What: Guangdong Modern Dance Company & Footnote New Zealand Dance present Hemispheres
Where & when: Bruce Mason Centre, Takapuna, Friday & Saturday; followed by performances in Palmerston North, Christchurch, Dunedin and Wellington.
When dancers from the Guangdong Modern Dance Company arrive in New Zealand this week, they'll join Footnote, our oldest contemporary dance company, on what's believed to be a ground-breaking five-city tour.
While international collaborations and tours are becoming more common for our dance companies, performances of Hemispheres have no set ticket price. Entry is by koha/donation thanks to sponsorship from the Asia NZ Foundation and Chinese Cultural Centre.
The nationwide tour has been specially timed for Chinese New Year to celebrate the burgeoning artistic ties between the two countries and companies, and make the work as accessible to as many people as possible.
The companies have spent nearly two years collaborating on Hemispheres, a contemporary dance triple bill which shows the technical mastery of Chinese dancers and the powerful physicality our dancers are known for. Mass Solitude, devised by Sarah Foster-Sproull headlines the programme which also includes fellow NZ choreographer Zahra Killeen-Chance's Elliptical Fictions and GMDC's The Spring Tide by WU Chien Wei.
Footnote travelled to GMDC late last year but general manager Richard Aindow says talks have been ongoing for some time about the companies working together. He sees natural synergies, given Footnote, started in 1982, is our longest-running contemporary dance company while GMDC, started in 1992, is China's first modern dance outfit.
"We both want to put on great work, inspire people and show the work as widely as possible," he says, adding that a Chinese tour and now the New Zealand one is allowing them to do that.
While Footnote has previously partnered with a French company, this was its first foray into Asia. Aindow describes it as true collaboration and the credits for the works show this. Seven dancers from each company perform; GMDC's resident designer Low Shee Hoe did the lighting design, Australian-based New Zealand composer Eden Mulholland designed the sound and Guangzhou designer Hui Zhen Zhong the costumes.
"It certainly hasn't been a choreographer going overseas to a company and saying, 'here's my work and everyone's going to do this'," says Aindow. "I think we've all enjoyed the opportunity to work with people from a different perspective and culture. Yes, there are differences but that's part of the point of working together – to build on those, to find the common ground."
And, Aindow adds, the beautiful thing about dance is that it doesn't rely on a common spoken language. Mass Solitude, which includes dancers from both companies, celebrates the human ability to communicate beyond verbal language or technology.
That's a point made by composer, musician and former dancer Eden Mulholland, who had never visited China before and, flying into Guangdong Province, was daunted by what he saw from the air.
"Going in, it seemed we were flying for about half an hour over huge swathes of apartments, stacks of humanity, and I was thinking, 'how am I going to get across this place in rush hour with three bags?' "
He needn't have worried, saying he was immediately helped by lovely people. Starting rehearsals the next day, Mulholland says he looked at what was available in the room and at what the creatives had already made to devise a "percussive, rhythmic and melodic" soundtrack.
"That's good for dancers because it is something they can really sink their teeth into," he says. "I had an amazing time being in the room – it was like this little petri dish of creativity, seeing what we could all make together."
Likewise, dancer Christy Poinsettia, who was born and raised in Hong Kong and has performed around the world, says she's learned from her Kiwi colleagues.
"I have learned some hip hop moves that I have never done before; Georgia [Footnote's Georgia Beechey-Gradwell] showed me how she gained her flexibility and strength through yoga. Each and every one of them has shown me something special and it's the perk of collaboration.
"The similarity between the dancers from two companies is that we are all very open-minded and passionate in dancing that we are willing to share. It was always fun in the studio because we would just do stuff, others would find it interesting and do it together then that simple spark just gradually became something wonderful."