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"Your Body is a Battleground"

Sat 6 Dec 2014 In: Performance View at NDHA

“We have a really strong work. But I also realise there’s so much more to explore," says John Butterfield. Sexuality, desire, gender, social expectations and stereotypes are all being explored in a Wellington dance theatre work which director John Butterfield says raises more questions than it has even been able to touch on. Your Body is a Battleground is on stage tonight, then again from December 11-13, at Te Whaea: National Dance and Drama Centre in Newtown, with tickets just $10-$15. It’s Butterfield’s major production for his Master of Theatre Arts in Directing and features students and recent graduates from the New Zealand School of Dance and Toi Whakaari: New Zealand Drama School. The current performances are a ‘work in progress’ as the show is prepared for next year’s New Zealand Fringe Festival. Butterfield has been working on Your Body is a Battleground since mid-year and says it has transformed throughout the ensuing months. He set out wanting to create a show about transgender and gender fluid people. “I was really aware of, and have been made more aware of, the fight that’s going on within the queer community itself and how they’re accepted and not accepted. Whether they identify as queer or not, that’s sort of where they have been put, they’ve sort of landed in our community and what sort of care are we taking with them? And how are we helping them?” As he went through workshops he realised that wasn’t going to fly, just yet. “I don’t have a crew of transgender kids or gender fluid individuals working on the piece, and so therefore to try and speak for that community felt a little false. When we tried to build in that vocabulary it just didn’t ring true,” he explains. “That is still a project that I want to build. And I have to find that crew. I have to go out and find those makers, to have a stronger sense of ownership.” Butterfield says with the group of performers he has, he instead turned to questions like ‘what is expected of you when you’re a boy’ and ‘what is expected to you when you're a girl’. “And as male dancers all the things that get thrown at you and assumed about you.” He came up through the ranks as a dancer and says his sexuality was always questioned, as was his gender, in terms of “am I man enough, and all that bullshit that goes with it.” Hailing from the Bay Area in California, Butterfield came back to New Zealand because he knew it was a place which embraces new work, and risks. “It’s the culture of Toi Whakaari in a way, as well, so I knew this was a safe place for me to build it. And if it fell down I could still learn a lot from it. I’m not back at home with my own company’s finances resting on my shoulders. I had room to explore.” He is thrilled to have ‘a dream team’ behind him, saying it’s a luxury to have an incredible set designer, costume designer and composer who are ready to graduate. “Luckily through the auspices of the school I am able to do that. That’s been a real gift.” The work is being now performed and refined before being part of the New Zealand International Fringe Festival next year, while they are also seeking funding to take the piece to Auckland. The director is inspired and excited by so many youth today who are pushing against the boundaries and saying “‘I want to be able to move from one to the other, why is that wrong? Why do I have to behave one way with my male mates and differently with my female mates? Why can’t I hug, or kiss? And I’m not asking to have sex with my male mates, I’m just asking for a gentle platonic touch’. I mean, that doesn’t really happen a lot between men.” He says this is something the younger generation is really trying to push against. “I guess the big thing about doing the work is getting people to look at that question and how they view it, without hammering them on the head with it, just showing them the examples we have found.” Butterfield hopes people think “well why can’t I hug my mate? Why is that so weird? I’m not in love with him, it’s not a romantic physical touch’, ‘I love this guy’ or ‘I love this girl, it’s not that we’re going to be lovers’. As people, as a species, we touch. We’re tactile beings and I think just shut that off.” He hopes to get people to look at how they instantly go to two polarised places about ‘how I view men’ or ‘how I view women’. Butterfield says he feels like what Your Body is a Battleground explores is only the tip of the iceberg. “We have a really strong work. But I also realise there’s so much more to explore … it’s really opened my eyes in a lot of different ways.” He believes we need to break free of things like ‘bloke culture’ and stop being so concerned about other people’s sexuality. “How does it affect you? There’s that whole argument about how queer marriage is going to destroy marriage – if it’s going to destroy your marriage then one of you is queer!” Buy tickets here Jacqui Stanford - 6th December 2014

Credit: Jacqui Stanford

First published: Saturday, 6th December 2014 - 10:29am

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