TVNZ local drama charts highs and lows of 1980s Kiwi pop band

Westside actor Jordan Mooney portrays Kiwi pop singer Jordan Luck in The Dance Exponents: Why Does Love.

Westside actor Jordan Mooney portrays Kiwi pop singer Jordan Luck in The Dance Exponents: Why Does Love.

They were one of the hottest New Zealand pop groups of the 80s but never achieved the international recognition they perhaps deserved. 

Performing pub favourites such as Victoria, I'll Say Goodbye and Airway Spies, The Dance Exponents had a loyal fan base but couldn't crack overseas markets.

One-off drama The Dance Exponents: Why Does Love? charts the band from their inception in the early 80s to the release of their single Why Does Love Do This To Me? when the group dropped the word 'Dance' from their name.

The Modern Maori Quartet's Matariki Whatarau as The Dance Exponents' bass player Dave Gent.

The Modern Maori Quartet's Matariki Whatarau as The Dance Exponents' bass player Dave Gent.

Made by Great Southern Television, the company behind Hillary, The Hui and Coast New Zealand, the show stars Jordan Mooney as lead singer Jordan Luck and Matariki Whatarau as bassist Dave Gent. 

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Luck and Gent's up-and-down relationship forms a key part of the drama with Luck's penchant for booze and preference for staying in New Zealand clashing with Gent's intense desire to make it big abroad.

Mooney, 27, who plays laid-back Eric in Westside, bleached and straightened his curly brown hair to play The Dance Exponents' charismatic frontman. He also met with Luck, 54.

"I found him kind of ethereal at first," says Mooney. "He was really quite aloof, but not in a distant way. He just  seemed to live on a different plane. 

"He seemed like a poetic man as well. I find it hard to describe him, which is one of the things I like most about that character."

The two Jordans met several times for informal chats with the younger watching Luck performing at an Auckland bar.

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"He called me on to the stage and I sang Why Does Love?" says Mooney. "That was a magical evening. He was playing with the Jordan Luck Trio. 

"I wasn't expecting to go up on stage but it was totally rock'n'roll. It was great."

Matariki Whatarau also met the real-life Dance Exponents band member he plays.

"Dave Gent is Maori," says Whatarau. "He was adopted and brought up by a Pakeha family down south. 

"From meeting pre-shoot and from looking at footage, he seemed to come alive on stage. He's quite a shy guy in person.

"I would have liked to have more time with him, and maybe a one on one, but that was all the time we could get because he met all the other boys as well, but what I did get was from watching how he was.

"He swears heaps but his physicality ... He's a lot bigger than me. Not that way. Just a bigger presence. The biggest thing I got from him was if I closed my eyes I was talking to a white man. That was something I had to take on board in terms of how to play him."

Whatarau is also a musician in real life and is member of the showband Modern Maori Quartet. 

The group has gone from strength to strength over the past few years performing around New Zealand, overseas and even hosting their own series on Maori Television called My Party Song.

Whatarau, whose acting credits include Find Me A Maori Bride and Go Girls, hoped his musical skills would put him in strong contention for the part of Dave.

"When I audition for roles, it's always the same sort of four or five guys," he says.

"We're always up against each other for anything that's a mid-20s to mid-30s Maori man. I looked around the room and thought, 'Man, I know none of these guys can play a musical instrument. If I don't get this, there is something wrong with the world'." 

While many of the Why Does Love? cast members wore typically 80s clothing, Whatarau's wardrobe was more subdued.

"When I went into my fitting it was awesome," says Whatarau, who wore the same pair of black trousers for much of the drama.

"They were like, 'Oh wow, we have all this stuff for you to try on' and then a couple of days later, Dave Gent comes into the office and he's looking through and he goes, 'Yeah I was real poor. I didn't actually have a lot of money for clothes. If anything I kind of wore the other boys' clothes or I just had this one pair of shoes for ages'. So I got the one pair of pants and the one pair of shoes."

800 Words actress Olivia Tennet, 25, plays Whatarau's on-screen girlfriend Donna, who was The Dance Exponents' lighting technician. Tennet also has a personal connection to the band.

"My mum and dad were really good friends with Adam Holt who signed The Dance Exponents and my dad went out drinking with Adam the night my older sister was born. We met Adam on set – my brother Anton and I – because Anton is playing Brian Jones, the band's guitarist."

"My mum and dad were part of this whole scene. They were so excited when they heard my brother and I had got auditions for this."

The drama is peppered with The Dance Exponents' catchy songs and there are some eye-catching 80s costumes on show. 

Early on in the drama, 7 Days comedian Jeremy Elwood sports an Irish accent playing a guy who works in a music shop. There are references to the Sweetwaters music festival and a David Bowie concert where The Dance Exponents were support act. 

So how much input did The Dance Exponents have into the drama?

"They had a big part to play," says producer Carmen Leonard. 

"We interviewed them and a few others. Then we went away and wrote the script and got funding ... They (The Exponents) read the script, gave us a few notes and came and met the cast, which 

was awesome ... We couldn't have made this film without that. They've been terrific."

The Dance Exponents: Why Does Love, TVNZ 1, Sunday July 16, 8.30pm.

 - TV Guide

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