Limbs reviews / articles


lynda chris mj


‘Young Limbs show style’

Limbs dance theatre at Theatre Corporate last night and for a short season.

Limbs dance group has been in existence less than a year and has a young average age, but these circumstances were no barrier to the dancers, presenting an action-packed hour-long programme full of variety and style.

Whether working to rock music, a poem, silence or a solo viola (played by Philip Clark), the seven dancers in ensemble and as individuals showed the group is building up a distinctive character.

In numbers like “Concrete Boogie” (choreography Mary-Jane O’Reilly) and “Eno” (choreography Chris Jannides) the patterned unison movements sometimes took over from the more important flow of the form of the dance but in no way lessened the zest and interest being created.

The dancers deserve great credit for performing these energetic pieces so smoothly in such a limited space.

The more lyrical numbers, “The Sculptor” and “Satie, “for example, both choreographed by Chris Jannides, showed amply the company’s potential in developing grace with style, while the humorous numbers further underlined their versatility.

Terry Snow


An evening of dance with the Limbs Dance Group and friends. At the Maidment Theatre last night and again tonight.

The young and successful Auckland-based dance group Limbs, professional for just on a year, clearly demonstrates the spectacular progress it has made in this end-of-year celebration. 

The dancing in “Scooby Doo” and “Vertigo” for example has that zest and joyfulness which is typical of the group, and the humorous repetition of jerky movements which is characteristic of choreography by Mary-Jane O’Reilly and Chris Jannides.

But a stronger, more lyrical style is developing as well, a necessary growth to give the group greater depth of field in its emotional expression as in the numbers “After the Rain” and “Heart.”

The technical strength of their dancing is also improving, personified especially in the exquisite yet fluid precision of Kilda Northcott.

The apt lighting and constantly imaginative choreography did excellent service as well for the group of “friends” who took part in several of the items — dancing students and Limbs’ proteges who added to the fun of the evening.

A Pythonesque film clip and some very funny nonsense poems by Jannides as dance settings reinforced the humorous moments, and the excellent variation in music from Keith Jarrett, Elvis Costello and Mecca to Bach rounded off the superb entertainment.

Terry Snow



‘New Spirit Brought To Dance Discipline’

Limbs, a small group of professional dancers dedicated to contemporary dance-theatre, opened a season of eight performances at Theatre Corporate in the early evening yesterday.

This seven-member team is young and progressive. Their modern dancing has its roots in the same discipline as the ballet, but it brings a new spirit of vitality.

Its emphasis is on exuberant physical movement, finely co-ordinated in ensemble work and presented with style, verve and some clever humour.

The programme’s 10 items are varied and entertaining. It begins with “Concrete Boogie,” a mixture of gymnastic movement, sinuous hips and attractive patterns, and ends with rock-style music and dancing to match it.

In between is a quick succession of dances with a good variety of moods, mime and movement.

Chris Jannides and Mary-Jane O’Reilly, the choreographers, have created a lively and polished entertainment that in less than an hour proves the worth of the modern dance idiom.

L. C. M. Saunders


‘Limbs armfuls’

LIMBS… things are going well

QUESTION: What are Limbs? Answer: arms, legs, and a lot of talent.

Limbs, in fact, are seven young people who formed a dance company early last year and have since won respect and support from audiences and the Arts Council for their energy and skills.

Mary-Jane O’Reilly, Chris Jannides, Mark Baldwin, Kilda Northcott, Julie Dunningham, Debbie McCullough, and Adrian Batchelor have so far danced together as a group mainly in Auckland.

Now, dance followers in other North Island centres are having an opportunity to see them on a tour organised by the NZ Students Arts Council and supported by the Queen Elizabeth II Arts Council.

The dancers appeared before audiences in Hamilton and Palmerston North earlier this month, and are in Wellington from today till Tuesday before returning to Auckland for several performances in early August.

They’re dancing numbers with titles like Reptile, Scooby Doo, Viva, Watch It Buddy, Bamboo, and Vertigo, to music from Vivaldi, Led Zeppelin, Schtung, Taj Mahal, Dan Hicks, the Hot-licks, and others.

Limbs began with a lunchtime performance in the Maidment Arts Centre, Auckland, in May last year.

Until this month, it’s performed only twice out of Auckland, at the NZ University Arts Festival in Wellington last August and on a tour of small provincial towns on the Coromandel Peninsula in January this year.

