A frozen desert home to scientists, researchers, penguins and seals, Antarctica is not the kind of place you expect to find dancers performing outdoors especially given temperatures as low as -89.2C. At the height of summer, it reaches just 5C.

But a New Zealand choreographer and Royal NZ Ballet dancer are poised to make history by becoming the first to create and perform a public dance work in Antarctica.

Corey Baker and Madeleine Graham will fly to the world's Southernmost continent in February, one of its warmest months, to spend about two weeks with scientists and researchers at the 86-bed Scott Base.

Choreographer Baker is taking part in Antarctica NZ's Community Engagement Programme designed to catch the public imagination and get us learning and understanding more about Antarctica and the Southern Ocean.

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Since the late 1950s, a number of journalists, photographers, film-makers and artists have travelled to the ice on what was known as the Media Programme and Artists and Writers Programme. They include film director Roger Donaldson, musicians Dave Dobbyn and Don McGlashan, writers Tessa Duder and Margaret Mahy, artist Joyce Campbell and sculptor Virginia King.

New Zealand dancer/choreographer Corey Baker is making the first public dance work ever created and performed in Antartica.
New Zealand dancer/choreographer Corey Baker is making the first public dance work ever created and performed in Antartica.

But this is the first time a choreographer and dancer have travelled down to make and film work in situ. Accompanied by a film-maker, Britain-based Baker and Graham will spend part of each day making Antarctica: The First Dance and interviewing people at Scott Base.

Growing up in Christchurch, Baker was well aware of the work of Antarctica NZ and became fascinated with the continent. Through his own production company, he now specialises in innovative performances in established venues and in unexpected places.

NZ choreographer Corey Baker produced <i>Phone Box</i> where the iconic British red telephone box was the star of acrobatic performances.
NZ choreographer Corey Baker produced Phone Box where the iconic British red telephone box was the star of acrobatic performances.

Earlier this year, he produced Phone Box where the iconic British red telephone box was the star of an attention-grabbing performance. In 2015, Baker toured the UK with Kapa Haka Tale combining contemporary dance with Maori myth.

"I love the physicality of dance and the ability it has to transcend words, there's never a language barrier."

Antarctica NZ's general manager of communications Megan Martin says The First Dance is a unique way to present the continent to a new audience.

"We believe Corey's skilful choreography and Madeleine's exquisite dancing will inspire people to find out more about the pristine southern continent. In understanding its scientific importance and global significance, we hope people will learn to value it and want to protect it."

They'll make a short dance film – the plan is to make a 360 degree virtual reality version – which will capture the beauty and fragility of the landscape as well as Graham's dancing. Baker, 28, describes The First Dance as a call to arms, bringing arts and science together to inspire and inform.

He said given TV viewership figures show more people watch David Attenborough's Planet Earth II than the X-Factor, there's clearly an appetite for more conversations about climate change, the environment and wildlife preservation.

Baker hopes to extend the project by touring museums, venues and festivals here and in the UK with an installation that will include digital content, exclusive extended footage and dance performances. He is also looking for funding to make a full-length documentary about the project.

Madeleine Graham will become the first ballerina to dance on ice in Antarctica.
Madeleine Graham will become the first ballerina to dance on ice in Antarctica.

Graham, who starred in the RNZ Ballet's Romeo and Juliet earlier this year, said the opportunity to go to Antarctica was too good to overlook. She auditioned this year and said it felt amazing to be picked.

"It's one of those things that you never imagine you'll do," she said. "To make the first dance there will be pretty special. It will be an awesome experience like no other."

But the duo knows conditions will push them to the limits. Outdoor clothing manufacturers Earth Sea Sky are making thermal activewear for Graham to dance in – "there will certainly be no tutu in the snow", she joked – which will be flexible but warm. They'll also have to be wary of sunburn.

Once they return from Antarctica, Baker will create a new one-act ballet for the RNZ Ballet's Dancing with Mozart season, which starts in Wellington in May before touring New Zealand. This will expand on the Antarctica dance project and aims to transport audiences from the theatre to South Pole.