Spiralling through space

Victoria Columbus works with dancers on her new work for Wanaka’s Festival of Colour. Photos: John McDermott
Victoria Columbus works with dancers on her new work for Wanaka’s Festival of Colour. Photos: John McDermott
Maths meets dance in the premiere of a new contemporary work by New Zealand choreographer Victoria Columbus. She talks to Rebecca Fox about the Fibonacci sequence.

Counting the Fibonacci sequence in their heads many times a day, means there is little chance of Victoria Columbus or her dancers getting it out of their heads before bed.

One of the most famous formulas in mathematics, the Fibonacci sequence - each number in the sequence is the sum of the two numbers preceding it - forms the basis of Columbus' latest work.

Victoria Columbus
Victoria Columbus
The sequence, called ''nature's secret code'', is said to govern the dimensions and arrangements from everything from petals on a flower to the spiralling of galaxies.

Columbus has used the numbers to inspire her work, Kiss the Sky, commissioned by the New Zealand Dance Company (NZDC) and Festival of Colour.

''The work utilises that sequence and the code, using those numbers to inform the patterns, structures, timing and the rhythms we are exploring in the space.''

Its reflection of the natural world has led to discussions about how everything has an underlying connection, Columbus says.

''So these numbers are reflected in storms, waves and trees and human form. 

''They are reflected in so many different things. The sequence is mathematical and scientific, but is also providing evidence of this connection, of this intrinsic interconnection of everything existing in the universe.''

She stumbled on the sequence in a conversation with a friend.

''I looked into it a bit further. I was interested in the idea [that] even when we are alone, we still have this innate connection to everything around us, so even in our separation we're still actually connected. Regardless of being in our own separate consciousness - it is still way bigger than our egocentric self.''

She has been working on the concept off and on for about year.

''There has been a lot of researching and discovering ...

It's kind of an ever-evolving thing.''

The language of the work is very specific and was discovered through the dancers exploring the feelings they had when they talked about the topic.

''The music language in it is quite sensitive and, I guess, internal as well as connected to everyone around them.''

Columbus has collaborated with three designers - Elizabeth Whiting (costumes), Rowan Pierce (sound) and Jo Kilgour (lighting) - to create a set to reflect the story.

''We're all working together with the same colour palette to develop it collaboratively.''

The inspiration for that has been artist Gustov Klint, who used Fibonacci in his art, using a golden, warm, intimate colour palette.

Whiting has come up with a colour palette to reflect the ''golden ratio'' of the Fibonacci sequence, while Pierce has laced the timing, rhythms and code into the music.

''We talked about Gustov Klint and the music made in his era, the sounds that reflect those tones. He's brought some of those baroque sounds into the soundtrack.''

The influence of nature is reflected in the soundtrack's cyclic nature.

''It reflects aspects of rhythms and sounds that maybe connect to something outside of music as well.''

This is the first time Columbus has worked with NZDC, but four of the dancers have been her students and the other two she has worked with previously.

''I know them all very well. It's been amazing. They're all very invested and very curious about the concepts and got on board with it straight away.''

''They connect very strongly with the physicality of what we're working with.''

The piece is quite challenging for the six dancers.

''There is lots and lots of counting. It is quite intricate and detailed.''

The patterns and rhythms of the work meant the dancers were having to ''count the sequence a million times a day''.

''It gets a little bit like, you go home at night and it's going round and round in your head.''

However, she believes as the dance moves are set it becomes less about the counting and more natural.

''Then it starts to become second nature and you don't have to think about it anymore.''

Having the opportunity and freedom to create her own work is such an honour for Columbus, who has been dancing for as long as she ''can consciously remember''.

''I used to make little shows with my siblings at home, took dance classes.''

She works full-time at the New Zealand School Dance where she does a lot of mentoring and choreographic practice.

''You are constantly making movements to teach. You are constantly extending your vocabulary. You are always investigating that process.''

Columbus is a graduate of NZDC and has danced internationally with the Black Grace dance company, Australian Dance Theatre and Michael Parmenter's Commotion Company.

She has also choreographed for Footnote Dance NZ and toured her work to Tempo Dance Festival in Auckland, the Body Festival in Christchurch, Sydney Lighthouse Festival, Pacific Dance Festival, and to New Caledonia.

Columbus also works for the World of Wearable Arts as the choreographic director.

''It all connects. It's definitely a huge beast of a job.''

Also on the bill for Kiss the Sky is a work by Korean choreographer Kim Jae Duk Sigan.

Its score features traditional Korean instruments.


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