The group’s income comes from nightclub and TV work, photographic advertising, fashion shows, freelance dancing for other groups, performances in rock concerts and festivals, teaching dance at its studio, and performing its own works at universities, theatres, schools, technical institutes and training colleges.

Says director Paul Davis: “Things are going well for us, doors are opening, and we would very much like to keep moving forward.”

ART NEW ZEALAND  /  SPRING 1978  /  ISSUE 11  /  PGS 29-30

here is a link to the Art New Zealand archive and to the original article: ]

Limbs at full stretch’

GRAFTON ARTS CENTRE. Home of Limbs. The Sweatshop. Clouds of tutu’s? Arrogant young bodies entrechating down distant corridors? Not here they’re not! Strictly entre nous, it’s laughter — camaraderie. Be-daubed walls Winnie-the-Pooh – I Am Limbs chuckling down at us. Dancer’s graffito? The ‘tap, tap’ of the dancing master’s cane, stale rose-water, cachous; the enormous scent-sodden presence of Serge Diaghilev? Not here he’s not. It’s Rock here. It’s Chris Jannides, wrapped in black leotards, contained in multi-coloured knee socks, concerned/nonchalant, taking the floor. A displacement of old ghosts. No memories of Les Sylphides — no pastel effusions of Edgar Degas interposing. All is freshness, exuberance, poise.

Pause. Mary Jane O’Reilly, Companion in Limbs, puts in her appearance. She looks slightly French, chews gum, and smokes! Between them both they constitute the fire-power behind the movement.

Beat. Enter the corps-de-ballet; bored, envious; hoping against hope that our premier danseur — our prima ballerina — that either one or the other will twist a ligament, collapse; fall ashen to the boards…? Such thoughts do not occur. Too much ensemble work, too great a responsibility. Besides, this is jazz-ballet, rock-ballet, modern dance. Not the world of danse d’ecole.

‘…around, 2, 3, 4. Left, 2, 3, 4 — swish, swish… Right, shall we try it?’ Chris out in front, the others behind easing their way into the routine. The high wall mirrors bounce back the corporate image. Very much a team. Chris, Mary Jane, Adrian, Debbie, Kilda. Once there were six, now five, tomorrow, who knows. Mark Baldwin, their most accomplished mime, has left, snatched up by Phillip Chatfield and money. Can the group re-adapt? Keep up the momentum — move on? Male dancers are not two a penny. Change is inevitable.

Change is necessary. Up to now their repertoire’s been a collection of mobile vignettes, Reptile, Watch it Buddy, Vertigo. Short displays of grace and agility. Soon the company will be celebrating its second birthday. The demand for a full-length work is now paramount — only then will they come of age.

‘It’s a goal we have’, says Chris. ‘We are still new at choreographing: that’s why we do shorter works.’ They would like to work with a New Zealand composer— a composer working in New Zealand yet not necessarily on a work ethnic to this country. ‘The language of dance is universal not specific. Also…’ Chris leans back, ‘we would like to develop the piece over a long period of time’.

‘To be able to hibernate and really work on something for six months’: Mary Jane. Looking intense now. ‘Most overseas companies rehearse for six months, perform for three months, rest for three months’. Wishful thinking perhaps. They all know it. A final lament from Chris: ‘We’re getting ours together in a couple of weeks’.

Yet he utilizes his team to its fullest extent, both in training and performance. His dances are never isolated points of action. They snake and gesture like animated Bruegels: multi-dimensional launch-pads for the spectator, replete with guttural and not without humour. They train exhaustively. On the giving side it’s jazz ballet classes, modern dance classes, movement classes, improvisational classes, commercial modelling engagements, schools tours and public performances. On the taking side it’s classical ballet lessons, hatha yoga classes, voice classes and creative drama lessons. There is a certain uniqueness apparent here in that they consider their drama training to be as essential as their dance training.

