Dance Studies Highlights

A selection of exciting projects and recent happenings from staff and students.

Dance Studies thrives at research exposition

An image of all Exposure winners.
Chanwyn Southgate (second from left), Kerryanne Mayhew (third from left) and Associate Professor Nicholas Rowe (far right).

The University of Auckland's annual postgraduate research exposition, Exposure, had a strong Dance Studies flavour last week. Alongside Associate Professor Nicholas Rowe acting as MC, two postgraduate students placed in the Variety Showcase competition, continuing a strong history for the department in the event.

Chanwyn Southgate and Kerryanne Mayhew placed second and third respectively in the variety category, which allows creative research to be represented in every imaginable form – artworks, media presentations, performances and sound, among others. Both students had to summarise and present their research in a 15 minute slot in front of fellow researchers in the audience, condensing a year's worth of reading, choreography and study into a short, accessible presentation.

Chanwyn, a Postgraduate Diploma in Dance Studies student, used a variety of mediums to portray her research. "My research question is 'How do we use archives to create newness?' using those archives to discover ourselves through the beauty and ability dance has as an art," she says. "I created a poem inspired by my dance archives; I spoke about my research and incorporated video footage of my rehearsal progress; and engaged the audience in an 'eyes-closed' task to gain further understanding," she explains. While describing putting her personal research in front of others as daunting, Chanwyn says the positive response she received has following the event has buoyed her. "I was definitely outside of my comfort zone, but so many people gave great feedback and insisted I continue my studies!"

With her Bachelor of Dance Studies (Honours) dissertation in progress, Kerryanne presented a short film which outlined her research into relationships between screen-based technology and the moving body. "I'm looking into what those relationships may mean for our future society," Kerryanne says. “The film displayed a narrative concept shared within my choreography, which is being developed alongside my writing. My dancers are set as characters within a technological future, using screens as a life source, as the 'higher' society. I see that film as kind of a prologue to my final choreographic work." Kerryanne's dancers joined her on stage to interact with the audience while she answered questions about her research, adding to the interactive element of the Variety Showcase category.

The students found a comfort in a familiar face on the night. In his role as Associate Dean (Postgraduate Engagement) for the Faculty of Creative Arts and Industries, Nicholas performed Master of Ceremony duties. "Exposure provides a great opportunity to ventilate the student research that is being done in discrete corners of the University," he says of the event. "Through sharing and contesting their ideas, our research students gain insights into how cross-disciplinary discussions may enhance and extend the significance of their research. An annual event that is managed, coordinated and presented by research students, it also evidences the dynamic, entrepreneurial culture that our postgraduate programmes seek to facilitate. All who participated in this year's Exposure are to be commended for their energy, creativity and excellence."

Both Chanwyn and Kerryanne are proud to have represented the Dance Studies department in front of a wider university audience. "It was opportunity to showcase what Dance Studies has to offer within the research community," Chanwyn says. As for future activities, Chanwyn hopes to become a dance teacher to further explore what motivates students to dance. "I'd love to inspire students and help develop their passion," she says. "Dance is such a power art that can really bridge gaps." Kerryanne is focused on completing her studies. "I need to complete my choreographic work and finish writing my dissertation – so not much work to do!" she laughs, with a strong sense of sarcasm.

You can follow Kerryanne and Chanwyn on social media for more on their research and choreographic journeys.

For more about Exposure, including the winners of other categories, visit the University website

Short+Sweet success for Dance Studies

Xavier Breed with the Dance Studies performers of WOMBmen, winner of People's Choice.

There was no rest for many of our Dance Studies students during the first week of semester break. Short+Sweet Dance Festival culminated on Sunday with a gala night, where University of Auckland dancers and choreographers walked away with many of the honours from the judging panel, patrons and public. 

The following choreographers and performers were recognised:

  • Judges’ Choice Award: Obsess, choreographed by Elijah Kennar
  • People's Choice Award: WOMB-MEN, choreographed by Xavier Breed
  • The Wallace Arts Trust Outstanding Emerging Artist Award: Taitanyk Toniu
  • The Wallace Arts Trust Highly Commended Award: Amelia Chong and Elijah Kennar
  • Tempo Short + Sassy Award by Tempo Dance Festival NZ: Elijah Kennar
  • Dance Aotearoa New Zealand Award: Xavier Breed
  • Standout Female Performer Award: Amelia Chong
  • Standout Male Performer Award: Villa Lemanu
  • Curator's Choice Award: Kisha September
Amelia Chong
Amelia Chong - Duality - Winner of Standout Female Performer and joint winner of the Wallace Arts Trust Highly Commended Award

The prizes range from awards, cash prizes and complementary tickets to the upcoming Tempo Dance Festival, as well as acknowledgement and support from the Wallace Arts Trust.

You can read more about each piece and the student involvement in the festival here.

The Faculty of Creative Arts and Industries would like to congratulate all students and graduates involved in Short+Sweet. The accolades earned by the pieces attest to the hard work and talent of both the choreographers and performers within the Dance Studies programme.

The hard work continues for students as some prepare to be involved in Tempo, commencing early October, before the focus switches to end of year assessments and the annual Dance Studies Performance Series, concluding with ACTION, a showcase of the best work from all levels of study.  

Be sure to follow the Creative Arts and Industries and Move Your Thinking Instagram accounts for behind the scenes insights and snippets as Performance Series nears. 


