Chore­og­ra­phers Dou­glas Wright and Mary Jane O’Reilly, co­me­di­ans Frickin Dan­ger­ous Bro, and singer and for­mer politi­cian Peter Gar­rett.

Dou­glas Wright & Mary Jane O’Reilly — Chore­og­ra­phers


“We’ve been stand­ing here for half an hour and it’s very bor­ing,” Dou­glas Wright in­forms me dur­ing Metro’s pho­to­shoot. I swal­low any smart replies that come to mind and re­mind my­self that he has done this kind of thing count­less times.

Wright, aged 60, and Mary Jane O’Reilly, stand­ing next to him with en­vi­able pos­ture for her 67 years, are le­gends in the New Zealand dance scene. They’re for­mer mem­bers of Limbs, ar­guably the coun­try’s first pro­fes­sional con­tem­po­rary dance com­pany and a plat­form that launched stel­lar ca­reers. In Oc­to­ber, as part of Tempo Dance Fes­ti­val, they’ll chore­o­graph per­for­mances by young dancers of works from the Limbs reper­toire, to cel­e­brate the com­pany’s 40-year an­niver­sary.

O’Reilly and Wright still move with the grace of dancers, al­though they’ve left the phys­i­cal side be­hind for other pur­suits, O’Reilly in chore­og­ra­phy and Wright paint­ing and writ­ing. The Limbs an­niver­sary has brought them back to­gether with orig­i­nal mem­ber Mark Bald­win to present six orig­i­nal works.

O’Reilly will recre­ate three, Poi (“The bod­ies are the poi,” she says), Talk­ing Heads, which she says is quite seden­tary in com­par­i­son, and Moth, which is set to mu­sic by Kraftwerk.

Wright brings to the bill his works

Knee Dance (which has a cen­tral fe­male fig­ure “who is kind of ma­jes­tic”, he ex­plains) and Quar­tet (“a sort of min­uet on speed”).

The pieces will be per­formed by dancers from the New Zealand School of Dance, the Unitec per­form­ing and screen arts pro­gramme and the Univer­sity of Auck­land’s dance stud­ies pro­gramme, work­ing from video­tapes of per­for­mances back in the 1980s.

Ini­tially, Wright had no in­ter­est in re­con­ven­ing for the cel­e­bra­tions, but O’Reilly con­vinced him oth­er­wise. “I don’t want to do any more dance,” he says. “But I’m re­ally happy to do this and I’m re­ally glad Mary Jane asked me and I fi­nally de­cided to do it. Be­cause, when I saw Knee Dance come to life again, I re­alised it is still alive — and that’s 35 years on, so that’s pretty amaz­ing to me to have made some­thing that long ago that’s still alive.”

In the mid­dle of our shoot with dancers from Unitec, Wright breaks out a mini tu­to­rial, prov­ing the life­long pas­sion is not yet dead. The rigid de­meanour melts and he moves his arms and legs like an oc­to­pus on am­phet­a­mines, swish­ing about the stage. Af­ter 30 sec­onds, though, he’s back to poker face, pre­tend­ing noth­ing hap­pened. “I like danc­ing at my home and in my gar­den, but oth­er­wise I have very lit­tle in­ter­est in it,” he as­sures me.

Wright be­gan his ca­reer as a gym­nast, be­fore tran­si­tion­ing to dance af­ter a wild run dur­ing the psychedelic era. “I fell out the other end in a gut­ter in Syd­ney and was picked up by a gor­geous man who be­came my part­ner and per­suaded me [to dance],” he says.

O’Reilly, on the other hand, formed her roots in bal­let, be­fore even­tu­ally want­ing more from dance. “I love bal­let but at that time I found it re­ally con­strict­ing and I knew I wasn’t re­ally built to be the per­fect bal­let dancer,” she says. Af­ter tak­ing a break over­seas for a few years, she re­turned home and started Limbs with a group of friends. “We busted our ar­ses and danced and danced and worked and worked.”

Nav­i­gat­ing the con­tem­po­rary dance scene 40 years later brings new chal­lenges. “They don’t have a sense of the pelvis, do they?” O’Reilly asks Wright, re­fer­ring to the bod­ies of to­day’s con­tem­po­rary dancers.

“The con­tem­po­rary tech­niques have changed,” she adds. “They’re looser and not so rig­or­ous in the core.”

Wright agrees. “While the work is re­ally in­tri­cate and fab­u­lous to look at, I think that we’ve lost a cer­tain cen­tre of grav­ity.”

Though styles have moved on, the Limbs dancers were pi­o­neers for their time, boast­ing a non-con­form­ity that ig­nited the coun­try’s con­tem­po­rary dance scene. O’Reilly looks back with fond­ness. “The com­pany lasted 12 years, but the re­ver­ber­a­tions, the di­as­pora of all the peo­ple who were in the com­pany, are quite fan­tas­tic, re­ally.”

I’m re­ally glad Mary Jane asked me and I fi­nally de­cided to do it. Be­cause, when I saw Knee Dance come to life again, I re­alised it is still alive — and that’s 35 years on.

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