Southlanders have the chance to witness a dance spectacle like none other when the Highland Dance Company of New Zealand performs its full-length stage show “Heart of the Highlands” at the Invercargill Civic Theatre next month.
Formed in 2010 by the New Zealand Academy of Highland and National Dancing to promote and showcase highland as a dance genre both within New Zealand and internationally, the troupe comprises some of the country’s best highland dancers including several current and past national champions.
In simple terms, it is New Zealand Highland Dancing’s equivalent of the Royal New Zealand Ballet, with the key difference being that none of its members are professional dancers – each holds down either fulltime employment or study in different corners of the country.
Since its inception, the company has built a reputation for world-class performances and creative choreography. Dance directors Julie Hawke, of Christchurch, and Robyn Simmons, of Blenheim, hold auditions annually then gather their team just a handful of times each year for intensive training.
Each year they have travelled to perform at some of the world’s major festivals and tattoos from Europe to America, including acclaimed performances at the Lorient Interceltique Festival in France in 2016 and a poignant Anzac tribute at the Virginia International Tattoo earlier this year.
“When we audition our dancers we not only look for the best talent but also the work ethic and dedication being a Company member demands. A lot of hard work rehearsing the choreography and dance pieces is done by our dancers remotely which they must manage on top of their work and study commitments,” Mrs Simmons said.
“Julie and I are incredibly proud to have realised our vision of showcasing highland dance New Zealand style on the world stage. It has been hugely rewarding to see that vision become a reality and create a performance pathway for young New Zealand dancers.”
The Highland Dance Company of New Zealand
This is only the second time the company has toured New Zealand and the first time it has brought its original show to Southland.
“Heart of the Highlands” will use contemporary highland dance to tell the Scottish legends of how the dances of the highlands originated – the pieces linked with narrative and audio-visuals. It also features guest performances by Celtic musicians and singers.
Three male dancers feature in this year’s line-up, including 2018 national champion Lewis Gibson and runner-up Angus Hendry. The third is Leighton Terry who grew up in Gore and now lives and works in Ashburton. Mr Terry did not contest this year’s national championships but has frequently ranked among the country’s top 10 dancers in previous years.
Another Southland link is the inclusion of singer Liz McKay who grew up in Southland and whose mother Helen McKay has been teaching highland dancing in Tuatapere continuously for more than 60 years.
But perhaps most exciting for the south is that 27 local highland dancers have been invited to join the cast for the Invercargill show, learning specially prepared choreography to perform alongside the top senior dancers they aspire to one day become.
“This an outstanding opportunity for the Invercargill. community to see New Zealand’s leading Highland dancers perform explosive and innovative choreography to show the history of our art form,” Mrs Hawke said.
Heart of the Highlands performs one show only at 7pm on Saturday Invercargill Civic Theatre on Saturday 8th September. Tickets are on sale now at www.ticketdirect.co.nz