Festival celebrates rhythm of new life

Lynley Caldwell plays her harp while Ra McRostie practices her drumming. Photo by Sally Rae.
Lynley Caldwell plays her harp while Ra McRostie practices her drumming. Photo by Sally Rae.
Tribal dance, drumming and singing will soon come together in Oamaru's "Spirit of Spring" extravaganza. Sally Rae reports.

Performing is "massively important" to tribal dance enthusiast Ra McRostie.

The Oamaru woman feels happiest when she is in the middle of a group of dancers, "flailing wildly" to live drum beats.

"Performing is just the best. It's really sharing your joy with other people. It's the most exhilarating and self-expressive thing you can do," she said.

Mrs McRostie and singing teacher Lynley Caldwell have combined to co-direct a show in Oamaru this month called "Spirit of Spring", a fusion of drumming, dancing, music and singing.

The combining of dance, music and song created a wholeness, Mrs McRostie said.

It was a trio that was "just born for each other".

From an African music point of view, it was very rare to hear a drum rhythm without people singing and dancing, she said.

She learned African dance while living in Fremantle, Western Australia, and has put her own twist on the dance.

Her husband Bill is a drummer and the couple moved to Oamaru just over a year ago with their young son Fern.

Although only 4, Fern was a veteran of dance and drum classes and was a "wicked" drummer, his mother said.

He had good rhythm and an "unpretentious ability" to hold a beat.

Ms Caldwell returned to Oamaru three years ago.

She has not lived in the town since she left to go to university when she was 17.

After studying music, majoring in singing, she trained as a teacher and taught for a year in South Auckland.

She returned to university and completed a diploma in opera before going overseas.

After returning to New Zealand, she worked as a singing teacher and studied jazz before heading back overseas and working as a singing teacher in Ireland.

She met Mrs McRostie almost immediately after the McRosties arrived in Oamaru as she was house-sitting the house they bought.

They "connected" from that first meeting and talked about the possibility of staging a performance, although they did not initially have any idea how it could unfold.

The concept and ideas had since flowed easily, with both believing strongly in what they were doing.

"Once you combine dance and music and song, it becomes pretty exciting," Ms Caldwell said.

While the show involved a fusion of many different styles - including a performance by a Pacific Island group - it was the "heart" that married it, Mrs McRostie said.

More than 40 performers are involved from throughout the Waitaki district and, for some, it is their first time on stage.

The two women said they were thrilled with the dedication of the cast, who were all rising to the challenge, and the talent in the district.

"The most important thing for me, aside from sharing these art forms with the community, is to give the people involved a really awakening experience," Mrs McRostie said.

There will be some cameo appearances and a talking drum, from Papua New Guinea, donated to the community by Wayne Stringer, will also make its debut.

While Ms Caldwell is a talented harpist and loves performing, she said she was loving the conducting aspect of the show.

She recently did a conducting course at the University of Otago, run by the New Zealand Choral Federation, with Australian lecturer Debra Shearer-Dirie.

The Whitestone Community Arts Council has organised a programme of events for a "Spirit of Spring" festival in Oamaru between September 19 and 27, and the pair said they hoped it would become an annual event.

Mrs McRostie's next project is organising the South Island's first drum and dance camp at Camp Iona on November 1 and 2, with master drummer Mohamed Bangoura from west Africa.

He is touring Australia with world-renowned djembe (a type of west African drum) player Mamady Keita.

"He's just going to be so juiced up with all the good stuff when he gets here. It's an incredible opportunity for the South Island," Mrs McRostie, who studied with him in Australia, said.


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