At NZDC, A New Dawn Emerges

Reverberations of two worlds are felt deeply in Night Light

What comes of the world force birthed twice, seen differently by two sets of spirited eyes? In Night Light, New Zealand Dance Company’s long-awaited new show, the distinctive visions of two New Zealand choreographers reveal the use, the thrill, and the providence of our most ancient, time-honoured binary: light and dark.

The double-bill show consists of two contemporary dance works by creators born of this whēnua, Aotearoa. The Fibonacci, choreographed by NZDC’s co-artistic director Tor Colombus, is a melodic tribute to the promise of humility and the gift of beauty through an exploration of the Fibonacci sequence, a mathematical equation found in natural phenomena as diverse as an oyster shell and a silver fern. Uku - Behind the Canvas, choreographed by Eddie Elliott (Ngāti Maniapoto) and inspired by the art of Andy Denzler, channels the bloodcurdling spirituality of a death rite.

Costumed in delicate hues of burnt orange and frangipani pink, The Fibonacci achieves a blissful lyricism: the healing of the quiet light. Uku, meanwhile, is a manic rottweiler that refuses to be pinned down. Elliott’s work has the rhythm of a beat test conducted over lava, in which the howling magma clears a path for new life. Seen together in Night Light, the two pieces sing in thrilling harmony—one is to the other as salty is to sweet.

At the heart of The Fibonacci lies our “collective essence”; a belief in the mutual connection and reciprocity of all things. Tor Colombus talks of the piece as “a moment to get lost”, and a chance to witness a blossoming of music, light, and dance. The Fibonacci is set to a score by composer Rowan Pierce which uses the equation’s sequence as rhythmic counts. While most music you dance to is in counts of eight, Pierce’s score contains counts of seven, thirteen, and even twenty-one. The dancers, who marry their movement to the score’s unique rhythms, revel in the spectacular humility of synergy. They remind us that to feel connected with something outside of ourselves is an irreplaceable experience. It can be, Colombus says, a profoundly meditative experience.

With Uku: Behind the Canvas, choreographer Eddie Elliot’s project is inherently political: “I hope that [Uku] can offer up a strong platform for artists wanting to pursue the realm of merging westernised and modern art with Kaupapa Māori.” The performance relays the complexities of contemporary Indigenous artmaking in playful, revivifying ways. Asking “just because I’m Māori you think there should be kapa haka in this work?”, Uku moves past the simplicity of yes and no (or us and them). The work is a potent cultural artifact that synthesises Western and Māori tradition without compromise or competition.

It is the dancers that, as Elliott says, “hold the mana of the work”. Night Light is performed by six fearsome movers that, in their physicality, combine the electric screech of a car backfired, and the elegiac poise of modernist architecture. The extraordinarily accomplished team, whose hometowns range from Tāranaki to Lan Zhou, have danced together for years. They trust each other implicitly, and the resulting synergy is uplifting to witness.

While Night Light was originally slated to premiere in August 2020, a series of pandemic-driven cancellations have encouraged the show to marinate. With each postponement it became conversely richer, as the creative team absorbed today’s changing world. “The work naturally evolved… [as] my world view changed,” says Eddie Elliott. Tor Colombus explains that, as both works grapple with monumental concepts, the unintended extra time has allowed the pieces to “evolve into the fullest expression of their ideas”. Absence sweetens, especially when you are parched: after a turbulent year for live performance in Tāmaki Makaurau, the show is an opportunity to bask in the indescribable, seismic power of live performance once more. 

By Amit Noy (he/they)

Night Light premiered in 2022 at Tāmaki Makaurau's ASB Waterfront Theatre.