Government funding supports creativity with purpose

ICON Tonga youth pictured before a performance.
Image courtesy of the ICON Tonga Facebook page.

Every researcher wants their work to make a difference; to make an impact in their chosen field and have the capacity to change lives. For Dance Studies doctoral student Nicole Pereira, her youth-focused research was deemed significant enough to receive a government-funded scholarship. The New Zealand Aid scholarship, offered through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, assists research aligning with learning or teaching within the Pacific, however there was no specific allocation for the arts. For her PhD, Nicole intended to work with ICON Tonga, a group using the arts to engage youth, enabling them to make positive contributions to society, to explore how teaching and learning can be enhanced in non-formal learning contexts. “ICON deal in media, spoken word, dance and acting, with social development at the heart of their work,” Nicole notes of the company. “Their mission statement is creativity with a purpose, and I identified with that immediately.”

When applying for the scholarship, ticking the ‘other’ box provided Nicole with the perfect rationale on why she should receive the award. “Not even having the arts as an option on the form is evidence of how neglected it is in Tonga, in a formal context at least,” she says. “It’s not simply about getting people to dance more, it’s about developing youth to be positive contributors to society using dance and the arts as a platform.” Historically, Tongan youth have used negative outlets for their physicality, evidenced by increasing school fights and crime rates. However, through groups such ICON, a shift is emerging. “The transformation I’ve seen in the people ICON worked with has been incredible,” Nicole says. “They just wanted a place to belong, to express themselves. They might not have the words to say something which they can easily articulate through physical creative expression.”

Nicole’s research focused on enhancing ICON’s pre-existing programme, particularly in dance. “Through contemporary dance, hip hop or dance fusion, ICON allows an extension of who these young people are,” Nicole explains. “From there they explore conceptual ideas, such as identity, empowerment or purpose, and teach life skills and values. Their mentoring sessions cover everything from leadership, collaboration and communication, all using arts as a vehicle.” As her research focused on the teaching and learning aspects of ICON, Nicole was able to use skills acquired during her undergraduate studies to provide frameworks for ICON leaders to develop their course objectives and delivery. “Initially, the group wanted me to show them how to teach and structure the lessons, but that’s not what I was there for,” she recalls. “I might have experience and training in this area, but what’s relevant in the context of Tonga? I needed to work collaboratively with them, otherwise they’d end up teaching like I do, and that wouldn’t be most effective with the youth.” Nicole produced a booklet with headings to guide the ICON leaders through their lesson plan; the processes and outcomes they wanted to achieve. “It was about encouraging and enabling them, not doing it for them. I want them to be their own dancers, their own teachers.”

A big part of Nicole’s research is honouring traditional Pacific methods of gathering information. The talanoa methodology featured heavily during her six weeks with ICON. “The best insight I received came out in conversation, rather than a formal, sit-down interview, due to the cultural traditions in Tonga,” she reveals. “There’s a very formal societal structure in Tonga, with the King, nobles, and commoners, and this is even reflected in their education system. Students are used to being told something and not saying anything, so trying to get their own ideas out of them was difficult, even more so in a formal setting.” Through talanoa, Nicole was able to gather authentic richness to her research, as it is a culturally familiar way of delivering information. “My research is ethnographic research; it needs to go beyond just sitting down and interviewing. It’s everything which surrounds that. It was the people and the stories which drew me to Tonga, so I need to represent that in my work.” Historically there has been strong critique around foreign researchers in a Pacific context, so Nicole worked to acknowledge those sensitives. Her research also threaded in the specific Tongan methodology of kakala, resembling a garland of flowers, where information is weaved together and presented back to the community. “This isn’t my research,” Nicole acknowledges, “it’s our research. It is very important to me to take this back to the group and refine it with them, to ensure it is an accurate reflection of their processes.”

Inspiration for her ethnographic research didn’t lie far away. Her supervisors, Associate Professor Nicholas Rowe and Senior Lecturer Rose Martin are leaders in ethnographic research within the arts. “They each have such rich experience,” Nicole says, “so they have excellent advice for me. They’re supportive and encouraging of my research area, understanding that their work can’t be transposed to Tonga. They share their experiences and together we find out what is relevant in a Pacific context.” In response to the specific requirements for Tongan research, Nicholas and Rose facilitated a Tongan adviser for Nicole, who reviews her work for cultural appropriateness. Nicholas has high praise for Nicole’s process. “There are three things I want to know when supervising a student in an ethnographic study,” says Nicholas. “Does she care about the people and place where the research is occuring? Is she sensitive to other ways of knowing and being in the world? Can she work with people to identify what knowledge might be valuable and worth investigating further? For Nicole, the answer to these three questions is a resounding yes. She cares without condescending, adapts without losing focus, and has a great nose for treasured knowledge. It is such a pleasure to hear her notes from the field, and to feel safe that the research she is doing is for people, not simply about people.” 

As part of her scholarship, Nicole was required to produce a policy brief on how to further arts education in Tonga. “I now have six weeks’ worth of insight, but further baseline research needs to be conducted if a formal policy is to be developed. However, it did strengthen my belief that gaps in formal education can be addressed through groups such as ICON, developing youth in these non-formal learning contexts.” Now back in Auckland, Nicole is working on developing her discussion chapter, reflecting on the findings of her research. “I could write five PhDs with the amount of information from my field research!” she laughs. “I’ll be working closely with my supervisors to bring the research together and recognise the emerging themes. I’ll then take it back to ICON and the youth of Tonga to finalise the findings.”

