Shona MCullagh and the Mad Angels (1995)

This article was originally published in NZ Listener 14 June 1995 by Raewyn Whyte
Three weeks out from opening night of Mad Angels at the Watershed, Auckland, dancer/choreographer Shona McCullagh is bursting with creative energy. The year to date has been packed with projects. She has presented New Zealand dance videos, including her own, in Australia and has choreographed and directed the fashion extravanganza, Cocoa, and segments of the Benson and Hedges Fashion Awards. She is excited by the way her Watershed season is shaping up, and is especially looking forward to performing again after a three-year break.

After dancing leading roles with the Douglas Wright Dance Company, McCullagh took time out to refresh herself, gather new inspiration for her own creative work, as well as giving her body a chance to recover from years of performing with D’Arc Swan, Limbs, the Douglas Wright Company, and her own projects such as Merchants of Venus and FlareUp.

During the last stage of a study/travel visit to Europe in 1992, she was involved in a horrific car accident and hasn’t danced since then.

“Nearly dying gives you a new understanding of the value of life,” she says. “I was pregnant at the time, and from the day my son Arlo was born, I have given him most of my time. Lately, though, I’ve been itching to dance, and it’s very pleasurable to be doing so once more.”

“This new piece, Mad Angels, is a response to my memories of the accident, my injuries. I can still hear the sounds of crunching metal, feel the shock of flying though the air and landing really hard, remember how painful it was to recover from my injuries.”

For this Watershed season, McCullagh has joined with fellow Douglas Wright Company dancers Taiaroa Royal and Ursula Robb once more, as The Human Garden Company.

“It’s bliss for me to be working with Tai and Ursula again. We know each other well as performers, we’re all in our prime as dancers, and we’re relishing this opportunity to dance together once more. Together we’re making wild, athletic, exciting dancing, something we could never create alone. It has every combination of the three of us you can imagine, and it’s incredibly demanding. I think it’s my best work ever, and I’m looking forward to performing it night after night.”

The Mad Angels programme includes three other McCullagh works long remembered by those who’ve been lucky enough to see them. The 1990 solo Lacrimae is danced by Ursula Robb, the duet Mary Mary, inspired by the religious art of the Renaissance, and the duet Masterpiece of Nature, are danced by herself and Taiaroa Royal. The show runs June 28 to July 8 at 8pm as the main bill of what is to be an annual dance festival at the Watershed Theatre. This year the festival includes week-long seasons of work by Carol Brown and Josie Thompson at 6pm, and a showcase series of works by local Auckland choreographers and dance video makers at 10pm.

“It’s great to have an Auckland dance festival happening at last,” says McCullagh, “there’s so much talent here.”

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