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Dancing past limitations

Sat 14 Aug 2010 In: Performance View at NDHA

Triple Bill One of the nation's most celebrated choreographers Jeremy Nelson has made a brief trip home, to put together a dance piece for Touch Compass, New Zealand's first integrated dance company with disabled and non-disabled performers. was lucky enough to get a chance to sit down with the inspiring gay dancer to discuss whether limitations are limitations at all. Jeremy Nelson, picture by Tom Brazil Jeremy Nelson hardly has the appearance of a globetrotting jetsetter as we sit down for an interview during a lunchbreak between rehearsals at Tapac in Western Springs. He is sweaty, clad in trackpants and socks and sporting a bleeding chin, not immediately realising he'd suffered a minor injury during dance practice. Despite the ruffled appearance, there is something serene about Nelson that prompts one to want to wax poetic. Tranquillity almost emanates from him as he discusses his passion for the piece he is creating. It's hard not to get lost in his calmly-piercing eyes and simply listen to him speak, without really his hearing words (a dangerous pursuit for a journalist!). Nelson's piece for Touch Compass is one of three which will appear on stage in Triple Bill, at the Auckland Town Hall's Concert Chamber from August 18-21. The choreographer has contributed Six, a name and concept which has simple origins. He came up with the idea as he got to know the dancers and their physical language during a December workshop. "It's called six because there are six dancers in it," Nelson explains. "Also how I saw what could be perceived as physical limitations as a chance to open doors rather than close them," he says. The concept grew when Nelson read about the number six. "And that it's one of the numbers that has a lot of potential in terms of factoring and it figures in a lot of mathematical and physical properties that are about possibility, so that's really what led the piece." Nelson says the driving force of Six is the dancers' physicality. "When you're dealing with a mixed ability company, you can't do what you usually do." There are three dancers in wheelchairs, he says. "They glide around the space, they can turn and we have a whole section which is called the 'wheelie section', which is about using that, the fact that they can zoom around the space and weave in and out and turn on a diagonal and that kind of thing." The choreographer says he feels as though he has been 'torturing' the dancers, making them work intensely hard in preparation as he only had limited time to put the piece together and was unable to stay in the country for the performance. "Because they're all so good natured and generous they go on with it." Nelson comes back to New Zealand quite regularly and to run a variety of classes and workshops. He's currently the Head of Dance at The Danish National School of Contemporary Dance, after many years in New York. He has travelled extensively, gaining global critical acclaim for the pieces he has produced and presented. He says the move to Copenhagen was brought about the limited support for arts. "Especially in New York. It's pathetic. Nothing," he states, but quickly points out that this environment does mean that artists make things happen, whether they have money or not. "And now I work in Copenhagen, where the Danish people are giving everything, and I feel like they could do with some of that spirit actually – make things happen yourself instead of waiting for it to be supported." Nelson says dancers in New Zealand are doing much the same as their counterparts in New York - taking second jobs to support their dancing, as the art does not earn them a living. "It's a real test of dedication, you know. Persistence actually." He loves returning to New Zealand, saying there is something very particular about the physicality of our dancers. "It's special actually. Not unsurprisingly given the country. In Europe where people live in small spaces, they don't move as big. New Zealand, the home of extreme sports and bungy jumping and all that kind of thing, people tend to move that way," he says. "It's very particular to here, so it's always very good to come back and connect with that. I left here in 1976 so it's a long time since I've lived here, but I love coming back. Nelson combines work with travel, saying he and his partner have toured around the South Island in a campervan a couple of times. He is fervent about contemporary dance and asks people to keep an open mind. "If people who come into the theatre could trust their own visceral responses and instinctive responses, I think that's what I try and connect to and make in the work. Then I can enjoy it more," he says. "One thing about working with people with disabilities is that to them moving is really, really precious. We think we have it difficult as dancers, but I mean, all the obstacles that they have to deal with – and still they're dancing." For someone who has a CV anyone would be proud to boast about he is a modest and peaceful man who is clearly gliding across the world not for glory, but for passion. I leave inspired and a little giddy, even walking into a car sitting in the carpark with its engine running, (possibly making the driver's day by the way he laughed). I think I have a mini man crush.     Jacqui Stanford - 14th August 2010

Credit: Jacqui Stanford

First published: Saturday, 14th August 2010 - 1:20pm

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