Limbs – 1978 – left to right – Chris Jannides, Kilda Northcott, Adrian Batchelor, Mary-Jane O’Reilly, Debbie McCulloch, Julie Dunningham (in front), Mark Baldwin
Limbs had a lifespan of 12 years (1977-1989).
Soon after the company began, I invited two other dancers to join us – Mary-Jane O’Reilly and Mark Baldwin (Mark is currently the Artistic Director of Rambert in the UK). Further expansion happened at later dates during my time with Limbs with the addition of Adrian Batchelor, Lynda Amos and Shona Wilson to the group.
Other key people of importance in Limbs’ seminal years were Sarah Hancock, our first business manager, who was followed in our second year by Sue Paterson. Graphic designer, Phil O’Reilly, Mary-Jane’s partner, was also instrumental in producing and helping refine our publicity and ‘look’.
Taking leave of absence from the group towards the end of its first year to do a stint with the Royal NZ Ballet and their production of Romeo and Juliet – for which they needed to boost the number of male presences onstage, even to the point of employing non-ballet dancers such as myself – I asked Mary-Jane to take over the artistic direction of Limbs while I was away. When I rejoined the company, the two of us joined forces as co-directors.
The bulk of the choreography in these early years was shared equally between us. Mary-Jane was considerably more experienced than I and her work was better crafted. My strength was in the areas of programming and physical humour. I was also very focused on the philosophical vision for the group and its interaction with the various communities we built relationships with, particularly at a grass roots level – schools, rural areas, tertiary institutions and student audiences, etc. Alongside myself and Mary-Jane, other members of Limbs also contributed choreographically to its repertoire.
Reaching a popularity peak early in its career, the group performed to full houses everywhere it went, from small towns to cities, often turning people away. Invitations came to us from diverse sectors. To give an example of a typical range of performance situations: we appeared on national television in telethons, documentaries and light entertainment programmes; we did fashion shows and TV commercials; one week we performed in parliament to politicians, the following week we were the floor show for the 21st birthday party of the president of a street gang called the Mongrel Mob; we danced for inmates at a maximum security prison; we gave performances at the Nambassa Music Festival, the second time to an estimated audience of 30,000 people. Venues ranged from a kumara shed, to parks, malls, shopping centres, university cafeterias, gymnasiums, theatres and opera houses.
Public performance wasn’t our only activity. To maintain our studio and income stream, we did a great deal of teaching. Public classes were available in evenings and weekends, most of which were taken by myself and other company members. Our high public profile meant that these classes attracted large numbers of people.
It was a whirlwind time, for all of us. We could barely keep up with the pace and demand. The need to produce new material was constant. Audiences were gracious, yet voracious.
I stayed with the company as a performer, choreographer, teacher and director for 3 years. I left in 1980.
Limbs – 1978 – left to right – Adrian Batchelor, Kilda Northcott, Phil O’Reilly (Mary-Jane’s partner and our graphic designer ), Mary-Jane O’Reilly (crouching), Sarah Hancock (our first business manager), Lynda Amos, Chris Jannides (for some reason yawning) and someone’s pet dog (I think it was Sarah’s) – we are all standing in front of our touring van, which belonged to Adrian, with his surfboard on the top