Dancing Aotearoa: Connections with Land, Identity and Ecology
“Dancing Aotearoa” emanates from my conviction that, even in today’s highly globalised and mobile world, it is not only possible but also important to recognise a contemporary dancer and choreographic practice that is distinctly from Aotearoa New Zealand. Its importance resides in the fact that, 174 years after the signing of Te Tiriti o Waitangi (The Treaty of Waitangi), between the British colonisers and the Māori, Aotearoa New Zealand is still grappling with its social and cultural identity. Dance, along with the other arts, is one way of working out what it means to be a New Zealander in these times.
Arguably more than the other arts, however, the dance artist experiences the world sensuously, emotionally and physically. S/he is attuned through a dancer’s embodiment to be able to respond to the shapes, forms and energies of place by matching, morphing, shaping and re-shaping the space. His/her rhythms derive from an internal pulse and from the visual and felt rhythms of the landscape. This landscape might be constructed, angular and urban or elemental. It might be psychological, intuitive or imposed. It is my view that a dance artist has the potential, along with the other arts, to speak for ‘this’ time and place—ecologically, socially, culturally or politically—and in so doing help define our national identity. In the following article I offer a commentary on connections with land, identity and ecology that can be seen in the work of some dancer/choreographers of Aotearoa. My commentary reflects my own depth of experience as a dancer/choreographer and educator, as well as some preliminary research with a small group of other dancer/choreographers whose artistry I have witnessed and who chose to engage with this issue.
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