Rotunda is a living memorial that celebrates the Anzac spirit with themes of courage, community and loss, and a desire for peace. We hear from dancer Chris Ofanoa as The New Zealand Dance Company tours Australasia to commemorate the centenary of the World War I Anzac landing at Gallipoli.
Rotunda features the collision of a live brass band with the raw power of contemporary dance. The choreography integrates shadow play, mace twirling, a 24 piece marching band, and a fusion of waiata with dynamic contemporary dance theatre. The production includes a transformative set by Joe Bleakley and costuming by Jane Holland.
Created by the company’s artistic director Shona McCullagh in collaboration with NZDC dancers and Don McGlashan as musical director, Rotunda brings to life the world of the band rotunda as an iconic symbol of New Zealand community.
“The performers’ journeys go to the heart of change and crisis, where compassion and kinship are illuminated by a haunting, humourous and deeply felt score,” says Ms McCullagh.
Chris tells us about himself and the research for his role including analysing letters written by soldiers, poems and war images.
During what hours of the day do you feel most inspired?
About 2-4pm because I’m fully awake and functioning, both mentally and physically so the chances of productive movement generation and idea contemplation is high.
Then 8pm-11pm is a great reflection time with multiple thoughts and alternate solutions to dance queries from the day.
How would a good friend describe your aesthetic or style?
My dance aesthetic could be described as sharp, hard and intricate movements, influenced largely on my hip-hop background and contemporary training.
What aspect of your creative practice gives you the biggest thrill?
I get a buzz from creating movement, or being given a choreographic task to generate movements; the texturising that can be found within simple movement and the overlapping between dance genres.
How does your environment affect your work?
It has a huge impact on what I create with movement. Inside the studio creates a very different outcome to being outside.
Do you like to look at the big picture or focus on the details?
Both! It’s dependent on what type of work I am creating. If it’s a hip-hop phrase, I focus on the intricate details first. If I’m creating a dance piece covering a wider variety of concepts, I structure material around the bigger picture.
What's your number one business tip for surviving (and thriving) in the creative industries?
I’m still working that out!
Which of your projects to date has given you the most satisfaction?
When I was in high school I taught a group of students and I loved seeing the journey they had from when I started to when they performed.
As a dancer, I feel great when I’ve performed a really challenging section in Rotunda called Death. My question to myself during this scene is, “how can I be most helpful while appearing helpless?”
Who or what has inspired you recently?
At my recent graduation, there was one dude who had a different gown, and was awarded a doctorate. He was being acknowledged for the completion of all his hard work, and I was inspired by his ability to persevere. It raises a thought that there is always another step to improving yourself.
Tell us a bit about your creative background.
I started dancing when I was 12 or 13, joining a hip hop crew and competing in competitions. I recently competed at the World Hip Hop Championships with Fresh Movement, as part of their Mega Crew. I have just graduated from Unitec with a Bachelor of Performing and Screen Arts. Now I’ve got a full time dance apprenticeship with The New Zealand Dance Company.
Tell us about Rotunda, the production and your role in it.
Rotunda commemorates the centenary of WW1, the ANZAC’s who fought, those who were back home holding the fort, and those who didn’t make it back. My role is as the right-hand man to the Leader in the community, who loses his life in the war and the impact that has on the men and women.
What research was involved and what have you discovered about WWI and Gallipoli in the process?
We analysed letters written by soldiers, read poems, looked at war images and weapons (the bayonets) and discussed the effects of shell shock that returned soldiers experienced. For me it’s the shock that certain things happened, like fathers signing certificates of their underage sons, and the vague thoughts of what war was - being told it’s an adventure, or how close the trenches were with the enemy, so close you could see the enemies’ eyes.
How has it been received so far and what are the future plans for the work?
The response has been sick. Standing ovations and really amazing audience reactions.
If you could go back and choose a completely different career path to the one you've chosen, what would it be?
Basket ball or artist (cartoonist)
What’s the best way to listen to music, and why?
Lying down with head phones on.
You are given a piece of string, a stick and some fabric. What do you make?
Probably a kite
What's the best stress relief advice you've ever been given?
Stretch to relax
What’s great about today?
Getting into the theatre!
What’s your big idea for 2015?
To take every opportunity I can to develop myself as a dancer and artist.