New Zealand's Highland dancing developed along different lines from its piping. The contrast lies in the different degrees of contact that the two colonial art forms sustained with their country of origin. The relationship between New Zealand and Scottish pipers has been historically very good whereas the dancers' relationship has been officially bad. New Zealand pipers went to Scotland to learn whereas the dancers thought that they could teach the Scots something.
William Sutherland was the only virtuoso Highland dancer to emigrate to New Zealand. James Kinghorn came to New Zealand in 1924. David Bothwell (1895 - 1975), whom I saw competing at Waipu, had a competitive record in Scotland that bears no comparison with Mr Sutherland's. Bertie Robertson, whom I knew, saw dance and competed against once, arrived about 1953. Duncan Stewart MacLennan was another immigrant dancer whose record in Scottish competition should be examined.
The MacLennan Dancers
Duncan S. MacLennan will reappear in this memoir. A review of the dancing MacLennan brothers' careers will be useful for this reason and also because it provides a partial dancing perspective on Mr Sutherland from his own time.
Duncan S. (1863-1934/5) was a brother of William, the third son, and of Donald G. MacLennan who was, I believe, 96 years old when he died. Donald was born in 1869. There were nine children, four daughters. I am indebted to Glen McGregor for the dates.
William, at least, learned Highland dancing from his uncle, Murdo MacLennan, after the boys' father died. He learned also from John MacNeill Snr and he studied ballet with Enrico Cecchetti, apparently in Paris. William was variously a newspaper reporter and an architect . He lead concert parties that included Scott-Skinner to North America and died of meningitis in Montreal, aged 32.
Angus Fairrie writes fulsomely about Wm MacLennan in The Northern Meeting, at p174 which we cite at length:
In 1878…….he won the prize pipe at the Northern Meeting and the Gold medal at Oban ...He went on to win the Gold Medal at Inverness the following year. [also] In piping, he led the movement which resulted in the acceptance of the four- and six- part march, of advanced technical development, as the norm on the competition platform, instead of the old traditional and simple tunes which had been considered acceptable until then. …In his twenties he became one of the best Highland dancers of the day…..His employment of ballet technique to enhance the impact of the Highland Dances, hitherto more marked by enthusiasm than by grace, altered the whole approach to the art of exhibition dancing. The “Sean Truibhas” as danced today owes much to the influence of William MacLennan. (Parenthesis added.
Wm MacLennan has a dancing record at the Aboyne Highland Games, a premier gathering in the era. In 1891 and 1892 he won a total of four events there. I am indebted to Dugald Murdoch, Sweden, for corrections on MacLennan’s piping career and for his commentary on this memoir.
His brothers were lesser figures than William on the dancing scene. Donald, the self styled "Professor of Dancing," privately published "Highland and Traditional Scottish Dances" in 1950. Donald spent the nine summers from 1900 studying ballet in London under the Dane Alexander Genee, joining Alexander's niece, ballerina (later Dame) Adeline Genee in lessons. Donald taught the ballerina some Highland dancing. There is no question that the three brothers were very interested in ballet and that they incorporated a good deal of technique from ballet into their Highland dancing.
This will later be seen to be of some significance for New Zealand Highland dancing. I will refer to them as the London MacLennans. The adjective, "London" is meaningful which, though it may not be accurate in a geograhical sense, it is in a dancing one. This is because of the influence of London ballet upon their Highland dancing.
Duncan S. MacLennan was a teacher of several forms of dance, an acute alcoholic (that being a cause of his death in Gisborne in 1935) and a disciplinarian. He would wake his children at night to practise piping and dancing which caused dissension in the household. Ultimately he was ejected from his Scots family. He died in Gisborne estranged from them having arrived in New Zealand too late in life to have left a substantial dancing legacy in the less than ten years that he lived here.
Nevertheless, MacLennan exerted some influence long after his death on the subsequent course of New Zealand Highland dancing, as we shall see, because Dorothy Parker was among his New Zealand pupils.
Mr Sutherland did not rate the brothers very highly and he never mentioned them winning at major competitions in Scotland. William MacLennan was, however, dead before Mr Sutherland started to make a name for himself. This contrasts with other great dancers like Pirie, McNiell and Center who were continual talking points.
The immigrant situation in New Zealand dancing can be compared with that in pipe music. There were no immigrant pipers to New Zealand of a stature comparable to Mr Sutherland's in dancing, but there has always been a flow of very able pipers settling here. Jenny Coleman has documented the arrival of pipers before 1912 in the Heather and the Fern, though her allegory confuses pipers. Murdo and John McKenzie along with George Yardley were later arrivals, to be followed by Angus MacCaulay. William Cruikshank and Dugald Murdoch are modern ones and there are several others. Murdo McKenzie's piping record in Scotland is a very good one.
Of similar importance, young pipers from New Zealand have been going to Scotland since World War II and staying there several years to learn their art. Latterly, a flow has begun to Canada. This has steadily raised the standard of piping here, attested by a line of successes in Scotland: of the Turrells, the Dodds, the Bains, the Hannings, and of the Wilsons and Hawkes who have returned to disseminate their knowledge in New Zealand. Other successful New Zealand pipers have stayed on to join the Scottish professional circuit or the Army , such as Bruce Hitchings.
In addition to these successes there has been an important flow to Scotland of bandsmen who, good pipers before they left, have returned here more knowledgeable and capable, like Paul Turner. All of this says much about the high quality of piping tuition available in New Zealand, that these pipers were able to build upon in Scotland.
The dancing has a different history. The serious issue here is that there has never been a substantial flow of quality dancers between New Zealand and Scotland. There have been isolated exceptions, and there is now a trickle of traffic. This has been comparatively recent and of insufficient magnitude to alter the dimensions of the problem. An explanation of why the dancers did not follow the example of their pipers will be offered later in his memoir. It was not a financial excuse, as has been claimed, because young pipers managed to raise the fares.
This raises the matter of the long-run quality both of our dance performers and of New Zealand Highland dancing teachers who, historically, have never had any one knowledgeable to learn from within a system that was closed by the institutions that governed it.
Such has been the dilemma of the New Zealand Academy of Highland and National Dancing Inc. Good dancers did not come from Scotland to New Zealand before or after the Academy, with one exception, so this source could not provide the Academy with dancing knowledge. New Zealand dancers did not go to Scotland in any significant number so there was no knowledge available from this source either.
The exception was a man who could have put New Zealand Highland dancing on track, just as his pupil, J.L. McKenzie, did for Canadian dancing. This was William Sutherland originally of Thurso and later from Aberdeen. He was a leading, or the leading, dancer in Scotland from 1901 to 1923 when he came to New Zealand. He taught here from 1923 until 1961. He died in Turakina in 1967.
I will tell you a little of William Sutherland in this memoir. It will cover sufficient parts of his competitive record in Scotland and in New Zealand and a little of his dancing technique, both of which have almost been lost.
It is important in the transmission of knowledge to set down those who learned from him and those who did not, and the reason why most claims to having been his pupil are trite. His relationship to the New Zealand Highland dancing community has had international ramifications that are also recorded here. Pipers have contributed to the institutional problems of that relationship, the effects of which have endured until today. The present position of New Zealand dancing is analysed and the roles of key people are reviewed. Photographs of interest are recorded.