Growing up on a deer farm in Southland, dancer/choreographer Sarah Foster-Sproull watched her parents take on fairly typical gender roles: dad farmed and fenced; mum did the lion's share of the home-making.

Meanwhile, a few years younger than Foster-Sproull, Adam Naughton was defying those types of traditional gender norms. His mum had seen Naughton and his brother dancing to Michael Jackson videos and sent them to one of the coolest dance studios in Auckland, Boyzdance, to learn the right moves. Part of The Dance Studio, it's the place which helped spawn world champion all-male hip hop crew The Bradas.

Now Foster-Sproull, winner of this year's $100,000 Creative New Zealand Choreographic Fellowship, and Naughton, a professional dancer, have created a dance which tackles the stereotypes about male/female roles.

Super Ornate Construct sees Naughton as a man standing alone with his thoughts. What does it mean, choreographer Foster-Sproull asks, for his character to be analysed, critiqued and put back together again using a more feminine point of view?

Dancer Adam Naughton stars in Sarah Foster-Sproull's Super Ornate Construct.
Dancer Adam Naughton stars in Sarah Foster-Sproull's Super Ornate Construct.

Gender has been on Foster-Sproull's mind lately. For this year's Tempo Dance Festival, she created Orchids which featured six female dancers and pulled apart notions of womanhood at different stages of life, emphasising the oft-complex nature of relationships and ideas about what it means to female.

She thinks this concern about gender has to do with being a mother of 7-year-old daughter Ivy and 18-month-old son Roman. Ivy, she says, is arriving home from school with questions about why men and women do what they do.

"I'm considering these issues more in my daily life and thinking about how I fit gender and female stories into the work I'm making," says Foster-Sproull.

"Part of my work is about providing exemplars of how this world could be different."

There'll be more opportunity than ever to explore this now she's received the CNZ Choreographic Fellowship. Past recipients read like a who's who of the NZ dance world: Ross McCormack, Malia Johnston, Catherine Chappell, Daniel Belton, Lemi Ponifasio, Michael Parmenter, Douglas Wright and Shona McCullagh.

A graduate of the NZ School of Dance, Foster-Sproull has spent years doing what many artists do - juggling part-time work, including contracts with dance companies like Footnote, Okareka, The Conch and Fiji's VOU, teaching and, every two to three years, choreographing her own work as an independent producer.

Two years ago, she travelled to Canada for a workshop led by visionary choreographer Crystal Pite; a year later, Foster-Sproull was in Singapore as resident choreographer with T.H.E.

Her fellowship plans will take her to Australia, Singapore, back to Auckland to make work with Touch Compass, the United States and Edinburgh. Her ultimate aim is to start an Auckland-based company which provides opportunities for dance graduates.


"I've been trying to make work every three years or so but, of course, I want to make work more often than that."

She likes to involve the dancers in making the work, rather than arriving in the studio with set ideas about how things should be. It's a method that appeals to Naughton who says it gets the dancers thinking more about the motivations behind the moves and greater involvement.

"I like what she does and it's a good feeling to have agency in the choreography, to be able to creatively think about and have input into what we're making," Naughton says.

"I think the piece deals with people in relationships, the power dynamics between people in social situations. The 'man alone' character starts as the protagonist, but we see this breaking down as women take on their own sense of power."

Super Ornate Construct is part of a double-bill of new dance work produced by Footnote New Zealand Dance. Contrast also features Emma Murray's Participation which considers how we are built up and subsequently undone by those around us.