‘The dancer is terrified of using his voice — he should not be. An actor’s body is often like mashed potatoes — it should not be’… .Chris Jannides

With any group in this country, any endeavour, there is always the problem of isolation. As Chris puts it: ‘We had to get it all together from nothing. We’d love to go to a dance performance and get blasted out of our seats. I know there’s The New Zealand Ballet Company…’ The atmosphere stiffens. An aroma of ghosts hinted at; soon dispersed. After all the ‘Ballet Company’ is no real threat. A large, subsidised machine deep into Romantic traditions. Respect certainly. Respect for their dancers especially. Several of Limbs have worked for the New Zealand Ballet and Chris would like to choreograph for them. Neither are likely to clash in open conflict. The one ‘recognised’ modern dance group is Impulse and they do offer a challenge. Based in Wellington and sponsored by the Arts Council, their presence does tend to put Limbs ‘out on a limb’.

Modern dance. Classical dance. Chris admits to no overweening influences. Mary Jane thinks of Merce Cunningham: otherwise… ‘A hotch-potch. Influenced by everybody and nothing — all at once’. Neither of them use any formal dance notation in their choreography. ‘Muscle memory’, as Chris says. ‘Most of my structure is worked out in private in front of a mirror then put together in rehearsal. The complete sequence sometimes flows out in a couple of days — sometimes takes weeks’.

‘Vertigo took weeks’: Mary Jane.

Mirrors… Mirrors. Chris comments: ‘Yes, well we do tend to get narcissistic, quite vain about our bodies. It’s an objective obsession, it has to be. Twelve hours a day, sometimes longer, stretching, pulling, freeing up channels of energy. An hour’s warm-up before each performance, then after the show it’s back home to wash your jockstraps’.

We talk of light and sound: the ability to light effectively and sparingly, the need for live sound to match live rhythms — the grey technical areas within the group. The fact is recognised. Money again. Administratively they are now okay. A manager (Sarah Hancock) has joined the team and taken on the bookings and public relations side. A definite step forward.

It’s now back to the worshipping. Mary Jane leading, Kilda looking concerned… ‘Around 2, 3, 4. Left 2, 3, 4.’ Kilda getting it — both fusing together. Their bodies are beautiful — almost achingly so. Demure, provocative, snip-snap at the same time. Chris re-appears. ‘…Debbie: you went, hip, left right, di di, swish, swish’. Chris wrinkles up his nose — a habit? A sweat-removing habit probably. Debbie slips. Comes down hard on the floor. Rubs her bottom. Grins. An engagement comes in over the phone for Wednesday morning. A huddle as they all discuss it. Chris says he’ll work out the programme that evening; something called a ‘bump dance’. The occasional mention of a pas de deux. Pas de deux! Shades again of old ghosts.



May:   ‘Chris Jannides and Friends’ give their first performance (Lunchtime) at the Maidment Arts Centre, Auckland University.

June:  Mary Jane O’Reilly joins the group. Limbs comes into being.

August:  Perform NZ Students Arts Festival, Wellington.


January:  Tour the Coromandel Peninsular with the group Ratz Theatrix.

March:  Become affiliated to the Auckland Students Association. Acquire Grafton Arts Centre as their new home. Season at Theatre Corporate.

June:   Grant of $1000 from Northern Regional Arts Council.

July:    A North Island main centres tour.

August/September/October:   Season at the Maidment Arts Centre. Combine with the band Spats and the actors Ian Watkins and Derek Payne for a two hour pub variety show. Also at the Shoreline Cabaret in Auckland. Schools performances in and around Auckland.

Brian McNeill


Limbs – 1978/79 – left to right – Adrian Batchelor, Chris Jannides, Mary-Jane O’Reilly, Kilda Northcott, Lynda Amos – on one of our regional North Island tours – I have no idea why we are wearing those very untypical outfits!!! and feeling happy about it . . .


THE AUCKLAND STAR  /  [date unknown, probably 1978]

A Concert by Limbs for the Opera and Ballet Workshop.

And Sheherezade (Ravel) with Wendy Dixon (soprano), David Guerin (piano) and Pat Brown (flute)At the Pumphouse last  night.

The young Limbs dance group goes from strength to strength, bringing the message of modern dance to many people who have not already received it to judge from the comments last night, and never failing to provide an evening of entertaining fun and frolics.

They have consolidated their repertoire with dances like   “Sculptor” and “The Moon” — a very amusing literal dance illustration of a poem by Chris Jannides — and keep adding in single new ones.

Their choreography, principally by Mary-Jane O’Reilly and Jannides, is becoming freer as well as more economical, a tact which emerged more clearly on the broad Pumphouse stage than in a confined space like that available at Theatre Corporate.