Nicole never dreamed of undertaking a PhD, but through the support of Dance Studies lecturers, and the opportunities which arose through her studies, she has become curious as well as ambitious. “I continue to see beyond just dancing – it’s not about pointed toes and splits. I’m passionate about changing the world, and through the expertise I’ve developed here, and with a vehicle like ICON, I’m able to really make a difference.” Ideally, she would like to see organisations like ICON around the world; offering accredited arts education programmes. “I believe ICON can have a formalised, accredited programme within the next 2-3 years, and I would love to be a part of that.”



Creative collaborations celebrated in end of semester performance

A still from the Hyperspace performance

In a great example of the cross-disciplinary nature of the creative sector, this weekend sees students from three schools across the faculty combine to present the end of semester show for Dance Studies postgraduate students. Through the encouragement of lecturer, Associate Professor Carol Brown, students in her Choreography and Performance Research course were able to engage with others from the School of Music and School of Architecture and Planning. These connections were made at the beginning of the semester, and the resulting works created over the past twelve weeks will be on show this weekend at Hyphen // HyperSpace.

Carol saw the opportunity for her students to interact with other disciplines as critical to their development. "As a practicing choreographer I know how vitally important opportunities to meet, engage, test and co-create with other artists and forms of practice are," she says. "As the architect Daniel Libeskind has stated, it is through a metamorphosis of our practices that we grow as creative agents.  And yet, these opportunities are demanding and often all too rare. This semester, choreography students have been testing new situations for dance in the expanded environment of digitally augmented spaces, and in a return to the practice of attunement through live co-presence of musician and dancer embodying scores written for dance."

The double bill show features a series of duets for solo dancers and live musicians (Hyphens) and the first public showing HyperSpace, an immersive, interactive dance-architecture experience. Each Dance Studies student, as part of the end of semester portfolio of work, will be assessed on at least one work within the show. "The creative arts are inherently collaborative, with each discipline benefitting through the inclusion of another form," says Kendall Jones, one of the choreographers and performers. "Through this project I have explored the relationships between dance and other disciplines, and this has enhanced my practice tremendously. It has been interesting learning about another creative form, and a pleasure to find out what happens within our faculty - and make new friends!"

Master of Architecture students Yinan Liu and Ying Miao met with Carol's choreographers to see how dancers add to their thesis work, Hyperspace 2.0. The project is part of the arc/sec lab for Digital Spatial Operations within the School of Architecture and Planning. "We explore reactive architecture, in relation to the human body, its movement and interaction," says Yinan. "Working with Dance Studies was the ideal opportunity to test our installation, pushing the limits of our technical and programming set up." Yinan and Ying will be present at the show to set up and run the technology behind the system during the performance.

Associate Professor Uwe Rieger says the skills developed at the arc/sec lab and within this project will be essential for future architects. "There are three key principles we need to be instilling in our students: working in an interdisciplinary environment, collective learning and being outcome focussed. Future innovations will be developed between the disciplines. We're using digital spatial technologies to create new connections between the known, linking together the creative sector, science, engineering, the humanistic and social disciplines."

Associate Professor Eve de Castro-Robinson's composition classes were also involved in the project, working through tasks with choreographers to create a piece for a solo dancer and solo musician. "This has been a rich learning experience for composition students, in terms of cooperating, and working creatively with practitioners outside their own discipline," says Eve. "Collaboration is an extremely useful and necessary part of their creative practice and has helped prepare them for the exigencies of professional work." Some student pairs worked collaboratively throughout the entire process, while others came together towards the end to fuse their concepts. Each piece will have a musician live on show night accompanying the dance work.

Whilst speaking about the experience of her composition students, Eve perhaps sums up the professional development benefits of this project for students from all disciplines. "From the tentative early discussions, workshops, personal communication, time management and the most challenging aspect – compromise - the students have developed skills that will stand them in good stead throughout their careers. Most importantly, the window into multidisciplinary work has opened up new pathways for them as creative artists."

Carol reinforces this, reflecting on the learnings of her students over the projects. "Developing original choreographic works through these collaborative conversations and environments, the students have explored the expanded potentials of dance as it meets and interfaces with other art forms and artists, laying the foundations for future creative blueprints for action in the world."

An open public showing of works by choreographers and composers will be shown in the School of Music theatre 4 - 5.30pm, Friday 3 June. Saturday's performance of Hyphen // HyperSpace is a sell out.  


Invaluable international experience for Dance Studies students

Kisha teaching her team in Suzhou
Kisha September teaching children in Suzhou.

While their friends enjoyed a leisurely summer holiday, 11 third year Dance Studies students were working hard in the studio, putting together an international-quality show to tour through China in April.

Eight pieces were rehearsed and polished between January and March, with a special presentation of the show doubling as a public dress rehearsal. Kisha September, who was part of the tour group, recalls the rehearsal process. "The majority of the pieces were pre-existing, so we were working off videos to recreate them. It was a lengthy process as all the movements required detail and precision." Choreographies from Dance Studies postgraduate students were included in the show, as was a piece from one of the touring students, Taitanyk Toniu. "Hold Your Colour was created in collaboration with my classmate, Stephen Hidalgo, as part of our second year choreography paper," Taitanyk says. "It started out as a duet, and developed into a four-person dance piece. It was then re-cast and re-developed for the tour."

