Te Ao Live
Experimental Dance Aotearoa NZ in the Early 21st Century
Edited by: Alexa Wilson
Published: New Zealand, January 2019
Reviewed by Francesca Horsley
The view from the fringes is often where dance is most exciting. It is sink or swim, a place where intellect meets form, and ideas emerge. Aotearoa New Zealand has had a vibrant experimental dance scene for 20 years, flourishing in small showings, integrated into larger programmes or embedded into tertiary dance programmes. To celebrate this vibrant scene, Alexa Wilson curated an Experimental Dance Week held in the Auckland Old Folks Association Hall and Auckland’s Basement Theatre in February 2019. To accompany this, she produced an outstanding book, inviting experimental dance artists to share their thoughts and processes.
Te Ao Live Experimental Dance Aotearoa NZ in the Early 21st Century is a collection of artists who provide a porthole into their creative impulses and outcomes. An eclectic selection of 30 entries gathered together into five categories, it is a veritable treasure trove of thoughts, ideas, musings, travelogues, illustrations and photographs. The writing is disarmingly honest, poetic, and heartfelt; dance artists explaining who they are, what they think, sharing their inner motivations. Without doubt every page includes a profound way of viewing the world. While it can be dipped into, it proved more satisfying to read it from cover to cover – a credit to Alexa’s curation.
But for that quick dip: Mark Harvey in Stupid Bodies writes about engaging in games of wrestling for climate change. “I try to be a white guy who falls apart in my work. I fall over. Again and again. The white dudes around are not looking.” The I WANT Manifesto for Making Work by Cat Ruka is a fierce list of imperatives. Bullet points include “I want to honour my ghetto blood; I want safe space, queer space; I want to dance the politics of aroha”. Zahra Killeen-Chance writes “Some of the performances in the Breath of Air series use sound to ‘disrupt the body’s coherence’ by complicating the play of relation between movement and sound”.
Tallulah Holly-Massey takes a snapshot approach, recalling her time in Tucson Arizona working with La Pocha Nostra. “It was 46 degrees celsius, and every day for one week I walked to a studio in the desert to spend time with an exceptional group of humans.” Julia Harvie begins “Kia ora Alexa. So I seem to be having a total existential crisis this week. You know how it goes – the fallout post-CNZ Arts Grant rejection, having to slam the breaks on a big project…………”. Alana Yee writes “Having grown up in NZ as 2nd generation Chinese, I’m sure this has framed my experience and perspective as an artist in many ways.” A naked, hooded Alexa Wilson asks questions – about vulnerability. Her writing about her time in the Himalayas shouts across the page, “How do I show my best moves to the mountains? How do I show my best/worst moves/thoughts to the mountains?”
The book is alive with dance and performance images: poetic words fall, circle or slide off the page, vivid illustrations or notes evoke the steps of process. At times the significance of these is not immediately apparent – Josh Rutter’s series of black and white images of a broken washing machine makes better sense when I recalled the repetitive washing machine motif in his performance.
What impressed me was the contributors’ curiosity, bravery and dedication to their art, and their ability to articulate this so clearly in words or imagery. This inspiring book is an invaluable window into the essence of experimental dance, a hidden world made visible. Go buy it.
Available to order here: https://www.blurb.com/bookstore/invited/8154686/f511e4a4ccacd38f6764e47526a54948c170f549