A surreal approach to choreography
2 March 2020
Sarah Foster-Sproull, one of the country’s most renowned choreographers has joined the University of Auckland as a senior lecturer on the Dance Studies Programme which she describes as her "dream job".
It is a world with which she is reasonably familiar, having completed her Masters in Dance Studies at the University and where she has taught part-time.
She will be teaching both choreography and contemporary dance. “Which are the domains I have always worked in and am currently practicing in, so a full-time teaching job is a meaningful way of bringing the different strandsof my career together all in one place.”
There are myriad strands to her outstanding and award-winning career. Ms Foster-Sproull is currently the first female Choreographer in Residence at the Royal New Zealand Ballet Company and also the Artistic Director of her own company, Foster Group Dance. She was Creative New Zealand’s Choreographic Fellow for 2017-2019 which enabled her to create several works that will be performed this year, here and around the world.
“In my new role in the Dance Studies programme I’ll be bringing in dancers to rehearse here, which gives energy to our students, and helps create a cultural community around the choreography I’m making. It’s important for students to see what the choreographic process can look like”.
She describes the aesthetic of her choreography as “surrealism with images”.
Her work, Orchids, which won three awards at The Wellington Theatre Awards last year was described as “otherworldly, mythological, sensual, full of rage”. Capturing the different ages of women, it features a dance cast who range from around 10 to 60 years old, and has included her ten-year-old daughter Ivy.
I’ll be bringing in dancers to rehearse here, which gives energy to our students, and helps create a cultural community around the choreography I’m making. It’s important for students to see what the choreographic process can look like.
Last year was one of the most demanding of her career when, as the Director of Choreography for the World of Wearable Art (WOW), New Zealand’s largest art event, she managed the choreography for 110 people, including models, dancers, aerialists, parkour performers and local guest artists.
It involved working under incredible creative pressure, often ten-hour days, six days a week.
“It was a lot of fun, and being up close to all the garments, in that show, and thinking about the creative inspiration behind them, has changed me forever.
“A WOW garment model is a unique type of model,” she explains. “They have to move in a way that enlivens and highlights the peculiarities or the features of that garment, and so that all members of the audience have the same experience of the artwork and craft involved”.
“WOW provided me with an opportunity to think about the whole event, what it looks like and feels like to be in one of the dances that I’ve made, and what a certain costume feels like.”
“I’ve been making dance work for years, but I’ve never allowed myself to really think about the set and costuming design to that extent. I am now looking about dance making in an entirely new way”.
She is now developing a work called Double Goer, the English translation of doppelgänger, a surreal work in which two unrelated women are bound by an uncanny physical likeness. It will involve visual art, intricate costume design, a hand-painted set and an element of puppetry; Foster-Sproull is currently making twin marionettes that each dancer will operate.
While she has always had an art practice, she is finding ways to include it into her choreography, to design the whole theatrical event, including the dance, the set, costumes, and in this case, marionettes.
“My dance work is not just about the choreography, but designing the event in a much more hands-on way”.
Landing her dream job at the University of Auckland in the Dance Studies programme has given her the chance to reflect on her career to date, and where to take it. “I guess my career has been an experiment in sustainability.
“It is a portfolio – involving performing, choreographing, teaching, producing, and arts administration. It’s just that as I get older I get to do less of the additional bar-tending, clothing sales, side hustle etcetera, and more of what my true passion is – dance making”.
Margo White I Media adviser
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