Stories through movement

"I’m interested in the craft, and finding new ways to tell our stories through movement" - dancer Sean MacDonald.
Black Grace - Waka
Renee Liang interviews veteran dancer Sean MacDonald about his time with Black Grace and his career in dance.


Black Grace has been touring NZ with Waka, which draws on landmark artworks to explore the idea of a raft as a metaphor for hope. Renee Liang interviews veteran dancer Sean MacDonald about his time with the company and his career in dance.

Waka is currently on at Maidment Theatre, Auckland, from August 25 to 29.

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What made you become a dancer? What drives you to continue dancing?

When I was 16 I became involved with performing arts at school, mostly theatrical.  At the same time a member from Limbs dance company came and took a workshop at my school.  It was my first experience of contemporary dance, and it got me interested.  I also won an “underage rage” dance competition, I don’t think I was particularly great but definitely had a lot of energy!  I started doing classes and when I left school I auditioned and got into a Diploma course in Contemporary Dance at The Performing Arts School here in Auckland, and I’ve been dancing ever since – 21 years.
I’m interested in the craft, and finding new ways to tell our stories through movement.

How did you begin your career with Black Grace?

I first met Neil Ieremia (Founding Artistic Director) at The Performing Arts School.  He was in the year ahead of me.  About two years later after I left he phoned me and asked me to be part of a project that he was organising.  This was the first “Black Grace” show in 1995.  I’ve been working with the Company on and off ever since.

What other companies or projects have you danced on?

I’ve worked with Douglas Wright, Michael Parmenter, Shona McCullagh, Ann Dewey, Malia Johnson and others.  Also I’ve been in films and operas both here and overseas.

How long does a new work like Waka take to make?

Neil would have been thinking about and researching Waka for a long period before rehearsals even began.  We did a first sketch for our tour to Germany earlier this year.  This was over a seven week rehearsal period (amongst other repertoire), and [then] the second stage to expand and complete, which is six weeks.

Can you describe the process?  How much creative input did company members have on Waka?

The process is a mixture of mental thought as well as being physical.  At first there is a lot of discussion about the concepts and ideas, and anything related to them.  This is to help us all get a deeper understanding of what it is we are working towards and so when we get into the studio we can embody these physically, in a more informed and deeper way.  Everyday Neil gives us tasks either individually or in groups to come up with material or to work with stuff he has taught us.  He will then mould this with his magic.

You've toured extensively with Black Grace, nationally and internationally... what is your favourite destination so far?

I have a couple; Japan and Mexico.  This was the first time we performed at altitude.  It was an intense experience, we had oxygen in the wings which we had to have hits of whenever we came off stage!

What's the weirdest thing that has happened while on tour?

What goes on tour stays on tour!

What advice would you give to aspiring young dancers?

Do lots of different things as well as dance.  When you are sure it’s what you want to do just go for it, enjoy it, get passionate about it.  This will help because it’s really hard work!

What are you working on next?

Hopefully Black Grace are touring to Samoa – also to the US and Canada throughout February/March 2013.

Written by

Renee Liang

24 Aug 2012

Renee is a writer who is exploring many ways of telling stories, including plays, short stories, poetry (which she also performs), and cross-genre collaborations with composers, musicians, sculptors and filmmakers.

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