When choreographer Stephen Shropshire was asked to make a work for The New Zealand Dance Company, he was beginning a new journey in his career.
Like millions of tertiary-educated and experienced workers around the world, Shropshire had recently been made redundant. With degrees from the Juilliard School in New York City and the University of Maastricht, his dance sugarwater had been named one of the top 10 dance triumphs of 2008 by the UK Telegraph and he'd led the Noord Nederlandse Dans in Groningen, the Netherlands for several years.
But all of this couldn't counter becoming a casualty to funding cuts which, in 2013, saw Noord Nederlandse Dans dissolved and Shropshire, its artistic director, out of fulltime work. Not long after, he met Shona McCullagh, artistic director of NZDC, who asked Shropshire if he'd like to work with the company on its triple-bill show Lumina, where each piece references — in some way — the connective force of light.
Travelling to NZ marked the start of a turning point in his life. He says it ultimately gave him more confidence and showed him the direction he wanted to head in. His dance, The Geography of an Archipelago, became NZDC's first international commission in co-production with the Holland Dance Festival and saw Shropshire working with The Phoenix Foundation's Chris O'Connor, designer Kasia Pol and three dancers on a piece about exile and belonging.
"I met with Kasia early on and we talked a lot about her understanding of navigation patterns," he says. "Sometimes people take a direct route; other times, you need to be more circuitous."
Shropshire says reflecting on those ideas, as well as spending a month here working with the NZDC, meant The Geography of an Archipelago became about how we deal with our current concerns and reconcile these with memories and histories.
"Do we cut through or go around? There are different ways of doing things, of navigating a way to new places in our lives. It was about the transition of change, taking a journey into unfamiliar places… The experience of not knowing what was next [in my life] played a role in that part of its creation," he says. "At the same time, I was dealing with a sense of loss and disappointment and searching to find answers about what was next."
Three years on, Shropshire is now a freelance choreographer based in Holland. He is kept busy collaborating with dance companies, mainly in Europe and the United States, and is most interested in narrative-driven work. He most recently worked with Danish Dance Theater on a piece inspired by Swedish writer August Strindberg's 1888 play, Miss Julie.
While it has been three years since Lumina debuted, it continues to set new milestones for NZDC. It arrives home direct from Theatre National de Chaillot in Paris, where it was the first NZ work performed at the iconic institution, as well as dates in the United Kingdom.
The programme also features bold, loud and high-energy Brouhaha from decorated local choreographer Malia Johnston, and her long standing creative partners, composer Eden Mulholland and AV designer Rowan Pierce. It's completed with In Transit, a work by choreographer Louise Potiki Bryant and composer/AV designer Paddy Free which reflects on the traces left behind in the Maori ritual of encounter.
What: The New Zealand Dance Company, Lumina
Where & when: Gallagher Playhouse, Hamilton, May 4; Bruce Mason Centre, May 23 (also performances in Christchurch and Nelson)