Review: Meremere – Homecoming celebrated in beguiling dance work (2016)

MEREMERE – Rodney Bell and Eden Mulholland with Movement of the Human
Q Theatre Loft, 14 Oct 2016

Reviewed by Raewyn Whyte

Performer extraordinaire Rodney Bell has been away from New Zealand for the past twelve years performing with American integrated dance companies. Dance fans here will remember him from the early years of Touch Compass when his spin turns and derring-do flying wheelchair were a highlight, but as many will remember him for the sensitivity of his dancing.

Rodney has now returned and he celebrates his homecoming  in Meremere, a beautifully crafted hour of beguiling story-telling interspersed with gentle audience interaction, wheelchair tricks, dancing with shadows and interactive lines of light or against video clips, and with a continuous stream of gorgeous live music from Eden Mulholland.

In Meremere, Rodney shares stories from his life, never very long, just enough to convey the essence. There are incidents from his years in San Francisco, especially the final three when he lived on the street, struggling to find food and shelter and keep up his medical insurance. He shares the highs and the lows, the small triumphs, everyday routines, the joy of winning of a coveted Isadora Duncan award for his dancing, the inspiration of Moana the one-legged seagull, the surprise of being a reporter from the streets on CNN.

Homecoming stories also feature, stories of family and whanau in Te Kuiti, of carving a meremere for a cousin’s birthday, rediscovering the natural beauty of the landscape, plans to build himself a house, persuading the local council to improve road and railway crossing conditions for people who rely on mobility aids to get around.

His dancing is moving and absorbing, sculptural and full of emotion, and his blues harp playing is as soulful as ever. His commitment to making a better life for others is firm and ongoing.

Billed as a solo, Meremere is a complex work of art in which design, AV and lighting play as significant a role as story telling, music and dance. It has been developed by Movement of the Human, a dream team comprised of designer John Verryt, AV producer Rowan Pierce, lighting designer Ruby Reihana Wilson, musician Eden Mulholland, director Malia Johnston, dramaturg Emma Willis and Te Matauranga Maori dramaturg Tui Matira Ranapiri-Ransfield. It has the ability to be presented in a number of formats and lengths to suit the space of performance and is bound to be presented in many venues.

This was originally published in NZ Herald

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