Post show team spirit in Beijing
Taitanyk Toniu (foreground) and the team celebrating after a tour performance.

The group presented the works at Dulwich College International (DCI)'s art festival, Diversity, in Beijing, Shanghai and Suzhou. Lecturer Sarah Knox, who travelled with the group, says the tour is an annual occurrence for the third year cohort. "It provides valuable intercultural professional development experience for the students. Learning outcomes included a deeper understanding of choreographic processes and an international-standard rehearsal process." The students also taught a series of dance education workshops in the DCI schools to explore pedagogical skills acquired within the Bachelor of Dance Studies. "The students' teaching skills developed enormously throughout the workshop process," Sarah recalls. "They really shared their ideas and energy authentically and generously with the DCI students."

The trip also allowed the students an opportunity to play tourist in China's largest cities. The group visited sites such as the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square and People's Square as well as local markets and teahouses. They also had to deal with language difficulties and cultural differences.

Performance Mai Nga Hau E Wha in Suzhou
Performing Mai Nga Hau E Wha in Suzhou.

 "There is such a different atmosphere compared to New Zealand," Taitanyk notes. "Thankfully one of our group, Amelia, could speak Mandarin and was able to teach us a few phrases to help us get by." Kisha agrees, acknowledging, "You don’t realise how important communication is until you have to point at landmarks to get home!"

The students are aware of the impact the tour had on their dance practice, as well as their personal development. "Making connections with children who had never learned dance, and sharing our passion with them, was a blessing," Kisha says. Above all, the bond formed among the students throughout the rehearsal process and the tour itself will endure. "I not only call them my classmates, but my brothers and sisters," Taitanyk says. "My dance family is something that I will always remember."

The jet-setting third year cohort are not finished - some will again travel overseas to attend the International Youth Dance Festival in Macau later in the year.

To keep up with our Dance Studies programme, follow @moveyourthinking on Instagram. 

Taking the stage with NZ Opera

Amelia dancing in a empty old building
Image: Gale Tan Photography

The Auckland Arts Festival presents high profile performance opportunities for many of the city's creative talents. For Dance Studies student Amelia Chong, her opportunity comes as a cameo dance performer in NZ Opera’s version of Nixon in China.

Nixon in China tells the real-life story of the historical meeting between Richard Nixon and Mao Zedong. Amelia, originally from Singapore, plays the heroine of the piece; a peasant girl hoping to exact revenge on an evil landlord by joining the Red Army. The opera is a semi-staged performance, with some of the production pre-filmed, and the rest performed live for the audience. 

Associate Professor Carol Brown was the person to put Amelia's name forward for the opportunity. "I have previously worked closely with the Auckland Arts Festival as I've produced two works in the past (1000 Lovers in 2013 and PAH last year). I was approached for suggestions of performers with Chinese heritage for this performance," Carol says. Throughout 2015, Amelia was part of Carol's choreography class, so she was an immediate suggestion. "I’ve seen Amelia grow as an artist," Carol comments. "She is a compelling performer; articulate and precise. She brings a quality of stillness at the turning point of action, drawing audiences in and taking them unexpected places."

As part of the production, Amelia has been able to work with a well-known name in the arts scene, director Sarah Brodie. "Sarah is so understanding," Amelia says. "She has been extremely patient and understanding. It was nerve-wracking for me, working on such a large scale production, but Sarah and her team made it so welcoming and comfortable for everyone involved." She credits working with NZ Opera as a learning experience. "It’s not solely a dance production so I have never worked like this before. It has been an eye opener for me, working closely with other forms of performance art."

Amelia hopes performing in the Festival will bring exposure to her as a performer. "I think my involvement is a stepping stone to future opportunities," she says. "I have been able to work with amazing individuals and establish valuable connections with them." Carol agrees that the performances will be beneficial for Amelia's future. "Being involved in a major production with a stellar team like this is a special opportunity. Building a track record as a performing artist is very important to ensuring your expertise is visible and current. Amelia has a drive to carve out interesting opportunities in order to develop her artistry and physical intelligence, both locally and internationally."

Following on from her time with Nixon in China, Amelia will be travelling to Beijing, Shanghai and Suzhou as part of a Dance Studies tour in mid-March. This is her final semester of her Bachelor of Dance Studies degree, and upon graduating, she intends to keep her options open. "I would love to keep performing, hopefully within a dance company, and I would love to go into tertiary level teaching in the future."

For ticketing information on Nixon in China, visit the Auckland Arts Festival website

Kicking off 2016 on the right Footnote

ChoreoCo dancers. Image courtesy of Footnote New Zealand Dance Company.

A recent Dance Studies graduate will be part of the New Zealand Fringe Festival thanks to Footnote New Zealand Dance Company's unique ChoreoCo initiative.

Josh Faleatua, who will graduate this May, has spent four weeks working with one of the country's leading choreographers as part of an intensive workshop run by Footnote. At the end of 2015, on the advice of his lecturers, Josh applied for ChoreoLab; an intensive three week professional development workshop which bring together dancers from around the country and around the world. Whilst the sessions include dance classes, there is also a focus on social and networking opportunities to support young up and coming dancers.

