Shona McCullagh is one of the country's most successful dancers and choreographers; Eddie Elliott is a 23-year-old determined to be one of our best - and, thanks to McCullagh's New Zealand Dance Company, he's taking another step in that direction.
NZDC embarks in May on its latest tour, taking Lumina to Whangarei, Mahurangi, Napier, Wellington and New Plymouth. Elliott, who has wanted to dance with the company since he was a student at Unitec, will be one of eight dancers on the tour, which also includes school workshops.
Lumina, described as being at the "intersection of contemporary light, sound and movement", premiered in Auckland in August before touring to Germany and the Holland Dance Festival in January.
NZ Herald dance reviewer Bernadette Rae declared it would be "sure to also knock the Holland Festival's sock right off" and it did, with standing ovations and sell-out performances throughout the European tour.
It comprises three pieces: Brouhaha, where dancers are explorers and artful unravellers of rawness and refined beauty, created by Malia Johnston, Eden Mulholland and Rowan Pierce; In Transit, a work which is a vivid reflection of traces left behind in the Maori ritual of encounter, by Louise Potiki Bryant and Paddy Free; and The Geography of an Archipelago, which sees three dancers exploring the emotions that accompany exile and belonging.
The latter marks the NZDC's first international collaboration with Holland-based Stephen Shropshire and composer Chris O'Connor, of The Phoenix Foundation, working together.
"International choreographers can't wait to get to New Zealand," says McCullagh. "They are fascinated by us; we're like some magical mystery land at the bottom of the world. Our beauty is renowned, but so is our creativity."
Just how highly regarded our dance-makers are is shown by the fact that Samoan/New Zealand choreographer Lemi Ponifasio has been picked by Unesco to deliver the official 2016 International Dance Day message at a ceremony in Paris on Friday, which is International Dance Day.
Ponifasio, whose MAU company is known throughout the world, is the first New Zealander to deliver the message. He says it is a prayer that carries within it the aims of his work and wairua of Aotearoa New Zealand and the Pacific.
Though international engagement and exposure - showing what we can do - is important, McCullagh also regards her company's national tours as vital. "One of the things we talk about is that dance should not be an art form performed under a proscenium arch for an audience looking up at the performers," she says. "We are very determined to break down those barriers and make it as accessible for people all over the country - and not just in the main centres - to see high-quality work, so we will perform anywhere from a high school hall to an opera house in Europe."
She says seeing live dance can light the spark of imagination for a child, especially important as we move into a world where creative industries are likely to grow to provide greater opportunities for work and play.
"I was a 10-year-old at Northland School in Wellington, just a child sitting on the floor of a school hall with my socks pushed down and all of a sudden, there it was," says McCullagh. "I thought, 'oh my God, you can do this for a job?' I clearly remember that lightbulb moment. It is beautiful to see kids utterly inspired by dance."
McCullagh needs to look no further than Elliott for another example of that. One of 10 children from a blended family where there were frequent ups and downs, Elliott says dance gave him an outlet for constructive expression.
He also first saw a dance production at primary school and later participated in a show that won him a scholarship to Hutt City Dance Centre. Elliott did hip-hop and jazz, continually improving, but quit for a time until moving to be with family in Auckland. He joined the kapa haka group at Manurewa's James Cook High School and, with dance offered as an NCEA subject, took it further.
Right now, Elliott is tutoring NZDC's Youth Engagement Programme (YEP!) Autumn School - there are four seasonal YEP! schools each year - at the company's impressive Wellesley St studios. In addition to those schools, there are a further 70 YEP! workshops held annually involving 2000 students and performances. He dreams of being able to work overseas and later to start a New Zealand company that will put on a show that can be attended by all 10 of his brothers and sisters "at the same time, in the same room".
Dance gets extra attention this week with today's launch of NZ Dance Week, starting with the Kiwi Classic at the Langham Hotel. A ballroom and Latin American dance event, it involves around 500 dancers.
On Friday, Street Dance NZ, celebrates its 10th anniversary, running the national hip-hop qualifying competition for the world champs, attracting about 800 participants - at the Vodafone Events Centre in Manukau.
What: Lumina, New Zealand Dance Company tour
Where and when: From May 4, at venues throughout the North Island
What: New Zealand Dance Week
Where and when: Throughout the country, until Friday (International Dance Day)