Hot Bodies: Meet The New Zealand Dance Company

Craig Bary asks to meet at Montage, the new bar in Point Chevalier’s Ambassador Theatre, just down the road from his rehearsal space at the former Carrington Psychiatric Hospital. Montage manages to be modern yet gothic, cool yet inviting, and when Bary appears at the wrought-iron entrance-way his pixie-like countenance and Hollywood cheekbones immediately single him out as the dancer I’m here to interview.

Bary is in week three of rehearsals for the upcoming dance show Language Of Living. It’s not just a new show; Bary’s representing the new and auspiciously named New Zealand Dance Company, the first dance company to fill the void left by Limbs in 1989. The company has secured $1M of Creative New Zealand funding and has two years in which to achieve its goal of becoming the full-time contemporary equivalent to the Royal New Zealand Ballet, “with holiday pay,” adds Bary. His accent is tinged with ‘Austraalan’ after 13 years working and touring overseas, and his goal is that dance students will be able to look to the NZDC for work after graduating rather than looking abroad.

So opening night will be pretty high stakes then? Bary takes a sip of his red wine. “It’s a real mixed bag of emotions isn’t it. People will be watching and waiting to see what’s put out there on the stage. It’s really hard in New Zealand to prove yourself, not even to the general public but to your peers.”

The audience can expect to experience five different works, each featuring what Bary describes as “a grounded, earthy, powerful kind of movement” that he believes stems from the New Zealand approach to dance. He promises “hot bodies, awesome music – eight beautiful dancers on stage giving their hearts to you”. As if on cue the NZDC’s magnetic Artistic Director Shona McCullagh and otherworldly dancer Hannah Tasker-Poland walk by. Bary isn’t kidding about the hot bodies.

Bary himself is dancing in a piece choreographed by Michael Parmenter. The duet uses a partnering technique that Parmenter devised himself. “It’s like a play between the two performers where one is in control and one is being manipulated, and that can shift,” muses Bary. “It’s beautiful.”

Bary has worked with Michael on and off since 1998. “He has gone through a complete change of how he approaches how he makes work. Now he is an absolute joy to work with.” That makes me laugh but Bary insists Michael won’t mind if I write it down. The piece is called Tenerezza. I ask what it means, and for the first time Bary is lost for words. “Don’t worry, I’ll google it”, I say. “Could you?” asks Bary, all wide-eyed gratitude like a Tennessee Williams character. (Tenerezza is a musical term that means ‘tenderness’.)

The NZDC website claims that ‘dance is the most beautifully truthful language of living’. As someone who can’t even do the chicken dance without falling over, I ask Bary to expand upon this statement. “We have this policy in the company that everyone is a dancer,” he smiles. “When people dance the way they express themselves physically is honest – they’re not pretending anything.” Bary has clearly never seen a bunch of Auckland hipsters nodding stiffly along at a Kings Arms show, but his enthusiasm is contagious.

And I’m not the only person catching NZDC fever – a look at their website confirms that musicians such as Eden Mulholland and Gareth Farr have also caught the bug. Live music will accompany much of Language Of Living, and most of the music has been composed especially for the show. “It’s a massive combination of art forms,” says Gary, who also waxes lyrical about the costumes. “The designs are so fashion it’s awesome.”

Ticket prices are very affordable at around the $20 mark. “With the launch of a new company you don’t want to under sell yourself but you don’t want to be inaccessible,” says Bary. “We’re really trying to encourage you to come in and have a look at dance.” And take a peek at those hot bodies.

– Kathryn van Beek

‘Language of Living’ is showing at Auckland’s ASB Theatre on August 10 and 11.

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