Following on from his time with ChoreoLab, Joshua was selected as one of only six to form the 2016 ChoreoCo company; a new project which serves to provide early employment and exposure to recent dance graduates. "After seeing all the amazing professional dancers at ChoreoLab, I wasn’t expecting to get in at all," Josh recalls. "I have always looked up to Footnote New Zealand Dance as a company. Their dancers, choreography and work has always entertained me and inspired me. I was excited to meet Footnote and learn from them and the guest choreographers involved in ChoreoLab." His selection as one of the sought-after spots in the company follows a successful 2015 for Joshua, where he was part of the world championship-winning hip-hop crew The Bradas, of Identity Dance Company (IDCo), who brought home gold from San Diego in August. 

Josh Faleatua

This year's ChoreoCo guest choreographer is Maria Dabrowska, who Josh says is bringing new insight to his dancing. "She is amazing to work with," he comments. "She is very patient and collaborative. She considers us all co-choreographers, giving us room to help shape what goes into the show."

Sarah Knox, lecturer in the Dance Studies Programme, saw Josh's interests and talent develop throughout his time at university. "I believe in his second and third year, after doing choreography and technique papers, Josh developed an interest in contemporary dance. He is a talented hip hop dancer and his experience with IDCo and The Bradas has honed a dedication and focus which will be beneficial within a professional company environment."

A former Footnote dancer herself, Sarah knows the opportunities which await Josh. "For me, dancing in Footnote was a huge learning experience. The company environment fosters safety and bravery in testing out ideas and learning to be yourself as a young artist,"Sarah says of the opportunities Footnote provides young dancers.  "For Josh, this is awesome as it will give him first-hand experience of company life. Working closely with one of New Zealand’s key choreographers is also hugely beneficial at this early stage of his career."

Josh is excited to perform the piece the company has been working on. "Expressing an idea or portraying a concept on stage always brings me joy. I love riding off the energy of the audience; be it an awkward silence or loud cheering crowd, I enjoy being able to make those connections with different audiences in difference performance spaces." The ChoreoCo experience has encouraged him to further explore contemporary dance. "I am going to focus on the contemporary scene and see where it can take me. Hopefully as part of the show I can be seen by more choreographers and people in the industry. I’d love to get more performance-based work."

The show, Who Are We Now?, will be performed as part of the Fringe Festival from 26 February. ChoreoCo will also present Closer, a work by Olive Bieringa and Otta Ramstad, as part of the Performance Arcade - a free event on the Wellington waterfront from 2 March - 6 March.

You can see behind the scenes photos of the ChoreoCo process on Footnote New Zealand Dance’s Facebook page

Summer Research Scholars: Kendall Jones

Kendall sight-seeing in Athens.

Dance Studies student travels to Greece to explore the nature of dance during political and economic unrest.

Kendall Jones has a taste for travel. During her time at the University of Auckland, she has made the most of opportunities to explore the world and expand her dance knowledge in different contexts. During an exchange opportunity to the University of California - Los Angeles (UCLA) Kendall discovered a passion for ethnographic research. Late last year, as Dance Studies lecturers encouraged students to apply for Summer Research Scholarships as an introduction to postgraduate study, Kendall knew what subject matter she wanted to explore. "I have a particular interest in how a social climate is reflected in dance, and parallels which can be drawn between dance and social, political or cultural issues," she says. Surveying current global contexts led her to Greece. "I had to go somewhere a significant socio-political movement or discussion was occurring. With Greece currently experiencing an economic crisis, change in political parties and an influx of refugees, Athens offered this environment whilst being a safe place to reside."

The interest for Kendall lies in how dance practitioners are coping as artists as well as in daily life, and the stories they would be able to share on how societies are affected by such turbulence. After reviewing literature and honing her research approach, she is now in Athens collating information through interviews and observations, including watching and participating in dance classes. Kendall is continuously reviewing literature to inform the ethnographic intent and philosophy behind her research. "I am aiming to collect isolated narratives from each dance practitioner, and then review the collection to reveal themes and recurring issues," she explains. "Each practitioner will be speaking only for themselves and their experiences; interesting or pivotal moments which have influenced their lives and dance careers. Each will have an individual story, but I am expecting clear links and similarities to emerge."

Kendall appreciates the opportunity the Summer Research Scholarship has given her as a chance to further her research credentials at the same time as seeing the world. "I am travelling to other parts of Europe to talk to some contacts for the project, but am also fitting in some sightseeing. I have been to the Acropolis and other heritage sites around Athens, and will be doing the same in Berlin and Amsterdam," she says of her time overseas. After a settling period, Kendall has found her feet in her local neighbourhood, now confident of navigating the city and surviving with her slowly-expanding knowledge of the Greek language. Kendall is benefited by having her supervisor, Dr Rose Martin, close by. Rose is currently conducting her own research in Europe and is readily available to advise and assist with the execution of the research.

Upon return from Europe, Kendall will collate her research findings and intends to write a journal article for publication. "I plan to use the findings from this trip to inform my honours research this year,” she says of her future plans. Beyond university, she believes her options are open. "I have a passion for understanding our world and all people in it; whether that’s through dance or any medium, and that is something I will continue to explore no matter where I end up."

