Lowdown
What: Auckland Arts Festival – As it Stands
Where & when: ASB Waterfront Theatre, March 8 - 10

One stands in a field: 56 steel plates, almost rippling along – tracing - a single contour line across Gibbs Farm, which hugs the Kaipara Harbour. To say it "looms large" is understatement; Richard Serra's sculpture, Te Tuhirangi Contour, stretches 252m with each 50mm plate standing 6m. The sheep aren't intimidated, though. They'll graze nonchalantly alongside the rust-coloured behemoth.

The other stands in a dance studio: all flexible limbs, which mean there's no trouble dropping gracefully to the wooden floor to sit, cross-legged – almost coiled – to explain, using a cardboard model, the shape of his next dance.

So, how has Serra's mute and immovable sculpture inspired Ross McCormack, multi-award-winning dance, choreographer, founder of the Muscle Mouth dance company, and New Zealand Arts Foundation laureate, to make As it Stands for Auckland Arts Festival – a dance work that will most certainly move?

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RM: Te Tuhirangi Contour has so much movement in it. It obviously takes the shape of the landscape but the steel makes me think of my bones and the rust makes me think of my skin and the way that it moves is like a frozen ballet movement, a thick, frozen gesture.

When I looked at it, I saw a huge chaos of frozen movement but I was also physically pulled toward it. You want to touch it, test its strength, you're deflected off it and you're made to follow it. You're not asked to; you're made to. Your curiosity and your mind starts making you move and, before you know it, well, look down and there's a well-worn-out trail on the ground.

Then there's the fantasy attached to it where you go, "What if we didn't know anything about this and we just came across it? Would it change the course of our beliefs?" I like that fantasy, the freedom of thinking about it like that, and also who would choose to leave it as it is and just look at it and who would choose to join the group and unearth it and ruin it to make sure we could figure everything we needed out? It introduces a level of curiosity to us; it introduces where we stand with the unknown and it draws in a little line in the sand.

Richard Serra's Te Tuhirangi Contour at Gibbs Farm. NZ Herald Photo.
Richard Serra's Te Tuhirangi Contour at Gibbs Farm. NZ Herald Photo.

Did you follow the track or did you find yourself doing your own thing?

RM: No, I just went straight to it. I was already aware of it because a friend pointed me in the direction of Richard Serra and we got looking at relics in the Earth and shapings of rocks that have made us curious and that got me onto a conversation about what interests me in sculpture.

Which is?
RM: I guess an absence of the human figure; I don't necessarily want to see the human body as a sculpture. I think when I find something incredibly hard to place, to find, I can let my mind fantasise about how it got there. Serra's work, poking up out of the ground, makes me think of a civilisation and these are the remnants of it and we have to put together the best we know of that civilisation. I love that sci-fi element to them, that he created these megalithic things that match a geological, structure … I just see so much movement in them and I think I see movement because they just look like something caught and they're more caught in a movement than a body sculptured in a twist. The deflection, the co-ordination, the shifting – they own the space and you are pulled into them and you cannot move them and you can't go through them.