Lowdown: Experimental Dance Week Aotearoa 2019
Where & when: Basement Theatre, February 4 – 9
Alexa Wilson is in no doubt Auckland needs an experimental dance week.
After ten years based in Berlin, the award-winning choreographer, teacher, writer and dancer says experimental dance continues to be a boundary-breaking international movement that our dance-makers need to see more of to enhance their own work.
"In general, our dance works are based on the modernist style of 1950s and 60s America," she says. "Experimental dance engages with what is present now. It comments on politics, authenticity and identity; it's interdisciplinary in that it has conversations with other art forms. People work with text; performance art and moving image are big influences."
Wilson told Dance Aotearoa NZ that to her experimental equals creative and risk-taking.
Temporarily back home in New Zealand, she's organised the inaugural experimental dance week which includes performances from local choreographers and dancers such as Mark Harvey, Cat Ruka, Sean Curham, Tru Paraha, Tallulah Holly-Massey, Claire O'Neil, Val Smith and Aloalii Tapu.
It isn't totally new to New Zealand, though.
It first found its feet here in the late 1990s and Wilson heard about it as a Unitec student, introduced to it by then tutor Sean Curham, and was excited about the ways it could push contemporary dance in new directions.
A book about experimental New Zealand dance, with contributions from some 30 artists, will be launched during the week to celebrate what it's brought to dance in NZ and reflect on its place within the wider contemporary dance scene.
While the week recognises the 20-year history of the discipline in this country giving dance-makers and aficionados an opportunity to consider what's been, it's also a chance to think about what next and look at influences outside of dance that may be incorporated in future.
Wilson's own work offers signposts.
Asking philosophical questions, referencing politics, gender, environmentalism and sociology and including text and film is central to the way she works and dances such as Magic Box (2004) and Toxic White Elephant Shock (2009), for which she earned the title of Best Emerging Choreographer and the Creative New Zealand Tup Lang Award, have won her widespread praise. She returned in 2011 to win four Auckland Fringe Awards for her solo Weg: A-Way.
A review in the New Zealand Herald noted "[Wilson's] art prompts us to continue making contributions towards planetary change."
Her time in Europe has meant widespread travel to many different cities and countries including Vienna, New York City, Germany, Belgium, Poland, London, Stockholm, Zurich, India and China.
"It's almost expected mobility is part of your practise," she says.
Exposed to new conversations, different influences and dance styles, it's strengthened the way Wilson likes to make dance.
"I feel I can come in with something that might enrich the environment here, and people have been enthusiastic and excited about the event, but New Zealand does like to know something has already been trialled elsewhere and works."
However, she says our dance-makers are already innovators because of our place in the world. Being more isolated from the northern hemisphere dance centres naturally means creatives look more to their own surroundings and use what they see, and are concerned about, in new and different ways.
As well as curating the experimental dance week, Wilson performs one of her newer pieces in Auckland's fringe festival. 999: Alchemist Trauma Centre / Power Centre is a "feminist meditation, poetic activist activation" which she made while on the Morni Hills Performance Residency in the Himalayas in 2017. Partly funded by Creative New Zealand, it's been performed in Berlin, London and Wellington but this is its first Auckland outing.
Wilson says it considers the ways in which east and west meet and our "chaotic global conditions", questioning what this means for us and offering, perhaps, a way to live with it all. She's performing it at the Academy Cinema, saying that's a nod to the influence of film in her life and work.