When Marianne Schultz left New Zealand to return to her native New York last year, she wasn't about to put away her dance shoes.

For more than three decades, Schultz, soon to turn 62, has been a stalwart of our contemporary dance scene performing with Limbs, teaching hundreds of students at some of our most well-recognised companies and eventually earning a PhD in history with a deep dive into New Zealand on stage, screen and the airwaves from 1862 to 1940.

She returned to Albany, New York to help care for her 92 year old mother and quickly
found herself adult dance classes to join. Did she think she'd still be dancing into her seventh decade?

"When I was a young dancer, my goal was to be in a dance company by the age of 25 and I did that and that was like, that was it," says Schultz. "I didn't think beyond that; I really didn't. Now reflecting on why am I still dancing, how am I still dancing, it's almost like, 'why am I still breathing?' I can't separate it from myself. It's just who I am."

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When the chance to reprise her role in the dance work Orchids came up, Schultz returned to New Zealand. This week, a little under two years since Orchids was first performed, she rejoins on stage the seven-strong all-female cast aged 9 – 61.

Choreographed by Sarah Foster-Sproull, Orchids celebrates femininity and follows the story of women at various stages in their lives and in different roles: mother, daughter, confidant, lover, fighter, child and goddess.

Those working on the show include composer Eden Mulholland, set designer/dramaturgy Andrew Foster, lighting designer Jennifer Lal and costume designer Elizabeth Whiting.

Three years ago, when Schultz joined the team, she had all but given up dancing although she was still writing about it. But Foster-Sproull wanted Schultz back on stage because, she says, making an intergenerational work that lives up to that title meant bringing together a truly diverse range of women.

Schultz was nervous. She acknowledges being worried that she could no longer do what the younger dancers could do; that she'd face the sort of criticism that female dancers, even the legendary Margot Fonteyn, do when they keep going past a certain age.
Foster-Sproull says Schultz needed to be in Orchids.

"… there's something quite different about seeing a woman performing on stage and seeing a young woman performing on stage and this is the reason why I wanted to work with Marianne because I'm seeing her experience; she's carrying all of that life learning when she's on stage and if we are talking about women, we need to be not just talking about a 20 year old woman.

"With intergenerational contemporary dance works, the term is bandied around a bit but this work is intergenerational not just because we have a range of ages on stage but also because we're sharing stories that aren't just the stories of young people, we're showcasing relationships between groups of women – mother and daughter relationships, friend to friend relationship – so it's not just lip service, it's in the fabric of the work."

Schultz always intended to return if Orchids was being reprised saying everyone involved in the show contributed to it.

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"A lot of the vocabulary comes from our own bodies, from our own experiences and so I just felt like I had to come back. It was never a question that I wouldn't come and be a part of it again. It's a very special work and I feel really honoured and privileged to be able to do it."

Lowdown:
What: Orchids
Where & when: Q Theatre, until Saturday July 20; Circa Theatre, Wellington, Wednesday, July 24 – Saturday, July 27.