A brief encounter with artistic director Shona McCullagh

By Greg Bruce

A few words with artistic director Shona McCullagh.
Shona McCullagh. Photo / John McDermott
Shona McCullagh. Photo / John McDermott

What does dance tell us about how to live?
Dance is a primal need, no matter how removed we are from that fact. It opens doorways to feeling enormous joy, connections to others, subtle emotion, a sense of belonging, identity and ultimately a communal, anthropological and extremely personal I-can't-articulate-what-I-just-felt-dancing-with/next to-that-person experience of being human. I sat on the back step when I was 9 years old and sobbed because I didn't have a dance I could do to express my Scottish/Irish/German/English heritage.

What's the difference between a great piece of dance and one that's merely incredible?
The hush in the house. When an audience has a shared experience of a transcendental dance performance, words are utterly superfluous. This is a rare but heightened life experience and if we get one of those in our lifetime, it will be indelibly tattooed within our cellular structure.

Dance is a language. What language is it?
It's the language you knew before any words were spoken. You already knew how to get your groove on and pump up the party before you were born.

Can you draw a line between being creative and being an entrepreneur? What does that line look like?
Being an entrepreneur is being creative. Entrepreneurs see ideas realised in their imagination and so do creatives. Entrepreneurs think about mechanisms to bring ideas to fruition. Diaghilev and the Ballet Russes have always been an inspiration to me — the work they were creating then would still be regarded as avant garde today.

The New Zealand Dance Company is now five years old. So?
So, now we are past the start-up phase, which has its own excitement, as well as challenges — as many entrepreneurs and business developers out there will understand. We've had fast growth and have toured nationally and internationally for the last three years in a row — a massive achievement for a very young arts company. We are proud to have been recently reviewed as "a superb ambassador for New Zealand". So now, the challenge is to consolidate our achievements and continue to strengthen our financial base. Any philanthropists out there?

What's the best book ever written about dance?
The Nature of Dance, given to me as a prize by my dance studies tutor, Jennifer Shennan, in 1982. A great anthropological study of movement within culture.

Describe the moment you were most profoundly moved by dance.
I am lucky enough to have experienced so many of these I can't choose one. Lately, it was watching one of our professional dancers share his skill so freely and generously, without any sense of hierarchy, with some at-risk young people in a high-security facility. The way that dance connected us all in that experience was quite profound and I know touched all the lives that were present that day.

Shona McCullagh is artistic director of the New Zealand Dance Company, which is presenting The Absurdity of Humanity at Q Theatre, August 24-27.

- Canvas

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