear of relationships. In a screen projected introduction, Bell quietly spoke of the challenge of understanding each other, the need to yield to fully relate. His philosophy shaped the work, with a voice-over commentary that segmented themes, moving from relationships to a focus on self and acceptance of one’s situation, living fully in the present. Johnston’s hallmark dynamic flow and thrilling movement was countered with sensitive embraces and distinctive characterisation. 

Renowned composer Eden Mulholland’s score encompassed a rich array including industrial noise, simmering cellos and violins, and ecclesiastic music that integrated and wrapped the movement in sensation and emotion. Digital designer Rowan Pierce’s simple set featured a large square of stage cloth that created an intimate sense of a living room. As the work progressed this became rumpled and ended up in a large ‘Linus blanket’ heap which the dancers returned to for comfort. 

A belligerent grid of bulbs flashed strobes of light at the dancers, disrupting the flow of movement. The white backdrop also entered the action. At first it moved centre stage, taking the dancers along with it, finally becoming an oblong suspended off angle over the stage, further disrupting the harmony. Nevertheless, the dancers held and supported one another, culminating in a joyous dance as they revelled in each other and freedom.

All elements cleverly came together to represent the dislocations of contemporary life and the disparate forces that hinder and thwart our clear sense of self and our relationships.

Eddie Elliott (Ngāti Maniapoto) Uku – Behind the Canvas was deeply elegiac and confronting. Fully immersed in Te Ao Māori, the work was a stripped back, bedrock intepretation of the struggle of living in a colonised world, coping with the loss of land and alienation from culture. The set design by Rona Ngahuia Osborne was a half-lit world, with an abstract brown-grey canvas backdrop made up of six segments, and a small rough-hewn bowl which seemed to produce an endless supply of uku – liquid grey clay. The score featuring compositions by Elliott, Jason Wright and Alistair Deverick supported the momentum of the dancers.

The work began with a row of inert dancers slumped across the front of the stage, whilst Hyslop, shrouded backstage coated herself in the clay emulsion, cleansing herself in a simple ritual – quietly stated “my home, my land”. She fiercely roused the dancers, pulling them to their feet – a process that exhausted her, and she collapsed. A series of transitions followed, moving from one state to another: fierce action, warlike kapa haka, dynamic hip hop, soft waiata, self-deprecating humour, blood-curdling cries of grief and anger. Despite their force and commitment to expression, after each sequence the dancers were unable to sustain themselves and fell back into the trance-like, inert state; arms and heads drooped, bodies sagging. The bowl of clay increasingly became the focal point, with dancers taking turns to wash themselves, their hair and clothes becoming a grey scape. 

Elliott stated in programme notes that “uku (clay) symbolises the relationship between Hineahuone and Tāne – where we’ve come from and to where we will return”. But even the positive impact of uku turned on the dancers, with one losing her reason with grief after thoroughly coating herself in the liquid. 

The work had an uncompromising intensity. Elliott has also said the work was influenced by Swiss artist Andy Denzler, whose paintings of women and men are deliberated blurred to create a fragmented identity. “I am not interested in painting pretty pictures. I try to create a certain mood or ambience. It should look dark rather than nice,” Denzler has said. Certainly, Elliott’s choreography referenced this perspective as the dancers’ identity was stripped and blurred by numbing dislocation.

In the final segment of the work, the stage, strewn with the splashes of clay from the six dancers resembled the canvas artwork of the backdrop. The cathartic experience and release of pain produced fluidity and harmony, with the dancers finding a redemptive peace. Hyslop quietly closed the work, repeating her beautiful opening words, “I want to live in peace, in my home, my country”.

This was a compelling work from a young choreographer with a powerful vision and a great future.


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Questions identity and ties to land.

Review by Lyne Pringle 12th Mar 2024

Throughout the evening the dancers are stupendous. Lithe and articulate, yet forceful and strong.  It is a blessing to experience this mature group of artists bringing immense craft to the choreographic challenges of both works. They are: Katie Rudd, Brydie Colquhoun, Eddie Elliott, Kosta Bogoievski, Bianca Hyslop, Jeremy Beck, ‘Isope ‘Akau’ola. Everything is reliant on their sublime bones, blood, sweat, muscles and breath.

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Embracing the passage of both story and abstraction

Review by Deirdre Tarrant 10th Mar 2024

A new space and a real sense of excitement prevails. This double bill of dance promises to speak to our cultural common denominators and be dance for all who live in and love our land. Te Whenua dominates the narrative and organic sensibilities of these two works. I find myself challenged and constantly questioning the pervading angst, darkness and the depressing energies of both works. At the same time I want to absolutely celebrate the dancers and their passionate and dynamic contribution throughout the performance. 

