Moving With the Times
A Sharyn Underwood School of Dance production
Royal Wanganui Opera House
April 10 and 11, 2021
Reviewed by Paul Brooks
Marie and I had the privilege of attending the celebrations of Sharyn Underwood's 50 years of teaching in Whanganui, a function held at the Opera House following the Sunday night performance of her dance studio's show.
It was an evening of tribute to a woman who has given half a century to teaching young Whanganui people the joys of dance.
There were many familiar faces there, as well as her talented, current dance students, who had just excelled in a show aptly entitled Moving with the Times.
And what a show!
Held over two performances, Saturday and Sunday evenings, packed houses witnessed polished, energetic performances from 66 current students and a never to be forgotten routine by 33 former students, some who attended her first Whanganui classes in 1971.
That special routine was organised and choreographed by former student Mel Holly, now resident in Auckland, who taught her fellow former students by Zoom until her arrival in Whanganui on Friday, in time for a final intensive session.
It was a class act, with women who still had all the moves, regardless of how long it had been since some of them had danced. And their huge smiles said it all.
Some dances were choreographed by former students now living overseas – like Sarah Seville, Mark Lace in London, and Nikita McDonald in Sydney, all of whom introduced their dances with a video message.
Joana Simmons, former student, dancer and comedian, recently returned from Australia, was another guest choreographer, who also came out on stage and revved up the crowd with introductions to the first and second halves of the show.
Student choreographers Abby Squire, Emma Henare and Lauren Phillips showed just how their abilities have profited from their time with Sharyn Underwood School of Dance.
Moving with the Times was a delight from start to finish, with superb dancing, just the right music and talent other centres can only dream of. Once again, Whanganui punched way above its weight, but that's something we're used to in the performing arts.
A real treat was to hear Abby Squire, an accomplished advanced dancer and choreographer, use another of her many talents. Backed by recorded accompaniment from her singing teacher, Marie Brooks, Abby sang How Could I Ever Know from The Secret Garden. Her strong, true voice hushed the crowd and added copiously to the emotional content of the show.
The dancing throughout was amazing, with international standards reached and overtaken with every routine. And each dance was given that extra something with an array of costumes that dazzled and impressed us all.
Adding to the spectacle with technical and personal help were those often unsung heroes like Brian Kenny (lighting), Jacqui McKenzie (stage manager), and those backstage and front of house who included Fergus Reid, Stephanie Thomas and Friends of the Opera House.
At the celebrations afterwards, Sharyn thanked many for their part in the show and for their ongoing support, but she was not prepared for the speeches and gifts from students individually and collectively, nor was she ready for the carefully and lovingly prepared video shown afterwards.
There, on a huge screen on the stage, friends and colleagues from around the world sent their heartfelt greetings, with kisses thrown from countries far and wide.
Sharyn and her husband, Geoff, received a lot of love that night and she was shown just how much her work has meant to so many people. The show was a manifestation of that love and gratitude, drawing the audience into the emotional embrace of dancers from across 50 years of teaching.
To have been there, to have seen the show and to have been part of the celebrations was an honour.