NZ choreographers bring back international expertise, writes Dionne Christian

Virtual environments: intriguing territories to explore or dangerous lands to stay away from?

Choreographer Joshua Rutter doesn't believe it's as simple as that.

"Virtual environments enable a type of play and experience not accessible in 'real life'," he says. "It's not a matter of being for or against them; they simply exist and contribute to the complexity of our worlds."

The internet, and the virtual worlds it offers access to, are the inspiration for Rutter's Tomorrow After All. He describes it as an "intuitive and metaphorical attempt" to take the "wild strangeness of our times" on to the stage.

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"The stage becomes a 'simulation space' for the experimental mapping of interactions between entities; be they characters, fragments of culture, or behavioural tendencies," he explains. "There are very few proscribed movements in the piece, but many tasks the dancers are busy with. They have to pay close attention to their bodies at all times, listening for sensations and being led by feelings."

Tomorrow After All features in Transfer, a double bill comprised of two new contemporary dance works produced by Footnote New Zealand Dance. Footnote has brought home Jeremy Nelson, associate arts professor at the Dance Department of New York's Tisch School of the Arts, and Rutter, who's spent two years in Berlin doing his Masters in Solo Dance Authorship, to make the works with local dancers.

While Tomorrow After All explores virtual worlds, Nelson's Bridges and Doors is inspired by local architecture and looks at uniformity and individuality. "A lot goes on between four walls and we carry a lot in our bones: life, intention, experience," says Nelson. "Both have structure. Support comes from that structure, but both bodies have very rich internal lives."

Although he's spent 40 years living away from NZ, he remembers part of his childhood living here in a state house with a distinct style and history. His cousin-in-law, Ben Schrader, is an NZ historian who wrote the book We Call it Home: A History of State Housing in New Zealand and that, too, was an influence.

Disparate as their ideas and influences may be, Rutter and Nelson say coming home is a chance to reconnect with friends and family, but also to reflect on how this land and its people impact on the way they make dance pieces.

Nelson says the best thing about coming from NZ is our strong physical culture, meaning people grow up with a real sense of "space and daring physicality".

"Also New Zealand is a country that has a strong cultural heritage," he says. "The strength of the Maori and Pacific culture gives us something really unique and I am very aware of this influence in my background."

The distance to other places and limited access to large audiences, extensive touring networks and diverse venues and programmes, are regarded as challenges but, despite these, both say there are New Zealand dancers working successfully and making an impact in Europe.

"I've found it really stimulating being exposed to a new milieu of artists and cultural structures," says Rutter.

Nelson says there are, naturally, various ways of looking at the idea of overseas experience. Though exposure to different cultures and exchange is a good thing, particularly as dance is a global art form, staying in one place and consolidating what you have learnt can also be valuable. "Flow of ideas and perspectives is really important to the development of any art form."

That's a view shared by Footnote general manager Richard Aindow, who says bringing "exceptional" artists back to create new work always enriches the local dance landscape.

"The Footnote dancers get to work with, and be inspired by, these singular voices, and audiences have the chance to view work crafted and presented by New Zealanders who have been making their mark on the world without having to travel overseas to experience it."

Performance
What: Transfer, Footnote New Zealand Dance

Where and when: Q Loft, Wednesday-Friday.