Dance rooted in kapa haka and contemporary form a powerful springboard for both choreographic processes. 
The first  work is Imprint, introduced by Rodney Bell. He co-choreographs the work alongside Malia Johnston. Bell appears on a screen that manipulates, invades and splices the space, punctuating the dance and reminiscent of mountain or tidal heights. The dark layered shadows and shafts of light that cut the vertical space serve to emphasise our focus and accentuate the surrounding darkness.  Both the  AV design and lighting are by Rowan Pierce. Rodney Bell’s introduction defines the intensity and the honesty of Imprint in this Festival space.        
Malia Johnston’s talent for manipulating bodies clearly shows.  Composition by Eden Mulholland is integral and impressive, driving the energy of the movement vocabulary and compelling attention. The current New Zealand Dance Company  dancers: Kosta Bogoievski, Jeremy Beck, Brydie Colquhoun, Katie Rudd, Bianca Hyslop and Isope ‘Akau’ola literally throw themselves across their landscape, giving into their earth and bursting from it in stylised, fluid and elastic sequences. Duos, trios and ensembles give flashbacks of choreographies from earlier times and a tried and tested athleticism. Opening images of encompassing clasps create spatial limitations that build into relationships. These take us to a faraway place of interaction, of caring and of sharing before returning to this opening encircling of arms and bodies. A significant if exhausting journey. Somehow I am left hanging despite the soaring lifts and generous bodies. Somehow life settles without progress? A conundrum as a statement on our land. 
UKU- Behind the Canvas with choreography by Eddie Elliott follows an interval but returns us to an even more dark and despairing place . This work is rooted in storytelling and the company dancers return to the stage to continue their visceral struggle. A fascinating narrative framework uses incident and opinion, both rooted in cultural heritage and also in Elliott’s personal commentary. It is often hard to see what they are doing as again the lighting states are dark but there is strong empowerment in the choreographic voice and in the use of a range of styles and genres.  

New Zealand still reaches for identity that define our points of difference and as well is inclusive of our diversity.  Whenua  is two statements embedded in this search and made by two creative teams. Outstanding  dancers push choreographic conception for their creators.  Whenua is a sensory overload. Literally embracing the passage of both story and abstraction it is an evening full of sound and fury, confronting and unsettling and with relentless tension. Let us hope that we can find a voice that also celebrates. I am still searching in my recollection of Whenua’s images, dance and soundscape for a voice also of hope, of acceptance and of balance. Much resonates. There is much to ponder in these touchstone dance works and much to admire.


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Pinnacles of strength and malleability.  

Review by Sophie Sheaf-Morrison 09th Mar 2024

Whenua is New Zealand Dance Company’s double bill work featuring Malia Johnston and Rodney Bell’s choreographic work Imprint, followed by Eddie Elliott’s Uku – Behind the Canvas at the Tāwhiri Warehouse in the Aotearoa New Zealand Festival of the Arts.  It is a visually striking production of the captivating subject of our relationship and belonging with whenua, executed through a commanding movement vocabulary with a sense of the performers’ authority at the pinnacles of strength and malleability.  

To begin, Imprint sets up a monumental yet ceremonial tone, generated from the Ccomposition by Eden MulHolland and the AV, spatial and lighting design by Rowan Pierce.  A rectangular cyc, reflected by a sheet on the stage floor beneath it, dances with the performers as it is lowered and raised unconventionally through the space, as well as complementing the construction of the performers’ relationships through shadow work and projection.  The cyc divides the stage and cast of six to find their range of virtuosic partnering, altering my perspective of the multifaceted relationships of the dancers.  Additionally, the ending of this piece feels unsettling as a vibrant movement quality with joyful expression gradually seems to contrast a dimming light and foreboding music before each dancer settles one by one to the floor.  I interpret this scene as embodying the absence of connection, perhaps acting as an antithesis to the whakataukī previously projected, “Ko au ko koe ko koe ko au” that suggests unity and equality.   

The second piece, Uku – Behind the Canvas, uses the element of clay, resembling Tāne’s creation of the first wahine, Hineahuone, in Te Ao Māori.  The clay appears to provide life and energy, before drying and encasing the performers.  Gasps for air suggest the breath of life and creation within the constrained and releasing of their movement.  A standout moment for me is the sudden and unexpected shift of formality in Elliott’s work where the dancers break the sturdily built fourth wall, introducing this offhand colloquial and scornful dialogue amongst each other and at the choreographer.  It is abrupt but necessary.  This moment unsettles me as an audience member in order to deliberate the intentions of the dancers, the choreographer and the viewers.  What is the value of our judgement and expectation of another’s creation?  Anger and frustration simmers through a cacophony of critiques; “there has to be… because I’m Māori.”  This unequivocal nature is refreshing within a somewhat interpretable dance work.  Combined with Brydie Colquhoun’s desolate rage, the waiata Tai Aroha, and perhaps the clay’s stifling dust filling the Tāwhiri Warehouse, I feel the heat of emotions: Guilt, validation, subjection, repression.  Furthermore, the dialogue of “this is my land, my home” is moulded into a question, I sense as taking the expectations of identity into a conversation of affiliation to whenua as Pākeha versus Māori.  

Overall, I feel that both of these works present an underlying kaupapa of greed and manipulation in our relationships between one another.  From the ending separation of the performers in Imprint to the manipulation of the clay in Uku – Behind the Canvas, greed is a recurring theme in my perspective.  I am in sheer admiration of Whenua’s provocation in the conversation of humanity and belonging, and strongly encourage everyone to see this production to continue this discussion. It is captivatingly thought-provoking, executed phenomenally.  


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