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Meet the Choreographer: Julia Harvie 
By Leah Maclean

Julia Harvie has choreography coursing through her veins and strong vision for creating art that is challenging, honest, and visceral. The Christchurch based artist has an impressive portfolio of work ranging from commissions with renowned dance companies like Footnote New Zealand Dance and Movement of the Human, to independent installations and research based projects, to co-founding Christchurch arts collective, Movement Art Practice (MAP).  

This year Julia has exercised her creative energies with a number of projects which have seen all hands (and feet) on deck. She often feels like she has too many balls in the air, but it doesn’t stop her from adding more. In March this year her haunting work, with long-time collaborator Stuart Lloyd Harris, Nobody Hears the Axe Fall, premiered on Footnote’s ChoreoCo in the NZ Fringe Festival; she presented a solo piece, Killjoy, at Experimental Dance Week Aotearoa, which she’s remounting for TEMPO in October; she’s working to curate the inaugural Ōtautahi Tiny Performance Festival; and she’s launching into Hive, a brand new performance installation inside a restricted area of The Arts Centre Te Matatiki Toi Ora in Christchurch.    

Why dance…    

Julia did pre-tertiary training with Hagley Dance Company in Christchurch before making the move to Auckland to study a Bachelor of Performing Screen and Arts in Contemporary Dance at Unitec. She already felt strongly about dance as an art form but it wasn’t until her studies that she began to see a whole new pathway through choreography.

She explains that the body can often articulate things that language can’t. Movement is an important device in storytelling or conveying an idea to your audience; and its choreography that is at the grassroots.

“For the last five or six years I’ve been very interested in the idea that dance and choreography are two separate practices. I’ve often felt that I make ‘live art’ rather than dance,” she says and then suggests that, perhaps, the word ‘composition’ is actually more fitting.

“I think about dance, movement, and choreography more abstractly… That word [composition] can engage with anything – how you compose language on a page, the voice, how you compose a painting – that word can withstand any discipline and practice. It frees me up to use whatever I want or need to engage with my ideas.”

Julia also talks about using dance and choreography as an act of rebellion, which is often quintessential to her works. She talks about her own body rejection being a factor in her defiant desire to create edgy, stripped-of-fanciness works.   She thrills in pushing away from prettiness and aesthetic pleasure, but that’s not to say she isn’t capable of such things – the duet she crafted for Rodney Bell and Brydie Colquhoun is exquisitely beautiful. Julia is a shape-shifter of sorts and anyone that is familiar with her career can see that.

Her creative process…

The crux of Julia’s work is research and is, in fact, a tenet of MAP’s existence.  One of the key things Julia and MAP encourage participating artists to do is write and reflect on what they are creating and what their process is as a another form of release and creative expression. 

“We could really work more on how we communicate and write about our work and others work. The reviewing space is tricky but it’s vital and I’m curious about how we can be doing better with that,” she says.

Most, if not all, of Julia’s work comes from a place of research and textual analysis. She considers the body a memoir of the owner’s life, which is an idea she investigates through Killjoy having read a number of commentaries from authors like Sarah Ahmed (Living a Feminist Life) and Soraya Chemaly (Rage Becomes Her). Julia is also a totally rad feminist.

Her latest masterpiece, HIVE, stems from Sylvia Plath’s Bee Poems (hence the title) and emergence theory. Julia sees devices like these as an integral way to help shape and weave meaningful performance experiences for both the audience and the performers.

“We don’t want to create something gimmicky.”  

The Hive…

The word ‘hive’ has many connotations. One may instinctively think of bees, a working environment, a maze, or perhaps a cult with a ‘hive mind’. In the context of HIVE there is no right way of looking at it and that is entirely Julia and her collaborators intention, to create a space of thought and reflection.

Over two weeks the immersive performance work will be occupying The Arts Centre Te Matatiki Toi Ora’s Engineering buildings, buildings which are currently out of order. Dancers Josie Archer, Kosta Bogoievski, Sarah Elsworth, and cellist, Nicole Reddington will lead audiences behind the barriers and explore the role of social structures and system influences on our society. Why do we make the decisions we do? How do we make the decisions we do? And what is the upshot of that?

Julia’s goal is to present HIVE in a way that audiences feel guided as opposed to dictated to, and while there is a tour element and an almost ‘choose your own adventure’ theme, HIVE is still highly choreographed. She explains: “Sometimes if you’re given too much agency it can lose its impact, so knowing where you need to be at a certain time is important….”

On collaboration….

Despite having such a diverse collection of choreographic oeuvres you can find one common thread in Julia’s works, and that’s collaboration. She considers herself a ‘shape-shifter’ of sorts and attributes her style to the people she collaborates with; whether they’re musicians, designers, community dancers or artists of mixed abilities.  

“I never make work on my own,” she explains, “I always collaborate. Even with Killjoy I invited my colleagues to give feedback. Multiple heads are better than one, it’s always interesting to put a couple of people in a room and see the negotiations and compromises that occur.”

Julia feels that in tumultuous times it is crucial that we collaborate and work together. She says, having rigorous relationships and people who question and push is integral to rich creative development.

The future…

The arts in Aotearoa are ever evolving, much like Julia and her practice. In terms of the ‘wider-picture’ future she says she’s eager to see more shared bases for artists and further collaboration between organisations. 

As a step toward nurturing a robust arts sector, she is particularly excited to be pioneering the Ōtautahi Tiny Performance Festival (ŌTPF) this November.  ŌTPF is a brand new, day-long performance festival grown out of the need to fill the gap the Christchurch Body Festival left behind. “[ŌTPF] is something I have longed to do. It’s an opportunity to provide a platform for experimental performance in Christchurch… and hopefully create something enduring.”

There’s no ignoring Julia’s determination and powerful creative energy, and while she has plenty to keep her busy this year, there is no doubt she has plans and projects brewing in her mind for years to come.

HIVE  now – 21 September 2019, The Arts Centre Te Matatiki Toi Ora
Bookings via The Arts Centre

Killjoy will be presented in Super Moon, a double bill at Tempo Dance Festival
9-10 October 2019, Q Theatre, Auckland
Bookings via
Tempo Dance Festival

Ōtautahi Tiny Performance Festival 30 November, Centre of Contemporary Art, Christchurch
More information to come


Meet the Choreographer: Julia Harvie

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