Energetic contemporary and tribal dance meet in a World War I setting, against a backdrop of traditional brass band music.
Energetic contemporary and tribal dance meet in a World War I setting, against a backdrop of traditional brass band music. Inspiration touches artists in intriguing ways, and it was a catalogue of archived brass band music that enticed a curious dance choreographer, world-renowned Shona McCullagh, and unexpectedly transported her back in time to produce her latest work, Rotunda. “I’d always been of the ignorant view that brass bands play dusty marches and waltzes,” McCullagh says. “However there was such power in these stunning sounds and I think Rotunda was born in that moment.” The allure of brass led her on a long investigative journey through World War I, her own family’s tragedies and stories of how communities used to express culture, patriotism and grief in the face of some of the biggest challenges nations have endured. The final product is a physically explosive and visually stunning piece of dance theatre weaving cinematic imagery and themes of the World War I era that humanity continues to endure today. McCullagh is the Artistic Director and cofounder of the New Zealand Dance Company, which will present Rotunda as its Australian premiere this April. The work draws on the Anzac spirit of both Australia and New Zealand and is being presented with local 24-piece band, Kensington and Norwood Brass. The performances will commemorate the centenary of the Gallipoli landings in April, 1915, and that of the 1914-1918 involvement of both Australia and New Zealand in the First World War. e story will be told by a strong young crop of dancers who, along with McCullagh, studied stories of soldiers and their families to connect with characters of 100 years ago. The group addresses the naivety of today’s attitudes of some young people – ‘this happened so long ago, so what’s it got to do with me?’ – and were able to unify both generations with common feelings and experiences. Rotunda portrays both Maori and European soldiers’ stories and examines the role of women in the war effort, their distress over uncertain farewells and human traits that emerged in situations of crisis and extreme grief. The image of a naive community enjoying brass music on Sundays and “young men beside themselves with excitement at the prospect of ghting for the Empire”. “ The male dancers we have are just phenomenal. Just fantastic. Very clever comics as well as passionate, vulnerable and wonderful human beings,” McCullagh says. “What we want to do is to humbly offer a voice to those who suffered terrible losses of their sons, fathers and brothers, to the generation that suffered enormous mental and physical trauma. I wanted people to come to this and feel something, not to be disgruntled by seeing dancers rove around on the floor indulgently and not understand it. I wanted audiences to come and see a story that could be related to anyone before, during and after a crisis. It could be anything and it could be now.” In the work’s development phase, McCullagh became shocked at the treatment of New Zealand’s indigenous Maori people, whose generosity, was “totally abused by colonists”. However, the native New Zealanders did not back away from the Commonwealth’s call to arms in the wartime era. Like with Australia’s Indigenous soldiers, the service of many went unrecognised.