Raft as metaphor for hope

Black Grace's Waka

TRACEY COOPER
Last updated 16:00 08/08/2012
Daniel McCarroll, Thomas Fonua and Zoe Watkins are three of seven dancers in Black Grace's Waka.
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Daniel McCarroll, Thomas Fonua and Zoe Watkins are three of seven dancers in Black Grace's Waka.

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She came fifth in So You Think You Can Dance but Zoe Watkins is first among equals at top New Zealand dance company Black Grace.

Watkins is the company's only fulltime female dancer, no small thing in a dance company which has held a unique position on the world stage for more than 17 years.

Black Grace fuses Pacific and contemporary dance in dynamic forms and has forged an impressive international following, known for its artistry, creative excellence and innovation.

It's latest production, Waka, starts its four-day run in Hamilton today at the Gallagher Academy of Performing Arts at Waikato University.

The show is "about a journey," Ms Watkins.

"It's talking about the idea of using a raft as a metaphor for hope. It's about humanity, how it takes a disaster or a certain situation to bring out that humanity in people and the whole survival of the fittest thing, we've got lots of ideas for that throughout the show."

They've performed parts of the show to sellout crowds in Germany but this will be the first time New Zealand dance fans will be able to see the entire production, she says.

"We've done three sessions of Waka in Germany but now it's a full length work so we've extended it to 65 minutes."

She expects Kiwi audiences to react somewhat differently to the show.

Watkins says it's also different having a fulltime job as a dancer in New Zealand an industry where most survive from one contract to the next.

It's something she never envisaged when she was a student at Hillcrest High in Hamilton.

"It's fantastic, you grow up thinking you'll be on contracts your whole life, taking wait jobs in between, but to have a fulltime job, you get holiday pay, you get sick leave and you're dancing so it's fantastic. You don't have to go to Europe or Australia, you can get it in New Zealand so that's really cool."

She got the Black Grace gig one a one off basis in 2009 for the production Gathering Clouds and it became a permanent position last year, saving her from endless auditions.

"Usually there's some kind of audition process, so I went into an audition for a couple of hours, that was for Gathering Clouds, and then you basically see out that contract and if there's another contract and you go well and they want you back and you keep going like that.

"It keeps you on your game and you've got to be at your best really, it's like sport, if you're not performing someone else will."

She's not sure New Zealanders really get dance.

"I don't think we do, but with Black Grace, it does appeal to a really wide range of people, you can get that story from it or you can get that physicality to it. I think contemporary dance in New Zealand is often seen as quite self indulgent and a bit boring, everyone's rolling around on the floor you know. And that's what so cool about the company, it's so high energy and high paced, so physical."

"It's got a really good mix of music as well, we've got Salmonella Dub, Fat Freddys, an original harp composition by Natalia Mann, a New Zealander, so the music is awesome, an eclectic mix, it's really exciting."

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And it's a good excuse for Watkins to catch up with family.

"My aunties and everyone are still in Hamilton so it's always nice to go home, it's just so huge now, Hamilton's so big."

- Black Grace presents Waka at the Gallagher Academy of Performing Arts at Waikato University from August 8-11. Tickets are from $35. For more information on Black Grace, visit blackgrace.co.nz.

- Waikato Times

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