Dance Studies hosts Fulbright Specialist Scholar

Group of students in a circle ready to dance.

Professor Sherry Shapiro visits Creative Arts and Industries as a keynote speaker at the upcoming Dance and Social Justice Symposium.

An upcoming symposium hosted by the Dance Studies programme will feature a keynote speech by one of the world's leading dance education academics. Professor Sherry Shapiro, visiting Fulbright Scholar, will spend considerable time in Auckland with the Dance Studies staff and students, and the Dance and Social Justice Symposium will provide an opportunity for the wider dance community to engage with her.

The symposium will bring together dance researchers, students and the wider community to profile research within the area of dance and social justice, which Dr Rose Martin, lecturer within the Dance Studies programme, notes is an increasingly widening field. "This subject area is particularly important as societies become more diverse and fluid, and socio-cultural and political situations become more unstable. The dance community is exploring how dance can foster communities and in turn, social justice - equality, tolerance and acceptance," she says.

Rose is honoured to host Professor Shapiro. "We feel extremely excited to host such an eminent scholar," says Rose. "Personally I have referenced Professor Shapiro's work for a number of years; it has been very influential in my own research. Having the chance to engage with her in a collegial way is very special."

Prior to presenting at the symposium, Professor Shapiro will spend time with the Dance Studies academic staff and students to discuss her research, as well as facilitate a three day choreographic workshop for the students.

To find out more about the Dance and Social Justice Symposium, visit



Performance Series to showcase 2015 choreographic works

Dance series 2015

Second year, third year and postgraduate students perform their works from throughout the year.

The end of the academic year is a busy time across the faculty, and for the Dance Studies programme it is no different. Students at all levels are preparing for the Performance Series, held across a week in late October, which showcases the choreographic talent within this year's cohort.

Whilst the focus in the Dance Studies department is on community involvement and theoretical development, ACTION is the major performance event on the Dance Studies calendar and will feature students from all levels of the programme performing solo, duet and group pieces. Lecturer Sarah Knox, Artistic Director of ACTION, has curated the event alongside other members of staff and emphasises its importance as a learning experience for the students. "Students have to pitch their work to the staff panel, explaining their concept and processes, and demonstrate some of the work in development," she says. "This simulates the experience within the industry when submitting works to festivals."

Once selected, students work alongside one of the staff to develop their piece. Sarah also mentors students through the staging process, and they work with the specialised Creative Arts and Industries technical team to upskill in areas such as lighting design, which strengthens their experience as well as their resumes. "This advice and coaching varies depending on the experience of each student," adds Sarah, noting that some have had experience in these areas through other performance opportunities. "We are constantly looking for ways to improve the performance itself, but also to enhance the students' understanding of performance, choreography, staging and stage craft." In this vein, students who are not performing are encouraged to volunteer to assist with stage management, backstage or calling light and sound cues.

There is a particular focus on attracting the Auckland dance community to the event, which gives students added opportunity to have their works noticed by influential people in the audience. "We specially invite certain VIP guests, such as company directors, festival directors, choreographers and future employers," notes Sarah. ACTION is also open to the public, potential Dance Studies students and their friends and whanau. "ACTION offers something for everyone," says Sarah. "The Friday performance is slightly different from the Saturday, with each offering raw and eclectic works."

For more information on the works on show during the Performance Series week, visit our Events page. 



Dance Studies students head to Singapore

Two dancers wrapped in a cultural tapa cloth.

This week, a group of third year students depart for Singapore to take part in two key events.

The tour is a major annual event for the third year cohort, offering valuable opportunities for cultural exchange, networking as well as international performance experience and leadership development.

Postgraduate student Vivian Aue has choreographed TOA which will be performed on tour. TOA explores hierarchical ideologies from the South Pacific Islands, acknowledging ancestors through the royal lines and intricate patterns of black ink printed into the tapa (cloth). With mentoring from Sarah Foster-Sproull and rehearsal direction from Sarah Knox, the group has been rehearsing intensively since March in preparation for the trip.

Our students will perform TOA at the WDA Asia Pacific ‘Dance Bridges’ Symposium as part of the Dancers@Work showcase, in which tertiary institutions from around the Asia Pacific region share their pieces. The event also offers students the chance to participate in workshops, masterclasses and attend the symposium presentations. They will then perform at the National University of Singapore, strengthening the relationship which was formed during last year’s Dance Studies trip to Macau. Following a performance from the hosts, the students will partake in a series of cultural exchange workshops where they will learn classical Chinese dance, contemporary dance, and Bharatanatyam (classical Indian dance). Our students will then share tastes of Pacific and contemporary fusion along with Kapa Haka / Māori movement and song.

Keep an eye on the Creative Arts and Industries social media channels for updates on the tour. 



Dance Studies features strongly at University Blues Awards

Joshua Cesan shakes hands with University of Auckland Vice-Chancellor Stuart McCutcheon.
Joshua Cesan with University of Auckland Vice-Chancellor Stuart McCutcheon at the Blues Awards Ceremony.

The faculty is celebrating the success of two Dance Studies students at the recent University of Auckland Blues Awards.

The Blues Awards recognise excellence and contribution to the community within service, sports and the arts and are open to students across the wider University. Joshua Cesan was announced winner of the Award for the Meritorious Performance (Arts) on the evening, ahead of students working in fine arts, architecture, film, music, writing and debating.

