Taonga: Ngaere Jenkins
My beautiful grandmother on my dad's side gave me this sewing kit in my last year of high school in Pōneke, before I was accepted into the New Zealand School of Dance. She sewed on the ribbons for my very first pair of pointe shoes and always came to watch my shows. I wish she had lived to see me become a full-time dancer, but she passed away in 2017, at the age of 80, before I graduated.
I called her Grandma Adair and she was just the most gentle, caring woman who had time for everyone. And she was so strong. My dad passed away when I was 6, and she was there through it all, coming up from Dunedin to help my mum and look after my two little brothers and me. She was so calm and graceful. There was always this moment of breath before she responded to things. Her emotions never got ahead of her.
Grandma grew up on a farm in Ōamaru and she taught me how to bake and sew and do embroidery. I guess it would have been a creative thing for her, but a necessity as well. When I was very little, I read a storybook or watched a movie about a princess who had white bed socks and red ribbons. I told her about them and she made me a pair. I still have them somewhere.
My own sewing skills aren't great, to be honest, but I use the box she gave me to do bits and bobs around the house. Some of the pieces, like the bronze tape measure, don't actually work anymore, but they're beautiful mementoes. I like to pull them out and look at them sometimes, especially her handwriting in the letter she gave me that explains a bit about their history.
The needle case came from a small craft shop near Brisbane but she embroidered the pin cushion herself. Two thimbles, the tape measure and the cotton reel belonged to my great-great-grandmother, Mary Burns, who was a milliner in London, trimming hats for Edwardian ladies.
Her husband died young too, so she went to live with her daughter's family, then migrated with them to New Zealand. In her letter, Grandma writes about meeting her as "an elderly lady a long way from her English home".
After my dad passed away, we had a kind of village raising us. I went along to dance with one of my friends after school and really enjoyed it, so I kept going. My first memory is doing a jazz dance in flared pants to Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. When it got more serious and I had to choose between dancing and netball, I decided to go for dance.
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We were just days away from opening Night Light in August 2020 when New Zealand went into lockdown for the second time. The 2021 season had to be cancelled too. Then we had shows booked for April but all got Covid — so hopefully it's fourth time lucky! You just have to keep it in proportion, right? There are worse things going on in the world.
— as told to Joanna Wane
* The New Zealand Dance Company's youngest member, Ngaere Jenkins (Te Arawa, Ngāti Kahungunu), is performing in the double bill Night Light, featuring work by co-artistic director Tor Colombus and emerging Māori choreographer Eddie Elliott, at Auckland's ASB Waterfront Theatre on June 3 and 4. See nzdc.org.nz