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New Zealand Dancers in Europe 

By Francis Christeller 

Susanne Bentley, Evolve - Photo by Serge Gutwirth

This article was published in issue 23 of the DANZ Magazine (2014)

Audiences around New Zealand have been fortunate in recent years to have the opportunity to see a number of European dance companies at the New Zealand Festival in Wellington, the Auckland Arts Festival, and at regional dance festivals. Even more lucky have been the opportunities to see work by European-based home grown talent who are bringing home work they have created within the context of another scene or bringing valuable creative tools and knowledge to create new work with local companies or freelancers for New Zealand touring.

These artists are an important link between our dance ecosystem and the rather larger, more varied and, some might argue, more sophisticated scene that is dance in Europe. If you are struggling for examples of these people and events look no further than Footnote Dance's string of European-Expat-Lady-Lead projects with the most recent being Lisa Densem's We have been there, performed last year.

All this got me thinking about other, more mysterious kiwi personalities making dances in Europe. So on that note I would like to introduce you to Susanne Bentley and Simone Aughterlony.

Simone Aughterlony is a graduate of the New Zealand School of Dance and having spent most of her professional career performing and creating in Europe is now based between Berlin and Zürich. Why two cities? Because of work opportunities and the “different working conditions and support, as well as connections and inspiration”, she says.

Simone has worked with various artists in the roles of both a performer/deviser and as a choreographer and this wealth of experience has led her to develop an extremely varied practice. Her acclaimed solo We need to talk, for example, includes not only movement but also an epic drum solo and, well, a lot of talk.

After having worked on a number of productions with Meg Stuart/Damaged Goods and as a choreographer at some of Europe's largest theatres (Schauspielhaus, Zürich; Volksbühne, Berlin;
Burgtheater, Vienna), Simone first began production of her own performance work in 2003 with her solo, Public Property. She followed this up with larger scale works, which have toured extensively in Europe. Most recently Simone's focus has returned to smaller format performances and having always had a special interest in collaboration she is devising the second in a series of co-authored duos.

Susanne Bentley is first and foremost an improviser, something she takes into all parts of her life to great effect. She left New Zealand planning to live in London but ended up in Brussels, “more inspiring and also a damn sight cheaper to live” she claims. Now with Brussels as her base she is free to roam the world as a teacher, performer and musician.

In 2000 Susanne was awarded a danceWEB scholarship for ImPulsTanz, since which time she has been performing with various companies across Europe including Superamas (Austria) and Les Ballets C de la B (Belgium). Now having established a reputation as one of Europe's most sought after teachers she has a long list of companies and dance institutions that engage her to teach for them.

Music, sound, spoken words and particularly rhythm are important to Susanne in all aspects of her practice. Her long-term collaboration with electronic musician Peter Van Hoesen, as the duo Bent Object, also took Susanne touring far and wide. In 2007, Susanne founded a performance improvisation research group known as SoloConversations Dance Collective, which practises and performs regularly in Belgium and elsewhere. All of this adds up to a lot of moving around which is what I guess Susanne was born to do.

On being a Kiwi expat artist...

Simone: I think identity is not at all a fixed quantity but rather something more fluid and a concept one is constantly negotiating - defending and self-identifying with more ambiguous categories than the normative structures that capitalist techno-living necessarily prescribes; culturally, politically, sexually, gender, socially and so on and so forth. The way my upbringing in New Zealand manifests in my performance work? Perhaps a dry, often self-deprecating humour. My dramaturge, Jorge Leon, often describes a quality of lightness (irony) that I bring to what can potentially be rather weighted topics in my work.

Susanne: It's been so long I've been away now, that I'm not sure what this means. I am very friendly and playful when teaching, improvising, performing. Friendliness seems to still be a kiwi thing... I am, I think, much more Belgian in my style: more theatrical, more minimal, more state-based than what I see coming out of NZ.

Simone Aughterlony, Bare Back Lying - Photo by Tine van Aerschot

On coming home...

Simone: No immediate plans. I would love to present my work in New Zealand and perhaps facilitate a Choreographic Laboratory in connection to that, of the sort I recently organised and curated in Zurich.

Susanne: Long-term planning is not something I've been good at since I started being a dancer . When I think about living in Brussels for another 10 years part of me cringes so I guess I'll change at some point; I'd like to live in Berlin, always had that plan in the pipeline. Coming back to NZ? Hmmm...I really don't know right now, today. I haven't been in NZ for 3 years so I feel disconnected. When I go home for Christmas maybe I'll feel differently - I usually do!

It's a weird survival thing, but I feel like NZ is a parallel universe and when I go there I disconnect from Europe. The same in reverse. It's protecting me from missing my family when I'm not there, otherwise I'd never have left...

On collaboration...

Simone: Collaboration is very important for me in various ways. Firstly, I suppose the desire to work with, discuss, analyse and generally bounce ideas back and forward with others comes with acknowledging the limits of one's own inner world - it is only through interaction with others that we develop and grow, both psychically and intellectually. I believe it is one of the best ways of arriving at the unknown, the unfamiliar or the uncanny, which is definitely a good place for art to emerge and exist. I look for people I feel connected to on some level. I usually work with people I know and with whom I can share a sense of humour. But qualities such as patience and trust are always good. And some kind of brilliance too - not in any sort of obvious or traditional sense, but obscure, weird and charming brilliance.

Susanne: I like to work with others who are passionate about what they do - whether it's dance or music, or anything else. Right now I'm starting collaboration with a body percussionist, Annie Deltour, which will lead to a music-based project with other body percussionists and a singer. Collaborators are important to get feedback from other perspectives, to keep the ball rolling, to nourish and challenge, to support and grow together.

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New Zealand Dancers in Europe

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