A critically-acclaimed dancer who uses his incredible life journey and wheelchair to form part of his performance is expected to draw a large crowd to his show in Ōtaki tonight.

Rodney Bell is internationally renowned for his physically integrated performance. The show is called Meremere and will be performed at the Māoriland Hub in Otaki tonight and tomorrow night. The cast has rehearsed in Ōtaki during the week.

Of Ngāti Maniapoto, Bell was paralysed from the chest down in a motorbike accident in 1991, but has been dancing professionally since 1994 when he began as a founding member of Touch Compass Dance Trust.

After his accident in 1991, he spent a year at the Auckland Spinal Rehabilitation Unit, "trying to wrap my head around this new vessel that was my body", he said at the time.


He said the performance was a mix of the many parts that made up his history and his life experiences mixed with a passion for movement and connection.

The current tour was hot on the heels of a hugely successful tour last year that included 32 performances in theatres, prisons and marae, as well as shows in Singapore and the Gold Coast.

Since that accident he has played in the New Zealand wheelchair basketball team and fulfilled a contract with a US dance company. He moved to California in 2007 to join AXIS Dance Company as principal dancer, touring to 32 states until 2012.

But he fell on hard times after finishing with AXIS before his return to New Zealand, which meant a period of homelessness on the streets of San Francisco. To stave off the cold at night, he wrapped clothes around his head.

It was a life changing experience that inspired the creation of Meremere.

Meremere was described as a powerful and engaging autobiographical work in response to Bell's extraordinary life, and the series of events that have been incredibly unique for one man to experience in his lifetime.

It was a multimedia performance piece in collaboration with director Malia Johnston's performance design company Movement of the Human (MOTH).

Meremere includes AV by award winning designer Rowan Pierce, and live music from the highly talented Eden Mulholland bringing this insightful, surprising and very personal story to life.


Meremere also took out Actor of the Year, Director of the Year, Sound Design of the Year, and Excellence Award for AV Design at the 2018 Wellington Theatre Awards.

The production has also seen Bell win the 2017 Arts Access Artistic Achievement Award, and the 2016 Attitude Artistic Achievement Award in what has been an extraordinary career.

Bell and Malia Johnston danced together between 1999-2003 and Rodney has worked closely with Johnston since his return to New Zealand.

Johnston has a 20-year background in choreography and performance direction, she has collaborated with an incredibly diverse range of performers and arts organisations, creating new work for both the national and international stage.

Johnston is notable for her many years of working on the World of Wearable Art Awards show.

"Meremere is a small but beautifully formed production that takes us on a journey of undiminished hope and wonder" – Theatreview

"His dancing is moving and absorbing, sculptural and full of emotion…" – NZ Herald

"This autobiographical, multi-disciplinary and life-affirming survival story drew the cheering opening night audience to its feet." – Dominion Post

Meremere plays

Friay, July 26, 8pm & Saturday, July 27, 4pm & 8pm
Māoriland Hub, Ōtaki

Tuesday, July 30, 11.30am & 7.30pm
Theatre Royal Nelson, Nelson

Wednesday, July 31, 7.30pm – Panel Talk "What A Fool Honesty Is" as part of the Christchurch Arts Festival, presented by WORD Christchurch

Thursday, August 1-Saturday, August 3, 7pm, & Friday, August 2, 1pm – as part of the Christchurch Arts Festival
The Piano, Christchurch

Tuesday, August 6, 7pm
Hokitika Regent Theatre, Hokitika

Thursday, August 8, 7pm
Oamaru Opera House, Oamaru