Young dancers pick up creative baton

Choreographer Moss Patterson in rehearsal for the APO Dance Project. Photo / Adrian Malloch
Choreographer Moss Patterson in rehearsal for the APO Dance Project. Photo / Adrian Malloch

For the first half of the rehearsal, Moss Patterson, artistic director of dance company Atamira, is very much the professional choreographer, working in front of his group of dancers, teaching a set sequence of movement.

But this is not Atamira and the 60 or so bodies before him offer a very different sort of potential. Aged from 12 to about 18 years, they are all students of either Tangaroa College, in Otara, or Waitakere College, in the west. Some are involved in dance for the very first time. They are gathered together for the Auckland Dance Project, an outreach programme of the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra.

In the second half, the dancers pick up the creative baton and develop the next section of dance collaboratively, rehearsing the steps to completion, with gales of laughter when their run-through for Patterson goes perfectly.

The completed work, Takarangi, will have just one performance and these secondary school pupils will be joined by another group from Balmoral School, a combined primary and intermediate.

Their youngest performer is just 5 and in her third month at school.

All up there will be about 100 dancers, lightly peppered with mentoring students from Unitec's dance programme, performing to a selection of percussive music played by a small ensemble from the APO, under principal percussionist Eric Fenwick. The three schools will come together only in the few days before September 30.

"That," says Catherine Blomfield, project manager for Takarangi and education supervisor for the APO, "is when the kids will realise what a huge performance they are involved in."

Takarangi refers to the distinctive Maori spiral design that symbolises the blending of past and future, and of how one idea develops as another finishes. As such, it references two previous and highly successful performances in the series, Sacre, a rite of spring made in 2011, and last year's Fireworks, both managed by the late Sally Markham.

"The ongoing philosophy of the project comes from Royston Maldoom, who was head choreographer for Sacre," says Patterson, who worked alongside Maldoom on that occasion. "It is all about 'changing people's lives through one night of dance. Which it does. Which is why I love to do it."

"The approach is always about the potential of each and every individual as an artist and that results in great truth and beauty on stage. It goes way beyond being just another community dance event."

Tangaroa College has been involved in the project from the beginning and is keen to continue. "It develops a new appreciation of the arts," says David Riley, the school's head of drama and dance, "by exposing the kids to an art form and style of music that they are not usually exposed to. It develops leadership. It brings students exposure to a very professional world. And it can open up a study and career path for some."

Former Tangaroa pupil and dance project graduate Alolii Tapu is now a second-year student in Unitec's dance programme. Current pupil and cast member Terry Morrison is about to audition for the same course and Verity Alafaapae has applied for the dance programme at the University of Auckland.

Involvement in the project really helps pupils move away from the genres they are familiar with, says Waitakere College teacher Leonie Orsborn.

Then there is the inspiration of working with Patterson, whose work they study in their school dance syllabus.

Balmoral School teachers Trish Cullen and Maureen O'Meara have seen how the project has already changed their pupils' lives by lifting individuals' confidence and by boosting the whole school's interest in the APO.

The APO's significant investment in the project is worth every dollar, says Blomfield. "It is such a powerful project, as a performance and as a process."


Performance

What: Takarangi - Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra Dance Project

Where and when: Vodafone Events Centre, Manukau, September 30, at 7pm

- NZ Herald

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