Is it our imaginations or are these ever so slightly jumpy looks on the faces of New Zealand Dance Company performers?
More likely to be our imaginations, given many of the company's dancers have taken on some of the biggest challenges in New Zealand dance, starring in choreographer Michael Parmenter's OrphEus – a Dance Opera, travelling the world with shows like Lumina, collaborating with international choreographers and, one summer, even touring a ballet which involved dancing – vigorously, at times – with hefty shopping trollies.
Then again, the company, started by Shona McCullagh in 2012, has never staged a full whanau show. Until now. Written by Sean MacDonald, Matariki for Tamariki is its first full-length production (50 minutes) created for kids and kidults. Travelling through the season as the Matariki Constellation dawns and sets, six dancers tell the story of traversing Aotearoa's diverse landscapes. They'll be helped by young aspiring dancers taking part in NZDC's first two affiliated Youth Winter Schools.
For McCullagh, there's something special about working alongside and performing for the next generation. Sitting in the hall at Northland School in Wellington watching a performance led by musical theatre stalwart Laughton Pattrick is one of her most vivid childhood memories. She remembers leaning forward, uncomfortable on the floor, but nevertheless excited, spellbound and knowing she wanted to dance.
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McCullagh hopes youngsters will feel much the same way when they see Matariki for Tamariki – although they don't have to sit on the floor: "One of the things I am really hot on at the moment is 'who looks like me?' It's so important to be relevant to your audiences. I think people will really learn new things about Matariki but I also want audiences to feel moved, to have their spirits lifted and to feel soothed by the art we present."
Matariki for Tamariki - Ngā Tamariki o Ngā Mata Ariki, Bruce Mason Centre, Friday, July 12 and Saturday, July 13; Māngere Arts Centre, Friday, July 19 and Saturday, July 20.