Dancers celebrating Kiwi life and culture

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HOMEGROWN: Wakatu Dance Theatre dancers, from left, Abigail Goodison, 17, Lizzie Neale, 7, Hannah Malpas, 13, and Meren Puklowski, 7, rehearse for Kiwiana.

Themes relevant to New Zealand culture and history are the inspiration for a performance which opens at the Theatre Royal on May 19.

Whakatu Dance Theatre is presenting Kiwiana – a show which involves 160 dancers creating a visually spectacular show full of colour and energy, says dance theatre principal Peta Spooner.

The dances that feature in Kiwiana have been choreographed by the group’s various teachers and reflect various aspects of New Zealand culture.

“We wanted to do something that makes us laugh about New Zealanders,” Spooner says.

Each section of the performance has a theme – including Edmonds cookbook housewives, No8 wire, Buzzy Bees, Keep New Zealand Beautiful and remembrance.

The soundtrack will feature predominantly New Zealand musicians, including the Mutton Birds, Richard Nunns, Opensouls, the Woolshed Sessions, OMC and the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra.

Spooner says the show is about showcasing each student.

“We don’t do the soloist run. It’s an amateur studio for recreation and training, so it’s important to showcase everybody.

“This is about a point of time in their lives that’s a pleasure and enjoyable and something they don’t forget.”

She says getting all the dancers organised has been a bit of a mission this year, as many of the students wanted to be involved with other productions which have been held over the past few weeks.

“Because of the pressure of other shows for kids, we only had two weeks to pull the whole thing together – it’s been a bit stressful.”

Nine students are coming to Nelson from Levin’s Taitoko Dance Theatre with their teacher to be part of the performance.

The two dance theatres have a good relationship, with Nelson students having performed with the Levin dancers up north for several years in a row while the Theatre Royal was closed.

Spooner says a range of dance styles will be featured during the show, which will be a visual feast.

“You have to make it entertaining with lots of colour – it will be visually spectacular.”


  • Whakatu Dance Theatre presents Kiwiana at the Theatre Royal tomorrow, Friday and Saturday nights at 7pm. A matinee is being staged on Saturday at 1.30pm. Tickets are $17 and can be purchased at Everyman, Hardy St, Nelson.

Dancer’s frenetic energy captured

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DANCING QUEEN: The life and times of Lily Stevens.

Lily was written to celebrate the generous and wildly inventive soul of Dunedin dance teacher Lily Stevens, and the show does its job well.

Producers and dancers Lyne Pringle, of Wellington, and Kilda Northcott, of Port Chalmers, have created an affectionate portrayal of Stevens and her enormous influence on her students’ lives.

The show moves through her life, taking in travel and teaching in short scenes interspersed with dancing.

A fierce Northcott takes the role of the diminutive dance maven, and Pringle picks up different characters alongside her.

It was great to see some – dare I say it – mature dancers in the leading roles. Supporting them were Stevens’ “students” – 18 girls from Nelson dance teacher Peta Spooner’s two academies.

Born in 1902, Stevens chose to live the life of a “spinster artist” and her trade became her obsession.

The show captures well what must have been the frenetic energy of a woman who was still teaching into her 90s. It also portrays her struggle to live up to her own driving perfectionism.

It is based on the recorded memories of her students, who recall quirks such as her carrying around a broom handle and whacking them on the backs of the legs with it.

Early on, the students are under Lily’s control, but later they swirl around her in an overwhelming crowd.

Indeed, she was known to have put so much into a major show that she suffered nervous breakdowns and spent time in Dunedin’s Ashburn Hall.

Though the grand Theatre Royal was the perfect venue for the show, the recorded music was too loud at times, which drowned out Pringle’s and Northcott’s voices.

On the other hand, perhaps that was intentional. Stevens was sometimes swamped by the world of dance, after all.

Lily was a wonderful hour of imagination, spirit and fun.

Dance Down Memory Lane

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ON THEIR TOES:Courtney Brown, left, Elle Marquet & Elise Agnew, just three of the 120 dancers in the show

Although Lucy Vining is only 10, tomorrow night she will dance with the experience of 50 years.From Strauss to Gaga, 80 years of music and dance will be on show this weekend when 120 dancers take to the Theatre Royal’s stage to dance through the decades.

It is an opportunity for all the dancers of the Wakatu Dance Theatre to have a go, from four to adulthood.

