For three-weeks in January I was based at 125 Cuba Street, Wellington with 20 other creative dancers/choreographers. It was Footnote Dance Company’s Choreolab; three-weeks of moving, creating, changing, adapting and discussing.

One discussion was concerned with the direction of fringe dance and the role specific, conservatory-type dance training will have in the new era.

I say it was a discussion, more of a talk by Michael Parmenter. Michael talked and many of the rest listened.

Every 10 years or so dance (like most arts) enters a new era and every 2 or 3 decades a monumental shift would be noted. Legend has it that contemporary dance was born when Isadora Duncan walked into an empty studio, closed her eyes, put her hand to her heart and waited until the movement came from within. This has been the mantra of contemporary dance for the majority of its history. Dance is such a inherent human quality that outside influence is of little import. (As a side note, this is why dance has garnered the reputation of being very isolated and removed from the real world. All dance needed was a body, unlike other practices which need paint, cameras, clay and a bunch of other outside contributions).

In the 1960s the Judson Church movement with Trisha Brown, Meredith Monk, Lucinda Childs brought a dramatic shift in the definition of contemporary dance and thus dance itself. The Judson Church group moved away from the trained body and introduced gestural movement as legitimate dance; dance become more relaxed and released.

During the 1980s and 1990s there was further shift away from the trained body. Dancers and choreographers were less likely to come from a trained background. Yet for the most part the original mantra of an internal muse remained.

Michael referred to a TANZforum he had attended recently in Germany. While there he noted the lack of live movement. There was plenty of video and text, and a lot of stillness. He used it as an example of the new era of dance. Real live movement is becoming less important, as is the trained body. But the space around the movement (or lack of movement as the case may be), the context, and environmental influences (rather than that internal muse) are becoming more important. Focusing on the space around the movement reminds me a bit of that famous optical illusion of the vase and two faces. We now train ourselves to view and to choreograph the faces rather than the vase.

The discussion was left at the question: “Where does conservatory-type dance training fit in this new era of dance?” If it continues in its present form, students and graduates may find themselves completely unprepared for the reality of the dance world.

Despite the possibility of being short-changed by my current training, I am excited by our next era. It is demonstrating huge creativity and intelligence.