Seen: Rotunda

New Zealand Dance Company & New Zealand Army Band

Choreographer: Shona McCullagh

Musical Director: Don McGlashan

Aotea Centre

Thursday 23rd April


NZDC’s Rotunda premiered in August 2013, has toured New Zealand and Holland, and is now setting off on the Australian leg of its Australasian tour this month. WG caught up with NZDC Director and CEO Shona McCullagh before opening night in Auckland last week.


Q. How did you decide that contemporary dance was the career for you?

I was fortunate to have a (dance) teacher very skilled in making movement abstract and expressive. I started performing at age eleven and a light switched on – here I am in my 50’s still doing it!


2. What led to the founding of the NZDC?

I was fortunate to experience full time employment as a contemporary dancer with Limbs. It enabled me to train full time and absolutely focus on my craft. When Limbs closed down (in 1988) there was no equivalent employment for contemporay dancers. I wanted to provide the option of full time employment in New Zealand so our dancers didn’t have to go overseas. Sadly, many New Zealanders have not seen New Zealand contemporary dancers.


3. What do you like most about your profession?

I love being with dancers. They’re extraordinarily intelligent, passionate human beings. I’m in the studio with the “athletes of God” (Einstein, A.) every day.


4. What’s the most challenging thing about being the Artistic Director and CEO of the NZDC?

The unbelieveably intense workload – I’m responsible for fundraising, artistic, logistics . I think it’s similar for all arts professionals. The upside is I’ve never been bored a day in my life. We never miss a deadline - the curtain always goes up!


5. What’s one secret the public doesn’t know about contemporary dancers?

We wear secret little kneepads. They’re skin-coloured and you (the audience) can’t see them.


[Shona McCullagh]


6. Who are your heroes?

Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, the Belgian choreographer – her work is feminine, spirited and subtle at the same time.


Sue Paterson, the General Manager at Limbs, the Royal New Zealand Ballet and the New Zealand International Arts Festival – she is inspirational as an Arts manager.


7. You’ve worked as a professional choreographer for many years. What is the work you are most proud of and why?

My dance film Break. It features Arlo Gibson, Thomas Kiwi and Ursula Robb and was filmed in the Rodney District. It tells the story of a mother who decides to leave her child. I’m very critical of everything I do and I can still watch it.


8. What’s your advice for an audience member seeing contemporary dance for the first time?

Let the power of the movement, music and design speak to your heart. Rotunda has a simple, linear structure and is very accessible. It’s about people who experience a crisis and emerge through it. It’s about us. It’s about you. War is still a very current and present topic.


9. How did Rotunda evolve conceptually? What was your choreographic process?

It begab with a back catalogue of beautiful contemporary brass music. Don McGlashan and Gareth Farr had written quintessential brass works which led me to the roots of brass music in military bands. They create a sense of nationalism and order as we move together. Rotunda commemorates - it is a living memorial to those who fell in the first World War.


10. What’s the significance for you and the dancers in staging Rotunda in 2015?

It is a real honour to tour in both New Zealand and australia. We really are representing New Zealand at this time and we feel pretty humbled. It’s a special thing to remember those who suffered and fought for the peace we have. We’ve all created our touch points of loss in the work.


11. What is your (personal) favourite moment in Rotunda?

Chrissy Kokiri sings a waiata to farewell the men. It’s a very theatrical dance work. The power of the song sends chills up my spine evry time. The waiata was written by a Maori whanau to farewell their son as he went to war.


12. What’s next for the NZDC?

Premiering our new work Lumina in Auckland. It’s three works, responding to the provocation of designing works to AV. We’ll also be touring Holland and Germany in January.


14. Regular touring is a feature of the NZDC’s schedule. What’s your professional opinion on NZ’s best;

  • Place to grab a coffee?

Midnight Espresso in Wellington – low key but high cool

  • Brilliant activity that costs nothing?


  • Place to indulge yourself?

Any opportunity to walk, especially in Christchurch. I love the Bridle Path to Lyttelton.




Brigitte’s Favourite Moments in Rotunda


  • The New Zealand Army Band sneaking into the back of the auditorium and suddenly starting to play from behind the audience. The band marching through the aisles and onto the stage while playing was a very stirring moment, and the audience responded with clapping and cheering.


  • The pas de deux (dance for two) for two men. One soldier died in the preceeding battle scene, and his mate grappled physically with accepting his passing. The partnering was exquisite – beautifully timed, daring and convincing. The fallen soldier appeared completely inanimate, the poignancy was evoked brilliantly by the living comrade, dancing to re-animate his friend.


  • The young men grabbed the Drum Major’s mace, and played with it in an inventive range of ways. This well-rehearsed sequence had just the right amount of humour and daring.


[Image cred]

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