The world at her feet
Choreographer Alexa Wilson's new work, interpreted by Footnote New Zealand Dance, is The Status of Being.
It's nothing if not philosophically ambitious, an investigation into human freedom and choice, or lack of it, through dance, multi-media and a modicum of speech.
Wilson sets out three world arrangements and at the end of the work the audience is able to chime in with a choice. Yes, it's ambitious, she says, "but I think that's the point, that it's an almost impossible task".
She intends a sense of the work being overwhelmed by its subject and seeming desperate to get its messages across.
"What comes through repeatedly is the work can't cover everything but is based on the perception of what choices you as a person have and don't have.
"There are lots of things in there for people to reflect on and ways to choose to perceive the world."
Wilson's first version of the world is based around national power and control that forces public alignment - "and is it possible to have freedom. That's very general, there's a lot of things in there.
"The second is very generally looking at evolution or revolution through history in various ways, and the third, Notes of Love, is looking at our relationship to each other.
"The audience gets to interact with the piece, questioned by the performers."
Audience interaction, she says, is about actual choice and a sense of connection and she's included an element of interaction in her work for years.
People watching contemporary dance "really, really want to get in there. People have got questions. There are lots of questions in the world right now and an audience wants inclusion, wants to feel empowered".
In The Status of Being "we create a fourth section based on responses to previous sections".
She won't spoil the surprise of this "but it reflects back to the idea of choice. Three choices is quite limited. The question mark is, do we really have that much choice. There are choices, and was it much choice.
"There's a question mark about how we perceive the world and how we choose to create it, all very influenced by current media. Because it's so influential it's our reflection back to us." The media "can skew the truth, again a question of choice and perception.
"Also I'm interested in a lot of violence reflected back to us through the media and that can be desensitising."
Five Footnote dancers reflect Wilson's ideas in The Status of Being. Footnote, she says, "is mostly a new company this year, a new company with this project. It's exciting having a whole new group being chuffed to do things not done before. I'm loving it. It has been amazing".
The eclectic background to Wilson's career included ballet as a child, film and women's studies at Auckland University and contemporary dance at Unitec. She studied martial arts and won a North Island championship gold medal. They all meld into her choreography.
She had hardly graduated from Unitec - "where I discovered I loved choreography, and was also quite a good dancer" when Douglas Wright asked her to dance for him in Inland in 2002.
"It was my first job. It was amazing to work for Douglas and that calibre of dance as well, very challenging for someone straight out of dance school."
Meanwhile, she was developing her own work. Magic Box won her best emerging choreographer award in 2004 and Toxic White Elephant Shock scored the Creative New Zealand/Tup Lang award in 2009. That year, a Goethe Institute Scholarship sent her to Berlin.
By then, she says, she had become "more experimental, on a more intrepid journey in New Zealand.
"In Berlin and Europe, that's commonplace. There's no base line of how dance is made, no standard way of moving and working.
"New Zealand is so isolated you can easily be doing lots of the same things. Companies like Touch Compass and Footnote are gradually commissioning things, keeping things fresh, and there is a lot of freshness anyway from artists.
"There are lots of practitioners in Auckland doing interesting things, the big companies doing the same things, like Black Grace and the New Zealand Dance Company. They do things that have worked for a very long time."
New Zealand dance is, though "shifting and changing, bringing new ideas.
"I think people want to see new things and also want to see things they know work. New Zealand is very diverse considering it's so little."
New zealand dance, she says, has been heavily influenced by American modern dance, "but it's not all there is. I do think there is change happening".
Wilson returned to New Zealand in 2011 and her solo show Weg: A-Way won four Auckland Fringe Festival awards. Berlin, though, is home-away-from-home now.
"Berlin is the centre of performance and dance and art. Even in New York they talk about how exciting Berlin is, very saturated with artists and performers, fun and lively and exciting and a community, and also very central to the rest of the world.
"It's competitive but [has] lots of opportunities.
"I'd got to the point I'd achieved what I could in New Zealand. I was in my early 30s and wanted to expand and be part of the world. What I was doing was quite progressive."
New Zealand is home because of family and friends - "and to be able to contribute means a lot to me" - but the ability to work globally "is important, and a challenge to grow as an artist and a person".
Her current project is a video canvassing ideas of "cultural insiderness and outsiderness, what it is to belong to a culture or not".
It will include performance and abstract backgrounds made in different places, including Beijing where she has a residency next March. She'll be editing it over the northern winter.
"I'd like to put it into the International Film Festival. It would be the first time doing that. I've made short video works but not so long or submitted to the festival."
After that, she hopes Footnote might tour The Status of Being in Europe.
THE DETAILS The Status of Being, Footnote New Zealand Dance, is at 4th Wall Theatre, New Plymouth, tomorrow and Wellington's Hannah Playhouse on Friday and Saturday.
- The Dominion Post