Journey of the mind and body

MOVEMENT MAGIC: Olivia McGregor is one of the Footnote dancers who will perform choreographer Lisa Densem’s new work in its Fringe Festival show tomorrow and on Thursday in Wellington.
MOVEMENT MAGIC: Olivia McGregor is one of the Footnote dancers who will perform choreographer Lisa Densem’s new work in its Fringe Festival show tomorrow and on Thursday in Wellington.

It started with a simple movement: lifting her arm again and again, alone in a dance studio. That basic act led performer and choreographer Lisa Densem on a journey of the mind, which became a journey of the body and transformed into performance. "I started getting really interested in the effect of movement in space so I did a pretty crazy thing then, I spent a week in the studio just lifting my arm."

This journey of discovery may have started even earlier, as a performer with Berlin's Sasha Waltz & Guests company, where Densem toured constantly and was taught a European style of working.

Perhaps it began earlier still, when, as a graduate of the New Zealand School of Dance, she realised that New Zealand's arts industry was too small and restrictive to explore her talents, so looked further afield to Europe.

"The work here was quite virtuosic. There was quite a lot of emphasis on very virtuosic things, very athletic. But I'd heard about things, read about things and had a feeling I wanted something else. Another way of thinking, another way of being in my body.

"If I wanted to really learn, I needed to go away. My original feeling was I would go away and come back but it just didn't work out that way."

That spurred her move to Berlin, a city with a large population base which supported arts, allowing the creation of experimental dance productions.

"There's just more money in Europe and a whole different way of thinking about the arts. It's a totally different climate, although it may change with the way the economy's going.

"New Zealand's more like England and America with their funding structure and that's a much, much harder environment to do experimental work in."

Before leaving New Zealand in 1999, Densem began creating her own works and, after a few years with Sasha Waltz & Guests, the urge to choreograph returned.

In 2005, she returned to New Zealand to create No Such Place and continued working on solo pieces with a focus on discovering how movement affected space.

"There's something about movement . . . in particular with vibrations."

So she looked at movements, both simple and frenetic, and moved her mind into a place that was more aware of the intricacies and details of these actions.

"What is it about how I lift my arm that moves something in space. I was searching for what is the magic thing. I discovered you can never pin it down."

Through discussions with former Footnote Dance director Deirdre Tarrant, Densem was invited to create a piece for Footnote Forte, so she took her research of movement into the studio with her. A group of Footnote dancers went through a process of "getting beyond the surface mind" and reacted to that through movement.

"It's a huge process and also very demanding. When you're confronted with needing to go into a place in your mind, you have to find yourself and how you think, who you are. It's very challenging work."

Densem created a piece from these movements that is "not about something, except it's about movement and space and presence and body".

But she hopes the audience will not be put off by this description - the piece is more accessible and comprehensible than it seems.

"People get put off experimental work. People need to understand what you're trying to do. If it excites the curiosity of one or two people, it's really worth it.

"It's a different kind of magic to what people may know. But I think it's magic."

Footnote Forte is an initiative to bring top Kiwi dance artists home to make work here in New Zealand and to bring their artistic voice to Kiwi stages and dances.

Densem says it has been amazing to be involved with the programme; however, a permanent move back to New Zealand was not on the cards.

"I don't know how I would support myself here. It's very experimental work that I do in Berlin. There is a huge population and audience there that makes it possible to work in this area."

Also taking her back to Berlin is her studies - she is half way through an MA in solo dance at the Berlin University of the Arts.

"My dream would be to spend a year here doing something. One or two years being able to go back and forth. How it could happen, I don't know."


Footnote Dance presents Footnote Forte 2013 – We have been there (Cloud In Hand), part of the Fringe Festival, at Wellington's Opera House today at 8pm, Dunedin - March 19th and 20th, Allen Hall, Auckland - March 27th and 28th, Q Theatre, 8pm,  Nelson - April 15th and 16th, The Suter, 7.30pm.