Lucy will involved with five of the decades.

The show is being directed by Peta Spooner, who Lucy’s mother, Christie Vining, says has a great philosophy with the dancers.

“She lets the girls dance in whatever they want as long as they can commit to the practices.”

And Lucy is committed. “She loves it.”

It is the first time the company has been in the Theatre Royal since it reopened.

“It is really exciting,” says Ms Spooner. “It’s a privilege to be back in the theatre.”

She says the show is about giving the audience a good blend of entertainment, even if dance is not their first priority.

“It’s a lovely mix of styles. There really is something for everyone.”

That includes the jazz age of the 1920s; the big band and swing music of the 1930s and the Depression; the wartime songs of the 1940s; rock ‘n’ roll from the 1950s, and on through the British Invasion and flower power, disco, new wave and hip-hop.

So prepare yourself for everything from Lady Gaga to Elvis Presley.

Tomorrow, it will be a dance through the decades.

Cheering for Makos

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Think you have the moves to make it is a cheerleader? Then the Tasman Makos would like to hear from you.

After a couple of years absence, the Makos are looking to bring back the Makos cheerleaders, under the guidance of Peta Spooner, who runs her own dance academy and the Wakatu Dance Theatre.

Makos commercial manager Butch Bradley said they had received a lot of support for the idea.

“We used to have a good squad, but had to stop them due to lack of funds.

“Now Shooters and Devine Fitness are keen to sponsor a squad and Peta Spooner has put her hand up to train the dancers, so now all we need is cheerleaders.”

Spooner is also an examiner for the International Dance Teachers Association and is qualified to teach a variety of styles from ballet to modern jazz and freestyle.

“We needed someone to co-ordinate the squad who has the skills to train the dancers,” Bradley said.

“We are just over the moon that someone with Peta’s experience and credibility is prepared to help us out.”

Prospective cheerleaders must be over 18 years of age, and should contact Spooner on 0272421442 for an audition.

A miraculous thingaling

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Elliot Cina, 10, who did the slide show for Tubby the Tuba and Frances Rae, who made some of the models for the show near the display in the foyer at the Nelson Symphony Orchestra's A Concert for Children at the Nelson School of Music.

Nelson Symphony Orchestra Children’s concert. Tubby the Tuba and The Carnival of the Animals by Saint-Saens. Saturday May 16. Nelson School of Music. Reviewed by Jessica Moser, Ruth Allison and others.

When I agreed to do a review of the NSO Children’s concert, I forgot, for a while, that I was not a child and that maybe the voice of children would be more appropriate. So I invited Jessica Moser (11) to accompany me. She came with notebook and pen and here is our review:

Tubby the Tuba was a big hit with everyone in the audience. The Nelson Symphony Orchestra played beautifully.  The conductor, Mick Dowrick had an excellent command of the orchestra and kept everyone in time. Narrator, Doug Brooks was brilliant. He was an amazing story teller. His wonderful rendition of the story coupled with the music had everyone believing Tubby was actually in the room. The slideshow by Elliot Cina was great.  It went really nicely with the story and the music. The whole thing was brilliant.

The Carnival of the Animals was tuneful and compelling. Peta Spooner’s choreography ensured that her dancers looked like the animal in the music. This concert was specifically designed to cater to the musical interests of children and it didn’t disappoint.’

Jessica and I talked to Karl Newton (6) who liked the part when “the frog gave Tubby some good advice and Tubby felt happy” and his favourite part was when the violins joined in and let Tubby play the melody. Troy Newton (3) thought the “drums were awesome” and Oliver Handforth (5) “liked it when the orchestra got angry”. Charlotte Handforth’s (10) favourite part was ‘when Tubby played his own song’ but her ‘most favourite was the dancing’

The Nelson School of Music was full and buzzing with energy. Next to us 5 year old Oliver was telling his mother the difference between the violins and the ‘cellos, “a ‘cello is way bigger”. The NSO players enjoyed their roles as Peewee the Piccolo and Samuel Pizzicato and the children laughed when the ‘trumpet snickered and the trombone stuck out his tongue’. Karl liked the clarinet cuckoo-ing in Carnival of the Animals, and thought ‘kangaroo meringues’ would taste awful.

