The award-winning solo-show Meremere by internationally recognised and critically acclaimed dancer Rodney Bell (Ngāti Maniapoto) will be staged in Hamilton next week for the first time in a special one-night-only performance.
Rodney, originally from Te Kuiti, says: "I am super excited to perform in Kirikiriroa. It is the highlight of the tour, because it is very close to home and I have lots of family here."
He even has one special guest coming: his mum.
The unique autobiographical performance is inspired by Rodney's life and has been developed in cooperation with director Malia Johnston.
Rodney is paralysed from his chest down after a motorcycle accident in 1991 and uses his wheelchair on stage.
Meremere, at The Meteor theatre on Thursday, May 13, weaves together stories from his life on the streets of San Francisco, performances with acclaimed dance companies, and his homecoming and reconnection with whānau and whenua in Aotearoa New Zealand.
Rodney says: "I have always been a mover, did kapa haka and enjoyed music. But I never thought I could be where I am today."
He says that dance found him after his accident.
"I was a kids' coach for wheelchair basketball. One day Catherine Chappell, pioneer for inclusive dancing, came in and asked if she could show the kids a dancing video. She then took me and gave a demonstration, jumping over me and things. I was hooked immediately."
In 1997, he joined Chappell as a founding member of Touch Compass Dance Trust and danced together with Malia Johnston for several years before going to the US for an OE in 2005.
In the US he took part in a Dance Summer Intensive with AXIS Dance Company in Seattle. Rodney came back to New Zealand, but after his father passed away he needed to set his mind to something new.
"So in 2007, I went overseas again to become one of AXIS' principle dancers, dancing almost 10 years in America."
The word Meremere has several meanings in te reo Māori. It is a short weapon made out of wood or greenstone, but meremere can also describe feathers of the shoulder region of a bird which can be moved to cover or reveal the feathers below.
Rodney says the title of his piece was inspired by his story.
"My brother asked me to carve him a meremere for his birthday. Meremere is also the name for Venus, the Evening Star, which is the brightest star after the sun sets."
The show on Thursday will be the first time Rodney will perform in Hamilton.
"I think my family didn't quite understand dancing when I first started. My dad never got to see me perform, but my mum did in 2019 for the first time. She loved it so much, she cried, so I am very happy she will come on Thursday.
"When people see me in a wheelchair, they often ask 'how do you dance?' and I always say that they need to come and see for themselves, because it is hard to explain."
Meremere will combine storytelling, music, and dance with design, AV and lighting and has already touched audiences around New Zealand winning several awards. The Otago Daily Times wrote Meremere is "an extraordinarily powerful performance, with pathos, tragedy, comedy, inspiration and beauty".
The performance premiered in 2016 and has won Rodney the 2017 Arts Access Artistic Achievement Award, and the 2016 Attitude Artistic Achievement Award. In the 2018 Wellington Theatre Awards, Rodney also won The Grant Tilly Actor of the Year.
The show has also won Eden Mulholland Sound Designer of the Year, Rowan Pierce Excellence for AV Design and Malia Johnston Director of the Year.
Meremere will be at The Meteor on Thursday, May 13 at 7pm. Tickets are available now at $43 adult, $38 senior concession, and $25 student at themeteor.co.nz.