Spotlight on Unitec
By Leah Maclean
Head of Dance at Auckland’s Unitec, Charene Griggs, explains that the philosophy at Unitec Dance is very much based around “developing a disciplined and sensitive human being and dance artist”. Since 1998, when the Performing and Screen Arts Contemporary Dance major was instigated, Unitec has produced a number of graduates who have moved on to dance with some of New Zealand’s reputable companies and independent artists; a list which contains the likes of Footnote, The New Zealand Dance Company, Touch Compass, Okareka, Atamira, Black Grace, Malia Johnston and Ross McCormack.
“We are incredibly proud of the fact that many of our graduates are currently employed as dancers in companies both locally and internationally. It affirms that our pedagogies and training methodologies are current and producing highly productive talent ready for the workforce,” says Charene.
The success of the programme’s graduates can be partly attributed to close and ongoing relationships with the industry. Current practitioners are invited to teach classes, supervise and assess projects as well as choreograph for the annual Dance Showcase. This process gives students the opportunity to forge early connections with the industry and has led to secondments, internships and employment. Term One saw Unitec utilise the talents of Okareka Dance Company, Claire O’Neill, Sarah Foster-Sproull, Michael Parmenter and international guests Scott Ewan (Australia) and Jarek Cemerk (Czech Republic).
On top of industry interaction the annual coLAB showcase is an opportunity to present original student works and foster community engagement. Charene describes the performances as a great way to exhibit the students “youthful energy, physicality, application of choreographic teaching and distinct personal creative style”. Split into second year (coLAB TWO) and third year (coLAB THREE) showings, each performance is tailored to the point of the students learning journey. “The focus of coLAB TWO is the consolidation of choreographic strategies within a framework of creative collaboration. At this point the students are required to only consider their own work. coLAB THREE however is an integrated performance, challenging the students to explore alternate modes of presentation and to not only consider their own work but also the work of their peers,” says Charene.
The Performing Arts School was initially established to fill the gap left by the cessation of Limbs Dance Company and acting classes offered by the Performing Arts Centre.
In 1994 Unitec acquired the Performing Arts School and merged its existing TV and film programme to form the Unitec Performing Arts School. The school is no stranger to growth and change and this is something the institution is happy to take in their stride. Charene notes that education world-wide is facing a number of challenges and transformations, Unitec is no exception. “Collaboration has been identified as a key element in the success of the transformation. Our dance programme is renowned for teaching and facilitating authentic and effective collaboration as well as engaging in collaborative learning and projects, whether discipline specific or cross discipline.” This is an aspect which gives Unitec Dance the advantage to be a lead facilitator in change across the institution.
“We have an ongoing commitment to foster a community that reflects the social, cultural and geographical environments of NZ. We are keen to invest in people that want to use dance as a platform to change not only their own lives but also the lives of people around them.”