Joshua certainly meets the criteria of external success on an international, national or regional level. As an award-winning hip hop performer and choreographer, Joshua has excelled in New Zealand and overseas competitions. Alongside his studies, Joshua has played an integral part in Identity Dance Crew, which grew into Identity Dance Company (IDCo), of which he is a lead Choreographer and Company Director. IDCo is home to some of New Zealand's most prestigious dance crews, including The Bradas, who were recently crowned World Champions at the Hip Hop International World Championships in San Diego. IDCo crews have held three consecutive national titles and have placed in the top three at three consecutive world championships. In addition to his artistic contribution, Joshua also manages the company’s development - no small task given the six crews that now make up IDCo.

Joshua has also been a featured performer on national TV screens through featured performances on Dancing with the Stars and X Factor, and is a cast member of Born to Dance, New Zealand's first dance film, currently in theatres. Currently he can be seen on Maori Television as the presenter for the SDNZ nationals series.

One of Joshua's fellow Dance Studies students, Vivian Hosking-Aue, was also recognised at the awards evening for his success in dance and choreography. Vivian, a postgraduate student, has had an influential twelve months, with choreographic works featuring in Short+Sweet and Auckland Arts festivals, a work performed at the Auckland Gallery and securing first place in the Street Dance NZ Regional and National competitions. Earlier this year, Vivian was the recipient of a postgraduate summer scholarship which saw him travel to Fiji to work alongside VOU Dance Company for six weeks, with VOU recently offering Vivian a permanent position in their choreographic and teaching team.

Associate Professor Ralph Buck, Head of the Dance Studies programme, is thrilled by Joshua’s award. "Given the amazing talent in the room across the categories of arts, service and sports, and the high profile of the evening, Joshua's achievement is amazing." Ralph is also pleased at the appreciation shown towards dance at this year's awards. "Congratulations go to Vivian and Joshua for their achievements at such a high level, but also for their wonderful ambassadorship for Dance Studies," he says. 

You can find out more about IDCo here and see Vivian in the upcoming Tempo Dance Festival


Creative Arts and Industries graduate offers choreographic scholarship

Vivian Aue posing in traditional Fijian costume.
Vivian Aue in traditional costume at VOU in Fiji.

A scholarship offered by a Dance Studies alumna has taken one of our current postgraduates to Fiji in the height of the Auckland winter.

Vivian Aue, currently completing his Postgraduate Diploma in Dance Studies, has spent six weeks in Suva throughout June and July as the inaugural winner of the VOU Choreographic Scholarship. While Vivian has been dancing since he was five years old, only last year did he begin to develop as a choreographer. "I started to enjoy making work, getting out what's in my head, producing work through movement," Vivian says of 2014. Encouragement from Dance Studies academics led him to apply for the scholarship, with Vivian recalling, "All the lecturers in our department really inspired me and pushed me to bring out more of what I’ve got."

VOU is Fiji's first professional dance company, set up by Dance Studies graduate Sachiko Soro in 2007 with the goal of promoting arts in the island nation. "There's no music and dance in primary and secondary education here, so this was a great starting point for arts education," Sachiko tells of her reasoning for starting the company. "We teach classes, we do a lot of commercial work, and we also have a research arm which documents the chants and traditional dances of our culture." Recalling the well-rounded, professional nature of her studies here in Auckland, she decided to offer the residency scholarship to a current choreography postgraduate student who could benefit from time with the company as well as bring new styles and ideas to the company and classes at VOU. "It has been great for our Fijian dancers to work alongside people like Vivian to learn and exchange ideas, knowledge and movement," she says.

Vivian traveled to Fiji with some major research goals. "Firstly, I needed to explore myself as a choreographer. I am still emerging and finding who I am, so I needed to understand how I work with dancers, my own ideas and the ideas they bring the piece themselves." Experiencing professional company life was also a crucial box to tick. "Next year I would really like to start my own company here in Auckland, and understanding the required professionalism is very important," says Vivian. After interacting with Sachiko last year through the Dance Studies programme, he wanted to benefit from her passion and knowledge of the choreographic process. "It was a truly inspirational experience," he says of her mentorship. "I look forward to implementing the energy, mana and spirit that Sachiko and the VOU dancers have taught me into my own craft back in New Zealand."

During his time in Fiji, Vivian taught beginner and advanced hip hop classes in the VOU school, choreographed a contemporary work for the VOU company members and experienced the cultural meke dances the company prides itself on. He also sampled village life, Fijian warrior attire, kava and local food. "He just fit in like a glove," Sachiko comments of Vivian's time with her group. "They hung out together outside of the studio, traveled to other parts of Fiji and I constantly heard a lot of laughter! He became full immersed in the language, culture and way of life."

Sachiko hopes Vivian has gained the experience in the day to day running and schedules of a professional dance company. She says her team enjoyed his unique choreographic style and that VOU would readily welcome Vivian back to Fiji. "He will always have a family here now." Vivian echoes that sentiment. "VOU has had a huge impact on my life. I am truly happy to have met new lifelong friends. They have treated me and my choreographic practice with so much raw energy and respect. This has been an extraordinary, choreographically interesting and challenging experience which will leave a lasting impression on my choreographic and dance practice."

Some of Vivian's pieces can be seen in Auckland at the upcoming Short and Sweet and Tempo Dance festivals.



