The New Zealand Dance Company (NZDC) is set to return to the ASB
Waterfront Theatre in 2023 to premiere Stage of Being, a thrilling double bill celebration of choreographic voices from Aotearoa’s Sāmoan and Chinese dance makers, express speaks with one of the production’s lead dancers, Chris Mills about life as an out dancer, growing up in small-town NZ, and what Stage Of Being means to him.
What was it like growing up on the Kapati Coast?
Growing up on the Kapiti Coast was a combination of opportunity and feeling stuck. It was where I was introduced to dance and where I made some amazing friends.
I was able to connect to nature, and having the ocean, river, and mountains meant I was free to explore with friends and be creative. Growing up on the coast as a teenager, I was also exposed to the dark undercurrent of what a small town can do to people, you can see some really unpleasant things and how bad cycles repeat.
I think dance and the people I gravitated towards really saved me. I wanted to break the cycle and see and be more than what there was there. I had my challenges and hardship like we all go through, but I was able to overcome these and feel lucky to be able to channel and express that through art. Turning the ugly into something beautiful.
What did coming out look like for you?
It was turbulent but rewarding and very exciting.
I had amazing support from some people and terrible reactions from others. It taught me very quickly how valuable and incredible the right people are. Those who are worth caring about and having time and energy for and how to filter out the narrow-minded and cruel people.
What’s the best thing about being a gay man living in Auckland?
I feel the support of those around me, the people I work with, the friends and community I am engaging with all have the biggest hearts. I am truly able to be myself, be heard and looked after genuinely.
Why should every express reader be checking out Stage of Being?
I believe this show speaks to everyone. It’s important that people experience this show because it reminds us what it is to be human, and how important it is to feel, process our emotions and communicate with each other.
We have been living through some really intense moments. I think this double bill reminds us of what is important and to think outside of our own reality.
I feel this show will encourage and inspire people to take a deeper look at their own impact they are having on those around them and what is important to them. A gentle reminder of how short yet incredible our time can be here.
One of the pieces within Stage of Being, Made in Them investigates whether or not we get to independently decide who we are. What is your personal take on that question?
I believe that we are products of our environment, we are completely conditioned by the way others influence us, and we act in the way we are taught through layers and layers of past conditioning.
However, in saying that, I do believe there is a deeper sense of higher self in every one of us that independently decides who we are.
Why otherwise would the ego exist and have a purpose? I believe it’s definitely harder to listen to this higher self in the overwhelming mass of stimuli we experience in today’s world. Yet if we are in tune enough with this higher self, we can create the best version of who we are as individuals.
When we connect to the essence of this, it guides us to what we truly want to experience in life and our capability of who we are. This can have a tremendous impact.
What do you love most about working in contemporary dance?
Every day I am challenged physically and mentally. It allows me to always keep learning about the art form and the world around me. It has allowed me to have a voice and connect with some insanely creative and lovely people.
Where is the most exciting place you have ever performed, and why?
Bogota, Colombia, It was my first overseas tour with the Australian Dance Theatre.
The culture of music, dance and food was so exciting and joyful. I really felt present and in the moment because of the culture. Also, after our performance, the energy given back and appreciation from the audience was overwhelming.
I understand yoga and meditation are a big part of your life. What do those practices do for you personally, and is there anything, in particular, they have helped you to overcome?
My mental health. I really struggled with panic attacks and anxiety. I was in a state of depersonalisation which is a terrifying state to constantly be in, and a lot of people don’t know about it.
Through a lot of support from family, friends and practitioners, I came out the other end with a wealth of knowledge, resilience and a bright perspective of life.
I love Yoga and meditation because of the connection to breath.
Learning to breathe and listen deeper to my mind, body and spirit allowed me to work through the things causing me to be mentally unwell. What I love about yoga, meditation, and dance is the connection to the present moment.
It is the calm amongst the storm, and we all have a choice to be in this state. Like everything in life, it’s always a constant work in progress. You have to tend to all things with care, practice and patience, when you do this, you see the beauty in everything.
Stage of Being is a collaboration between New Zealand-Chinese dance artist Xin Ji and his long-time collaborator, Beijing-based Xiao Chao Wen, and explores how society influences our ability to discover and express our authentic selves.
With music by Benny Jennings, Made in Them investigates whether or not we get to
independently decide who we are, or if agency over our lives is shaped through the
systems, people and objects that surround us.
In LittleBits and AddOns, founding NZDC member Tupua Tigafua will open up the
world of a picturebook for dance.
Known for his provocative yet uplifting dance theatre, Tigafua is a storyteller who
creates worlds that metaphorically express relevant messages to audiences, sharing
unique stories of Aotearoa throughout New Zealand and around the world.
A fairy tale for all people and all times, with music composed by David Long, LittleBits
and AddOns explores character types that are universally relatable and that give
perspectives on the ordinary, the cyclical and the wonder of the human condition.
Stage of Being will share contrasting perspectives of identity, culture and place in a
a ferocious, graceful, poignant and whimsical double bill that reflects the beauty of our
beingness and the diverse artistry represented in New Zealand contemporary dance.
DATES AND LOCATIONS
ASB Waterfront Theatre
138 Halsey Street, Auckland:
Friday 21 April at 7:30 pm
Saturday 22 April at 7:30 pm