Parmenter returns home for Southland festival

02:17, Apr 11 2014
Southland Times photo
Dancer and choreographer Michael Parmenter's work Tenerezza will show during the Southland Festival of the Arts.

Dancer and choreographer Michael Parmenter, raised in Invercargill, is returning home for the Southland Festival of the Arts.

If you believe the media, modern life is a bleak sort of place.

We need yoga to undo the damage of the daily commute and grind. We enforce phone- free nights to rekindle the intimacy technology has stolen. We put our posture at risk using handheld devices, and buy masks to massage our weary eyes after a day staring at screens.

For dancer and choreographer Michael Parmenter, the solution is simple. We just need to dance more.

"When people see dance or participate in dance, it's like they're coming alive in their own bodies," he explains.

"I think in our world, today, where our eyes are glued to our cellphones and we sit in swivel chairs in front of computers, our bodies have sort of gone to sleep."


Parmenter's duet, Tenerezza, features in the New Zealand Dance Company's Language of Living, on at this year's Southland Festival of the Arts.

It will almost be a home crowd for the master choreographer.

Parmenter spent his childhood years in Invercargill, attending Rosedale Intermediate and Southland Boys' High before heading off to brighter lights.

It was at Rosedale that Parmenter took a gymnastics class. It wasn't dance, but it was close.

"It was almost dance. That was certainly where I discovered I was a performer and that my body was my paintbrush."

It took a few more years for Parmenter to properly begin "painting".

He did not take his first dance class until he was 22, by which time he was living in Dunedin for study.

In those days, he claims, it was easier for men to progress in the art form, largely because there were so few male dancers around and, unlike female dancers who had to meet a range of criteria, "the guys just had to be strong".

These days, things are a little different.

Parmenter, who also lectures at Unitec in Auckland, says from what he's seen, today's dance classes are divided near equally between the sexes.

A wider range of socio- economic groups seem to be switching on to dance, too.

People who have the gift of dance come from all over, he explains, from the traditional higher socio-economic areas through to the shearing shed, and arrive at performing in a variety of ways.

The choreographer himself was originally persuaded to give dance a go after watching a performance on television.

Decades after the programme aired, Parmenter is still in the business, managing to make a living out of the art form.

He has spent his adult life teaching, choreographing and dancing - although he now believes he might be getting a little old to throw himself all over the place - and says he hasn't ever considered doing something else.

There was, however, a short stint in Rhodes. The trip was somewhat of a sabbatical from dance, and Parmenter tried something quite different.

"I went to Greece. Being a goatherd in Greece was my idea of taking time out," he says.

Parmenter eventually returned to dance, and to New Zealand, where he has carved a career in creating dance.

One of his creations, Tenerezza, explores the connection between two dancers, the idea that one person's movement cannot happen without first being initiated by another.

Internationally, Parmenter says, there has been a strong movement to create very conceptual pieces, "as if dance has been kidnapped by theory".

In contrast, Tenerezza and Language of Living are deliberately accessible and physical.

"It's not an intellectual programme where you have to know [a lot] to be able to understand what's going on.

"It's about the language of life and it's vibrant and exciting dance."

Parmenter hopes contemporary works will encourage more people to embrace dance, no matter what their age, and entice them to participate in the art form.

"I'm a tango dancer, so I'm really big on just people participating in dance, rather than just sitting down and watching it," he says.

"I think dance is one of the most remarkable things in the universe. Dancers are people who surf the cosmos."

BE THERE Michael Parmenter's work, Tenerezza, part of the New Zealand Dance Company's Language of Living, will show in Invercargill's Civic Theatre on April 29, during the Southland Festival of the Arts.


The Southland Times