People protesting in Tauranga against the 'Now is the Hour' production.

Now is the Hour

16 Apr 2016
To say that this contemporary dance-theatre work was ground breaking in terms of content and subject matter is an understatement.

At a 2016 screening of Now is the Hour, Dr Marianne Schultz (DANZ Advisor), who danced in this production, provided the following insights to the production.

“Come on Tauranga, get your mind out of the gutter, you should know better.” This placard, amongst assorted others (“Curiosity Killed the Cat”; “You Can’t Pull the Wool Over God’s Eyes”) greeted patrons as they entered the Baycourt Theatre on a balmy March evening in 1988. The Concerned Citizens Group of Tauranga took it upon themselves to alert an innocent public as to the moral dangers that awaited them as audience members of Limb’s Dance Company’s performance of Douglas Wright’s Now Is The Hour.

Hero image: People protesting in Tauranga against the 'Now is the Hour' production (Image: Bay of Plenty Times, 26 March 1988, p.1.).

Dancers performing 'Now is the Hour' in 1988.

Dancers performing 'Now is the Hour' in 1988.

I was a member of Limbs dancing in Now Is The Hour and recall being mildly amused, but not altogether surprised, by this public protest. As a company of dancers, we knew that this was a provocative work; unlike any that had been seen before in New Zealand, and most certainly not like any previous Limbs dances. No doubt the company manager and publicist rubbed their hands in glee with the amount of free press this display garnered.

Now Is the Hour premiered earlier that month in Auckland’s St James Theatre, before heading to Wellington and the New Zealand International Arts Festival, where it was filmed and broadcast by TVNZ. The work then toured the country in early 1988. With its portrayal of tasselled transvestites, a topless mermaid, human sacrifice, not to mention live sheep shearing on stage, and choreography that introduced a new physical language to dancers and audiences alike, Now Is The Hour more than lived up to the comment that this work signalled the “coming of age of contemporary dance in New Zealand.” Perhaps more startling though, is that this 70-minute work was broadcast on primetime national television.

Douglas Wright performing in 'Now is the Hour'.

Douglas Wright performing in 'Now is the Hour'.

Early on in the rehearsal process in the Limbs’ Ponsonby studio we were aware that this work would be immensely important and vital. Wright had arrived back in New Zealand from New York the previous year, following his four-year stint as a member of the world renowned Paul Taylor Dance Company, and he was bursting with ideas, images, sounds, experiences and concepts that all went into the work. The episodic and dreamlike nature of this dance meant that rather than present a linear narrative, Now Is The Hour flows from a lyrical solo by Wright, to duets, trios, quintets, and group sections that vividly conjure all manner of humans and beasts, tender and violent. As a company of dancers, we loved the physical challenges that Douglas presented us with, and the film of this work testifies to the supreme artistry of all the company. It is especially poignant and wonderful to be able to revisit the exquisite dancing of the late Glenn Mayo. He was without doubt one of the sparkling gems in the New Zealand dance industry at that time. Other dancers in this work, besides Wright himself, included: Catherine Chappell, Shona McCullagh, Debra McCulloch, Tai Royal, Lisel Grigg, Dale Tanner, Will Thompson, Marc White, and Cath Cardiff.

Dancers in 'Now is the Hour'.

Dancers in 'Now is the Hour' - Will Thompson, Shona McCullagh, Glenn Mayo, Marianne Schultz and Marc White.

The ambitiousness alone of this work may have contributed to Limbs’ demise a year later. With a cast of twelve dancers, an original score from Don McGlashan, a backdrop from artist Gretchen Albrecht, and costumes by Elizabeth Whiting, this was a major touring production for a company on limited government funding. Add to this its nudity and confrontational physicality, and one can imagine the powers that be questioning the use of taxpayers money. However, those fortunate enough to witness the recent performances of the Tanztheater Wuppertal in Wellington will appreciate Wright’s artistic vision and integrity, evidenced in 1988 with Now Is The Hour. It is a monumental work of great importance in New Zealand’s dance and performing arts history.

Check out the February 1988 performance of Now is the Hour, by Limbs Dance Company at the St James Theatre, Wellington, was captured by Television New Zealand.