Loose Canons: Rodney Bell
Loose Canons is a series in which we invite artists we love to share five things that have informed their work. Meet the rest of our Loose Canons here.
After a motorbike accident at age 20, Rodney Bell (Ngāti Maniapoto) was left paralysed from the chest down. Before this he was an active sportsman who played rugby and ran marathons.
In 2008, Rodney became the only New Zealander to receive an Isadora Duncan Dance Award and he has appeared with Sonsherée Giles on So You Think You Can Dance USA. He's performed in 32 states throughout America and he's most recently been a recipient of an Attitude Artistic Achievement Award and an Arts Access Aotearoa Artistic Achievement Award. He’s now embarking on a North Island tour of his extraordinary performance Meremere, directed and produced by M.O.T.H (Movement of the Human) under the artistic direction of Malia Johnston. The work is inspired by Rodney’s artistic career, the three years he spent homeless in San Francisco, and his transition home to Te Kūiti, Aotearoa.
I whakapapa to Ngāti Maniapoto. My wharenui is Te Tokanganui-a-noho. I was brought up around the marae, so I have a strong connection to all who have gone before me. This is an image of me and my nieces outside the wharenui. I draw on all this energy when I perform, acknowledging the sacrifices that have been made – it's the source of the fire that combusts within me.
This image is from when I was working with Dandelion Dance Theatre. We always used costumes and instruments and made site-specific pieces. By putting on a costume you can change into something incredible, something surreal. I really enjoy the transformative process that costumes allow – the ability to tap into characters that sit within me. There's a harmonious quality when you work a character through costume. Costumes are a good catalyst.
This is the woman who changed my life. Catherine steered me into dance, spending a lot of time moulding me through movement. At first, I thought it was a little different and my body rejected it, but now this is all that my body does. Without her, I wouldn’t be dancing. I am forever grateful. Every part of me is forever grateful; for her tenacity and for her passion for the disabled community. Catherine opened my eyes to connecting to people through contact improvisation and changed my perspective about what that is, in relationships, in culture, and in performance. She taught me how to share space with dancers from all over the world with equity. She introduced me to incredible people who are the mainstay of my life, including her. I pay a lot of respect to this lady.
This is the type of chair that I played wheelchair basketball in. Wheelchair basketball introduced me to the world. The first time I went offshore was with New Zealand Wheelchair Basketball and it was to Thailand. Meeting different cultures, especially those with disabilities, was an eye-opener for me. It not only opened me up to the world but it also opened me up to how blessed we are in Aotearoa. Wheelchair basketball changed me physically as well – I had just acquired my disability and didn’t know how to be physical. Wheelchair basketball shifted that and then shifted me to the next level.
These are the incredible, collaborative artists in the company Movement of the Human and myself. This is the backbone of my autobiographical show Meremere. I'm so fortunate to be amongst such amazing artists, all working in different mediums and all working towards extraordinary outcomes. These humans have taught me what unconditional collaboration looks like and that has rippled out across my life. We're all here for the same reason; to create extraordinary performance and to tell powerful stories, through movement, sound, image, and space.
Meremere will play at:
Te Pou Theatre, Auckland on 5th & 6th June
Les Munro Centre, Te Kūiti on 8th June
Turner Centre, Kerikeri on 10th June
Military Camp Conference Centre, Waiouru on 18th June
Circa Theatre, Wellington from 21st-30th June
Click here for full details.