Dance Studies graduate takes Chinese opportunities

Profile picture of Tammy Groves
Tammy Groves

Opportunities presented themselves at convenient times for Dance Studies graduate, now living and studying in China.

Tammy Groves has always had a strong interest in Chinese culture. The Dance Studies graduate was exposed to the language and culture through various homestay students her family hosted while she was growing up. "I would always hear them communicating, and became curious about their behaviours and mannerisms, which differed from ours," says Tammy.

Her early exposure to Chinese culture presented an opportunity in her first year of the Dance Studies progamme. A visiting group from Nanjing University of Arts required someone with any understanding of the language to act as host during their time in Auckland. Tammy volunteered, and she became their 24/7 guide for the fortnight the group was in Auckland, staying with them in the University's accommodation building, showing them the sights of Auckland and using her basic language skills to convey information. Following this experience, she decided to take Chinese 100G, part of the General Education programme, which allowed her to learn the language more formally.

As she moved through her Bachelor of Dance Studies, Tammy was awarded various scholarships, which she turned into avenues to further explore her interest in Chinese culture. "The Creative Arts and Industries Summer School Scholarship in 2013/2014 allowed me to travel to Nanjing University, thanks to the contacts I had built and maintained from their time in Auckland, and observe the dance classes they held. I looked at the pedagogies employed by community dance teachers, and noticed that 'community dance' differs in China as to here in New Zealand," Tammy recalls, highlighting the more structured, traditional values of Chinese dance, compared with New Zealand’s focus on individual involvement.

Tammy become aware of a scholarship offered through the Confucius Institute at the University, which she was awarded, allowing more time in China. She studied at Shanghai University of International Business and Economics for a month, building her knowledge in other aspects of Chinese culture. “It gave me a chance to get back to China, I was missing it, and I was so grateful for more exposure to the country, culture and people," she says.

Tammy is currently living in Beijing, studying the Chinese language at Peking University and working in the University's New Zealand Centre as an intern. The Centre aims for continual exchange between New Zealand and China, particularly in education. Tammy's role is multi-faceted; writing articles for and maintaining the website, hosting New Zealand lecturers and assisting students with any queries they may have about New Zealand. In the upcoming semester, Tammy will be tutoring the New Zealand history and culture course. "The role is everything I enjoy all complied into one position. I really love it," Tammy says of another opportunity she has grasped with both hands. 

Looking forward, upon completion of her study at Peking University, Tammy is weighing up returning to Creative Arts and Industries to commence masters study or trying to acquire more on-the-ground experience of dance in a Chinese context. "I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface of my interests. I’m so hungry to learn more. I like that I’m still excited about discovering more about China."



10 years of Move Your Thinking

Two male dancers leaping.

Associate Professor Ralph Buck, Head of Dance Studies, reflects on a decade of the driving philosophy of the programme and the benefits of dance within the community.

Our faculty's Dance Studies programme is celebrating its strongest ever student numbers, and Ralph believes this is a reflection of the underlying philosophy that runs through the department. 

Dance Studies has found a niche with the Move Your Thinking motto. "It’s about valuing your own body, mind and culture, and examining what is relevant in diverse artistic and community contexts. We've found a focus on community dance and education, ethnography and choreographic practice," explains Ralph.

Such a community focus has seen current and past students become involved with significant local projects. Dance Studies students work with children with disabilities at Pakuranga College, with young patients at Starship Hospital and with children at the Auckland Art gallery. "Dance is about putting a smile on people's faces," says Ralph. "It's about getting spaces to be alive: the challenge is working out how to change a hospital from a cold, stony place into something vibrant." In 2015, students will continue the challenge by working with dementia patients at Selwyn Retirement Village, and with children in various education contexts.

Ralph is also proud of the diverse research happening across the department as a result of the community focus. Staff and students are involved in local and international projects to do with climate change, cultural exploration and children in refugee camps. Ralph is working closely with the University's Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences, and speaking at the Centre for Brain Research's upcoming Brain Day on the impact dance can have on dementia patients. He is excited about the increasing involvement in such projects. "It is great to have other disciplines advocating for dance, saying we can contribute to their research. They respect what we know about dance, community and pedagogy."

With Dance Studies continuing to grow in both the University and wider community, Ralph's vision for the next ten years is clear - "move more thinking!" 

For more about the Dance Studies philosophy, follow #MoveYourThinking through your Instagram account.


Dancing behind bars

A Dance Studies community-focused research project is focusing on prisoners and positive movement of the body.

Kristie Mortimer has recently completed her Masters thesis on the role of dance in prisons, seen through the experiences of three community dance practitioners working within the correction system. An under-researched aspect of dance in New Zealand, Kristie explored methods of facilitating dance in prisons, the challenges practitioners faced within the prison environment and how they negotiated these. 

Through a mix of free dance, cultural dance and dance integrated into sport, the dance sessions were generally well received by inmates. "The key was talking to the groups prior to teaching, rather than imposing something on them, controlling them in an environment where so much of their life is already controlled," Kristie says of her findings. "By focusing on contemporary and creative dance, which are based on movement rather than technique, inmates were able to experience their 'inner dancer' and take that away with them."

As the research did not specifically focus on the prisoners' experience or the benefits of dance, Kristie's recommendations would include exploring this for further research.