Development in another field was also apparent in the singing of Wendy Dixon who performed Ravel’s three-poem song-cycle “Sheherezade,” an evocation of the East.

While given a dramatic interpretation supported by lighting and dancer Jannides, “Sheherezade” already hasrich colours built into the sinuous vocal line and Dixon’s increasingly mature voice conveyed the fullness of these with loving care.

With more control over her vibrato, particularly in the upper register, she is allowing the resonant quality of her voice to come forward, and the music reaps the benefit.

David Guerin’s accompaniment, sensitive yet commanding in its own right, supported by  Pat Brown’s flute, added a dimension to the evocation which a less committed accompanist would not have achieved.

This was a concert to enhance the reputation of the Pumphouse as an art centre.

Terry Snow


Modern Dance

Limbs National Tour

When the Students Arts Council were arranging the current national tour by the Limbs Dance Company they booked the Wellington State Opera House for one night only, expecting, I am told, a maximum audience of six hundred. They were wrong. On a Sunday night many people were turned away, and to judge by the ecstatic reaction of those lucky enough to get in and by the enthusiasm of the subsequent word-of-mouth, Limbs could certainly have run for a considerable season.

The obvious popularity of Limbs is entirely justified given their extraordinary skill, which is particularly impressive because the company has been together now for only two years. During this time they have come almost from nowhere and have pioneered an astounding array of original styles. I have heard of nothing like Limbs before in New Zealand, and I doubt if there are many dance companies in the world who could match them for their sheer prodigious inventiveness. They are all highly skilled and confident dancers capable of adapting to an enormous range of different types of dance; furthermore the twenty-one items in their repertoire have all been choreographed by members of the company; and above all their dancing more often than not reveals a highly developed, intelligent and totally disarming sense of humour. What is more, they can talk.

The diversity of Limbs’ style defies categorisation. Cajun Moon for example is a fairly conventional (albeit very good) piece of jazz dance but it is one of their few works in this style. Eno, with which Limbs opened the programme is quite different, an abstract piece exploring both the shapes of the dancers’ bodies and the patterns of their gigantic, multi-coloured shadows projected onto a huge screen behind them. The shadow effect was just one example of the brilliant contribution made by the Lighting Technician Jeff O’Donnell, and the spectacular end to this piece provoked the audience into totally spontaneous and rapturous applause.

Other dances ranged from the seemingly improvised, light-hearted fooling of Backyard Frolics through the witty satire of TV Dance, to the highly controlled mimicry of Moth I & II and Reptile. Scooby Doo, Ponsonby Hat Dance and Watch It Buddy were all thoroughly entertaining in very different ways: Scooby Doo represented a slinky, vampy contest between a male and female dancer, with the female proving ultimately victorious – almost. Ponsonby Hat Dance combined informal exuberance with a wry humour, while Watch It Buddy  was based, hilariously, on the patterns of physical combat.

On the other hand, many of the dances were more serious, and the wistful and delicate Apart in particular was exquisitely performed. Red Riding Hood, a thoroughly contemporary treatment of the fairy story, had a grotesque black quality, but this was balanced by great beauty in both the concept and the dancing.

Especially noteworthy was Complicated Legs Dance in a Pair of Jeans, not because it is in itself of great significance – in fact it is one of the more frivolous pieces – but because it is particularly revealing of the skill and discipline which lies beneath the apparent ease with which Limbs perform. The piece begins with an ostentatious but extremely casual solo dance, not only in jeans but in sneakers as well, which is so relaxed that it looks almost completely spontaneous, growing more complex as it progresses. Then the entire dance is repeated, movement for movement, jeans, sneakers, apparent spontaneity and all, by the whole company. It is virtuoso stuff.

The dances were interspersed with choreographed comic verses which the dancers narrated with superb diction and timing as they enacted them. I have heard of dance companies trying to integrate words and movement before, but never successfully. Limbs make it work as if nothing was more natural. Stanislavsky was right when he said that actors have a lot to learn from dancers.

Let’s face it, Limbs are unique, and by their own efforts they have created a large and completely new audience for contemporary dance. They are doing as good work in their field (and, what’s more, without the benefit of tradition behind them) as anyone in any field anywhere in the country. It’s exhilarating just to know they’re here.

Adrian Kiernander

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