Let's bring out the brass band

By Paula Yeoman

Muso's latest venture combines two passions, writes Paula Yeoman

Don McGlashan helms the New Zealand Dance Company's first full-length feature, Rotunda, which also harnesses the impressive power of a 25-piece brass band.
Don McGlashan helms the New Zealand Dance Company's first full-length feature, Rotunda, which also harnesses the impressive power of a 25-piece brass band.

Don McGlashan has spent decades at the coalface of the New Zealand music industry. And while most have no difficulty in recalling the hits he's penned - Dominion Road, Anchor Me, Bathe In The River to name but a few - it's easy to overlook his earlier musical endeavours, particularly those in dance.

But if you comb through McGlashan's lengthy and esteemed biography, you'll spot the year he spent in New York in the early 1980s playing drums with the Laura Dean Dancers and Musicians. There are also the pieces he wrote for the Kiwi dance company Limbs, throughout the same decade.

So it's not surprising that McGlashan's been drawn back to fold, this time as musical director for the New Zealand Dance Company's first-full length creation, Rotunda.

The concept of the piece, which involves eight dancers and 25 brass band players, is based on the band rotunda, an iconic symbol of community, and pays tribute to all those impacted by wars, conflicts and peace operations since World War I.

"The original idea was just a collaboration between a brass band and dancers - put a band on stage and have dancers reacting with them. Wouldn't that be cool?" says McGlashan.

But he says it quickly became apparent that they needed to delve beyond that. "We started thinking about this central architectural fixture, the rotunda, and what it means. It's a gathering place, a place people get married, a place people remember the dead.

"And the thing about brass bands is they create martial music and they wear uniforms. They're wonderful at playing hymns.

"So we realised the story had to be about where memorials come from. It had to be about New Zealand in wartime and the aftermath - healing and the way communities rebuild. It couldn't be as abstract as some dance pieces are."

In writing original music and gathering hymns for the piece, McGlashan not only drew on his own experiences in brass bands but reflected on their importance in Kiwi culture.

"There's enormous power in what brass bands can do. There's this power to gather people together to grieve and to express beauty. For many years, the only artistic option in a small town in New Zealand was the brass band. So you have all these people who don't have these outlets for emotion, pouring their heart and soul into this vehicle," he says.

McGlashan admits it's been a challenging project, but he's certain Rotunda will resonate deeply with New Zealanders.

"The beautiful thing about dance, like music without words, is that they both sit in this area that expresses the inexpressible. And although there is a small narrative, I think we've made a piece which says much more than that."

Rotunda runs from August 30 to September 1 at Q Theatre in Auckland.

- Herald on Sunday

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