Wine and flowers were a well deserved gift to the dance troupe and members of the orchestra who took such pleasure at entertaining an enthusiastic, young audience. Thankyou  Jessica, Karl, Troy, Oliver and Charlotte. It is heartening to see young people enjoying an orchestra. To misquote Ogden Nash whose verses accompanied the animals of Saint Saens’ amusing ‘Grand Zoological Fantasy, music is ‘a miraculous thingaling’.

Caribbean quest a magnet for pirates

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BLOODTHIRSTY: George Stevenson, 4, of Tahunanui, gets into his role during Saturday night's Jamaica 2009 Fundraiser.

Pirates ran riot in Nelson on Saturday night. They were after treasure argh, lots of it to take to the Caribbean.

They were looking for $100,000, so that 16 dancing children, eight parents and three teachers from the Wakatu Dance Theatre can get to Jamaica for the Unesco Dance and the Child International festival in August.

Sword-fighting George Stevenson was in the thick of the tug-of-war battle and treasure hunt on Saturday. The four-year-old has been a pirate for two years and is known to sleep in his pirate’s hat.

The pirate riot raised $1500, which will be added to the treasure trove of $35,000 raised so far. That will allow $2000 for each child to get to Kingston. According to “Kash ’em in” Kate Burton, who is a dance teacher, one pirate parent was heard to say the night was such fun they should do it every Saturday, in response to which the other parents collapsed, exhausted.

Cool Cat Comes to Nelson

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CUTE CATS:Hannah Malpas, left, Jasmine Doris, Kaylena Stosser, front, and Adele Tunnicliff.

The Nelson Musical Theatre is thinking big when it comes to its production of Cats, opening in Nelson next week. Charles Anderson reports.When you do Cats, you make a statement. That is exactly what the president and co-producer of the Nelson Musical Theatre hopes to do. A week from the first performance of the award-winning musical, Ross Benbow and his amateur company are going big.

“It would be the biggest set that is around at the moment. Even the one in Auckland is not as big as the one we have,” Benbow says.

Composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber and based on Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats by TS Eliot, the show first opened in London’s West End in May 1981. Cats eventually bowed out from the West End but it seems in Nelson it is still living on.

Benbow says the company is using Nelson College because it was the most suitable for the set, which has been transported from Christchurch in three containers.

“This is something that people are not normally going to be able to see easily in Nelson,” Benbow says.

Director Peta Spooner is excited about finally seeing the set in its full glory. “When you look at it all on the floor you ask yourself `what is this?’ But as it goes up it really is spectacular.”

The sound system and its operators have also been brought from Christchurch. “With a big show like this you have to have good sound, you can’t have the orchestra drowning out the cast or not sounding right. Everything has to be thought of,” Benbow says.And with this production there is a lot to think of. There are 17 band members and 40 cast members, but it is some of the younger members who may end up stealing the show.

“There are a huge number of young ones who are just blowing us away with their talent,” Benbow says. “They are brilliant, but unfortunately they thenleave after school and we don’t see them for a while.”

For now, however, Spooner says they will be given their chance to shine. “Cats demands performers to be very physically able and lucky for us many of these ones are very able and very good.”

They will have to be. The show’s budget is about $250,000, but, according to Benbow, it was a risk worth taking. “It is a fabulous show and we wanted to step it up again and keep doing productions that people want to see.”

Lucky for them Cats is the most popular musical theatre production in history, so they might have picked the right one.
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The show has been seen by 50 million people in 26 countries, and has taken an US$1.4 billion at the worldwide box office. But to make just a little profit will do Benbow fine.

“We have gone for the biggest and best we can do and it is going to be very spectacular.”

Audience members will be able to view it from elevated tiered seating which fits more than 700 people.

“It would be incredible to fill that size, but part of the reason we are doing it is because we haven’t got a really big theatre here,” Benbow says.

“Things go to Blenheim and Greymouth that don’t even come here. This is trying to give Nelson something which is really good musical theatre.”

And Spooner believes that Nelsonians will be suitably impressed.

“I think they will be delighted with the show we have put on. It’s very exciting. It’s huge.”

Pair Achieve Dance Double

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PAS DE DEUX: Kimiora Grey, left, and Alice Macann from the Peta Spooner Academy of Dance have been accepted for the Te Whea New Zealand School of Dance and Drama

Getting one student into a top dance school is good but Wakatu Dance Theatre director Peta Spooner reckons getting two in is pretty astounding.Miss Spooner has been teaching dance for 40 years, and in that time has had six students go to New Zealand’s best dance school, the Te Whea New Zealand School of Dance in Wellington.

