Eliza Sanders: "Dance is ambiguous, always"
By Leah Maclean
Australian based company House of Sand is a brother and sister collaboration, one which was planned from childhood explains co-Artistic Director, Eliza Sanders. Eliza and her brother Charles established the company in 2014 with the desire to bring their practices together – Charles as a director and theatre maker, Eliza as a dancer, choreographer and visual artist.
This year House of Sand made quite the impression at the 2016 NZ Fringe Festival. Taking away Best Emerging Company and nominated for seven other awards including; Best in Fringe, Outstanding Performer (Eliza Sanders) and Most Innovative Work (Castles). This month Eliza (22) returns to New Zealand with two solo pieces, Pedal and Castles. Pedal, as described by Eliza is an artefact of her life a year and a half-ago and Castles is the very next chapter.
An Australian local, Eliza graduated from the New Zealand School of Dance (NZSD) in 2014. The move to New Zealand was inspired by the NZSD’s highly regarded reputation and the need to investigate something new. “I’m a bit of a restless soul,” says Eliza, which is evidenced in her travels between Australia and New Zealand, around Europe and to Asia. And it is this state which best informs her works, the chance to observe different environments and the way people react in these environments.
Having trained in classical ballet from a young age, dance has always played a substantial role in her life. At age 12 she entered into her first contemporary dance class and was instantly hooked. “The capacity to explore, be individual and find your way of moving really suited me,” Eliza explains. From there she joined a youth contemporary dance company (age 15) where she was given the opportunity to work with professional choreographers. Then at 16, she began choreographing her own works.
Observation, gut instinct, stream-of-consciousness and a combination of text and song are what inspire the logical and illogical ideas behind Eliza’s works. It is ambiguity and a touch of absurdity which are the foundation themes in Eliza’s pieces, à la her recent Fringe Festival work Knitting While Sleeping. Particularly found in the image of a distraught dancer cradling a raw chicken. When quizzed about the meaning behind this, the 22 year old laughs and describes her desire to create work which allows her to find new meanings in every performance as well as giving the audience the chance to find their own meanings and experiences. “If I see something that gives me feelings then I’ll use it. I might not know why it makes me feel anything but exploring and investigating that is what I find the most exciting,” says Eliza. “And having an audience member approach me after a show and give me their interpretation of what they just saw is amazing. It might be completely different to my own, but every interpretation of a piece is valid. Just because I made the work doesn’t mean that my idea is the most valid.”
Created in her final months at NZSD Pedal is an atypical journey of discovery, a combination of previous small works pulled together to make a whole. A design which she notes was greatly assisted by the framework of NZSD’s Choreographic Season. Castles has a similar aesthetic to Pedal but followed a totally different development process. Built from scratch Castles has been described as an ‘exorcism of randomness’ (Jillian Davey, Theatreview). “Castles was like this scary blank canvas in trying to find the right place to start,” says Eliza.
Developmental, explorative, unpredictable and ambiguous are words that are the most appropriate in describing the young choreographer’s creative disposition. Still right at the beginning of a bright career with a desire to collaborate more, Eliza has a lot to offer.