NZ dance profile rising

DANCING SHOES: Hannah Tasker-Poland is glad to be able to spend more time indulging in her passion, thanks to the New Zealand Dance Company.
DANCING SHOES: Hannah Tasker-Poland is glad to be able to spend more time indulging in her passion, thanks to the New Zealand Dance Company.

Hannah Tasker-Poland has been a burlesque dancer, an elf and the ass-kicking star of a video game.

But all these alter egos just serve to fill the gaps between those times when she gets to indulge in her real love - contemporary dance.

Luckily for the 25-year-old and other contemporary dancers in New Zealand, this often underrated art form is about to get a new lease on life, thanks to the New Zealand Dance Company.

The company is the brainchild of legendary choreographer and dancer Shona McCullagh.

The aim of the company is to establish a contemporary version of the Royal New Zealand Ballet, creating full-time opportunities for dancers and choreographers within New Zealand.  And the first test of this will be in two weeks when the premiere season kicks off.

Over a ham sandwich, between gruelling rehearsals, two weeks out from opening night, Tasker-Poland is singing the praises of the company she joined late last year. 

"It can be very hard to get consistent dance work in New Zealand, so I think yes, the company is still in its infancy stages, but as it grows and people see what we are doing...I think it's going to be fantastic.  It's just great to know what the company is striving for and that you can be part of it.  

"I feel very honoured to be working with everyone in this company as a peer, because so many of them I looked up to for a long time. They are extremely talented.  So I'm learning a lot, and it's intense, but it's pretty cool as well."

Tasker-Poland started dancing when she was five years old, and in the 20 years since, she has expanded her repertoire to include acting (she got the lead in a short-lived TV series from her very first audition), body paint modelling (eight or nine years running now), burlesque (her specialty is with fire and/or weapons) and stunt work.

She recently filmed three short films for a new video game with director Lee Tamahori and Weta Workshop, where she got to kill 20 men.  She's also done some stunt work on The Hobbit, which she says brings together all her natural talents and learnt skills.

"I got a call asking 'do you want to come down and be and elf?' And I said yes.So I got to go and be an awesome sword-fighting, arrow-shooting elf, and kill some Orcs.

"Because I've always done dance and gym and also had that aggressive, that physically aggressive side to me as well, it all came really naturally."

Now, just a few weeks out from the NZDC's first ever opening night, Tasker-Poland has little time for anything other than her bread and butter, training up to six days a week, nine hours a day.  

The dancer says that amount of work doesn't leave the body unscathed, especially when her other creative passions do get a look in.

"[There have been] many bumps and bruises, many, many bruises, and ripped up feet.  They are hideous looking, but that's the price...cut up, blistered.

"I had to do a burlesque show [recently] ... and I had to spend a good solid half an hour, after I'd done all the other she-bang,  putting make up on all my bruises.  My knees were all bruised, there were hand and finger marks from all the lifts, I looked a little bit like a beaten woman," she says.

But there is little doubt leading into the first show that the NZDC dancers are engrossed in starting with a bang, albeit a graceful one.

"I really like the line Shona said, 'our job is to make things that are actually incredibly hard, look effortlessly easy.'  We are still working on making those things look easy."

The New Zealand Dance Company - Language of Living

August 10 & 11 at ASB Theatre, Auckland

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