Two of those got the tap on the shoulder this week.

Kimiora Grey, 18, and Alice Macann, 16, will next year start the three-year course in contemporary dance. Miss Spooner said that to get in, they had to rank against the best aspiring professional dancers in the country.

Kimiora was bucking a trend where not many Maori were classical dancers, she said.

Kimiora, who started dancing at the age of eight, said she had had a lot of support from Miss Spooner as she went through dance school and had plans to reach the professional level.

Big Names Stepping Out

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STAGE STARS: Amelia Gornall (8), front left, Hazel Rae (7), Alice Macann (16), back left, and Kimiora Grey (18), will be dancing in the Wakatu Dance Theatre production “Icons of our Time”.

Source: The Nelson Mail

Peta Spooner dances when she talks. She even danced through an interview with Nelson Mail reporter Tom Hunt ahead of her dance academy’s upcoming production.There is no questioning the passion and motivation Wakatu Dance Theatre director Peta Spooner has for her job. When Nelson lacked a suitable venue for her dancers she shipped them up to Levin, and she is taking a flock of 50 of them to Jamaica next June.But before that, she is directing about 130 of them, aged from four to middle age, through an ambitious show that highlights some well-known figures ranging from Sir Edmund Hillary to Princess Di, Walt Disney and Michael Jackson. Icons of our Time is this year’s big outing for the academy and for it she has taken a range of historical figures, clumped them in groups and attached relevant songs.

“What we are trying to do is associate our icons with songs people will recognise,” Spooner says. For example, Sir Ed, Dame Whina Cooper and Peter Blake have been put with the song Dare to Dream. Elton John, Princess Di and Marilyn Monroe have, unsurprisingly, been matched with Candle in the Wind. Spooner says she was surprised that of all the famous figures that appeared on the poster for the show, the one that none of the dancers recognised was 20th-century prima ballerina Margot Fonteyn.

Spooner says it is possibly a signal of the dearth of live ballet in Nelson and signals how few big-name dancers come through town. Conversely, the one piece of music all the dancers knew was the theme song for children’s musical group the Wiggles. The dancing itself does not attempt to tell the stories of the characters but is rather an interpretation of the song chosen to represent them, she says.

While the show will be performed only three times in Nelson, it will travel to Levin, where it will be performed 11 times, including to 2500 schoolchildren. She is taking the show to the North Island because the Horowhenua town has a much better venue and it is important to give the dancers a chance at a longer season, she says. But the Levin expedition is small fry compared with next year’s trip to Jamaica to perform a New Zealand-themed show.They need to raise around $250,000 for the Caribbean adventure, so watch out for dancers sizzling sausages or holding fundraising wine tastings.

Space adventure taking off

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BIG AMBITION: Gerry Holmes with Crocodettes creations, from left, Herman, Frincess and Pat.

A Riwaka woman, a yeti, a frog and an alligator are hoping to take a children’s show to the world stage, with its public debut early next month in Nelson.

Gerry Holmes created the fantastical world of the Crocodettes 2 1/2 years ago, and has spent the time since turning it into a show similar to children’s television and live performance sensations the Wiggles.

It is a world set in Croco Galaxy, featuring a space explorer known as Pat the alligator, Frincess the frog, Herman the yeti and Gerry – the most human-like character on the planet – located “trillions of miles away from Earth”.

But while the musical world of the Crocodettes is childlike, the project is a serious undertaking for Ms Holmes.

She has mortgaged her house to fund it and has so far spent $57,000 to get the Crocodettes up and running.

A 15-track compact disc has been created – with song titles such as the Jivey Jiggle and Bunny Hop Hoedown – outfits were made and a whole stage show prepared.

Local dancers from the Peta Spooner Academy of Dance have been hired to perform inside the suits and will become fulltime employees.

Younger Nelson dancers are being used to play the smaller parts, and will be included in at least some of the shows in a planned national tour that kicks off with a show at the Nelson School of Music on July 6.

Miss Holmes hopes the Crocodettes will go international, and that isn’t the end of her ambitions – she has already written 26 episodes for a TV series she hopes to eventually make.

“The sky is the limit.”

Several small shows performed to kindergarten children had gone down well, which boded well for the project’s success, she said.