Wind Dancer: the story of Shona Dunlop MacTavish

Regent Theatre, The Octagon, Dunedin

28/02/2009 - 28/02/2009

Production Details

The Centre for Science Communication (Otago University) presents the World Premiere of
Wind Dancer: the story of Shona Dunlop MacTavish
a film by Wiebke F Hendry and Lloyd Spencer Davis

Wind Dancer is a film that plots the extraordinary life of Shona Dunlop MacTavish, who brought modern dance to New Zealand. The last pupil of the great Austrian exponent of expressionistic dance, Gertrude Bodenwieser, Shona essentially carried on Bodenwieser’s philosophy. In essence, that was to live fully and be ethical, no matter how hard the road ahead.

Shona’s life touched many of the major social upheavals of the 20th Century, including the rise of Naziism, Communism and apartheid. In many ways, dance for Shona became an instrument to rally against the wrongdoing she experienced in the world. Her personal life was characterized by a marvellous family, a beautiful romance and the tragedy of her husband’s untimely death.

Through all this, Shona has exuded a positive outlook. She still jumps with joy at 89 years young. Hers is an inspirational story. 

Make sure you see it on the big screen.
The feature will be preceded by a selection of short films from the Class of 08
7pm Saturday 28 February
Regent Theatre
$3 individual; $7 family
All welcome  

A courageous dancer in unusual settings

Review by 22nd Mar 2009

Wind Dancer is a short film about a very important life. Shona Dunlop MacTavish is for me the epitome of woman: loving wife, beloved by family, intelligent, gracious, liberated, pragmatic, socially conscious and above all likeable.

These days nearly every conversation about how we are to continue making a living as we did until recently seem to be shrouded in anxiety. In any arts conversation I have heard lately nobody seems to reveal or mention the ubiquitous influence dance could have on society; the potential art has for providing innovation, creativity and chance in a dreary world.

If it were not for women like Dunlop MacTavish, the current global recession would be the only way we would think about our times.

In Wind Dancer, dance once again mediates the subtler potentials of human communication. I have seen a lot of dance filmed, where technology meets dance performance, and plenty that are as strikingly artiste emphasised – by which I mean more about the person, less about movement vocabulary and choreographic shape potentials. The filming genre is not new either and the iconic subject is made a star in it by her longevity as well as her artistry.

But beyond a reasonably obvious exposure of complacent technology, what makes Wind Dancer important is that the film makers have poised the articulation of a special kind of human on a different platform. This film cuts across their unfamiliarity with our dance world and escapes into feminism, technology and time. With the elegant, fey, technical abandon of moments captured, as explanations and as fragments of her early and later dances, Wind Dancer slides inexorably into the realm of social realism.

Dunlop MacTavish was so present on the night: a live presence as well as the filmed one. Both persona fiercely physicalised by not only body but language, less so by natural images of water and trees. Perhaps there needed to be earlier, deeper consultation in the editing room about the reason for these images?

Dunlop MacTavish was made more communal and more natural by her own gracious acknowledgement of a lifetime of influence through unexpected change. She reveals a story of a courageous dancer in unusual and sometimes awesomely conservative settings.  

The imagery and narratives somewhat simplify her as the wife of a determined missionary. Her life is thus nearly encapsulated by the family’s passage to China, Africa and back to Māori Hill, New Zealand. Her intrepid self is more evident in the disappointingly short snippets previously mentioned, the sensitive, interpretive styles of cultural choreographies with dancers Dakshini de Alwis and Cassandra Li and the beautifully rendered memories in the bodies of Toni Thomas and granddaughter Jinty MacTavish.

Her explanations and reveries about her dance pathway are most gently and willingly supported by Dunedin and global dancers, Carol Brown and the inimitable Michael Parmenter. He presented a gift of an all too brief dance. How lovely to watch! He is rarely seen on any stage and is precious too. Their deep respect and acknowledgment of her as elder bespeaks a link to our national history. It is this in the film and the evening’s collection of live dance, light, music and song that reveals her particular legacy to the influence of art in our strangely barren social reports.

The evening of Wind Dancer was more than just a film. Perhaps the early juxtaposition of student work from the University of Otago’s Centre for Science Communication placed the work in a broader social context. It made me think that if only we could hear more from her, if only she could speak from the banks and folding companies … And if it were up to women who exist in our world like Shona Dunlop MacTavish, perhaps the current global recession would not even exist.


Make a comment

Wellingon City Council
Aotearoa Gaming Trust
Creative NZ
Auckland City Council