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War Dance: Rotunda commemorates WWI in movement (plus win tickets!)

Apr 21, 2015 Theatre

Prime Minister John Key announced New Zealand troops would be going to Iraq to train local soldiers the morning I meet Shona McCullagh, chief executive and artistic director of the New Zealand Dance Company. “I wrote to him and said, ‘Would you send your own son?’” says McCullagh.

As the creator of Rotunda, the choreo­grapher is attuned to the reverberating impact of war on those sent and on those left at home. The dance work is based on events that took place 100 years ago, yet feels eerily relevant on this blue-sky morning. Drawing on New Zealanders’ experience of World War I, Rotunda is the burgeoning contemporary company’s first full-length work. It premiered in 2013 and returns for a special centenary Anzac weekend season at the Aotea Centre.

McCullagh says Rotunda gives a voice to the generation that bore the horror of the Great War, often in silence. Her own great-uncle begged his father to sign release forms so he could fight underage and “ended up in the mud, buried at Somme”. Her grandfather, haunted by memories of bayonetting and riddled with guilt for surviving the battlefield, would wake in the night screaming.

“I’ve had conversations with grown men still sobbing about the fact their fathers shut down and would not, could not, engage with them because they were so traumatised by the war,” says McCullagh, who deliberately launched the company with a programme that “people could connect to from all walks of life”.

It was a daring move to launch four years ago, in a tight funding environ­ment with respected existing contemporary companies, and take the name New Zealand Dance Company. The veteran dancer — who recently received the Creative Entrepreneur Award for 2015 — saw a need for a full-time professional company that had the ability to employ dancers on a permanent basis, present works from a number of choreographers and compete with overseas companies who have first dibs on our graduating talent. “Creative New Zealand agreed, otherwise they wouldn’t have given us $500,000 a year to start the company,” says McCullagh. “They saw a gap.”

The New Zealand Dance Company has since converted Zambesi’s former workshop in Wellesley St into airy customised studios, is taking Rotunda on an Australasian tour and branching into developing community programmes for the elderly and youth. New research suggests dance helps dementia sufferers, and the social, physical and emotional benefits of dance for young people are evident.

“It’s a very powerful experience to leap in the air and land in split-second timing or throw someone across the room and another party catches them,” says McCullagh.

Rotunda, Aotea Centre, April 23-25,

Anzac Events: more ways to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Gallipoli in Auckland.


Metro has a double pass to give away for the opening night of Rotunda on Thursday, April 23. Contest closes at 3pm, Wednesday 22nd.


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