Dance show Orchids reveals the dark side of the female psyche

by Francesca Horsley / 11 October, 2017
RelatedArticlesModule - Orchids dance

Touring work Orchids by Creative NZ fellow Sarah Foster-Sproull disrupts notions of womanhood.

A piercing baby’s cry at the end of the 2016 dance work Sisters of the Black Crow by Sarah Foster-Sproull sent a wave of shock through the audience – it brought the powerful yet disturbing discourse on female control and possession to an abrupt end.

Never fear, the urgency of the baby’s cry was not garnered from some surreal “other world” or anything more sinister, but a recording of choreographer Foster-Sproull’s infant son Roman in the grip of colic. Also in the edgy creative mix was sleep deprivation and tension as Foster-Sproull and her husband negotiated the pressures of that first year of their son’s life.

A year on, Sisters has been developed into the full-length work Orchids, to be presented as part of the Tempo Dance Festival 2017 programme. Not that it will necessarily be less edgy. Foster-Sproull is interested in disrupting notions of womanhood, telling the stories of the “other” woman, the realm often hidden from view – “the stuff that sits there with a veil over, the dark side to the female psyche”, she says. “An orchid clings to those dark spaces and out of it grows this beautiful flower. So there are connections to the female, to the darkness.” The title also draws on visual artist Georgia O’Keeffe’s representation of the orchid as female genitalia.

“With one of the dancers, Rose Philpott, we create a Medusa-like structure where we pull her hair up and she dances around with the women attached to her.” They then make Medusa’s rage their own.

Orchids. Photo/Jocelen Janon

Orchids. Photo/Jocelen Janon

Foster-Sproull has been working on this content for about six years. “It is really important to expose the female energy as the shadow sense and the light self – so all facets of a woman are within my work. The darkness is quite uncomfortable for some people, but darkness is as essential as lightness. Rage, anger and that tone of emotion are not exclusive; everyone can experience those things. We are animals. Anyone who has given birth – that whole process is completely animalistic and incredible.”

Strong relationships are essential to her creativity and she has collaborated with a close-knit group of female dancers over the three years of making Orchids. Her husband, theatre director Andrew Foster, has provided the set design and dramaturgy and Ivy, their seven-year-old daughter, is in the cast.

Sarah Foster-Sproull: light essence belies fearless determination. Photo/Jocelen Janon

“Ivy brings home from school her trials and tribulations and we talk about stuff she is interested in – her perceptions of male/female gender roles, even from a young age.”

Foster-Sproull is also putting the finishing touches to a work for the Footnote Dance Company programme Contrast, set to go on a national tour in October. Her eighth work for the company, Super Ornate Construct, “looks at societal constructions and notions of responsibility”. Its title is a metaphor for what remains when the ornately constructed world is stripped back to the underlying people and relationships.

“That is the arc of the work. I wanted to experiment with a narrative, so I worked alongside Andrew, who is also the composer and the dramaturg, to tell the story of a ‘man alone’ character.

"Throughout the work, we try to shift the power from that person to one of the female cast members.”

She has handmade a number of cardboard cut-out props, which the dancers use to populate a world around the central character.

“These props float in and out of the frame to add context to what is happening in the scene. By the end of the work, it is just the dancers moving their heads around each other in a scene I call head stacks. It is relatively existential at that point.”

Orchids. Photo/Jocelen Janon

Orchids. Photo/Jocelen Janon

Foster-Sproull is regarded as one of the country’s brightest choreographers and was awarded the 2017 Creative New Zealand Choreographic Fellowship. This will enable her to work uninterruptedly here and overseas rather than continuing her present regime of making work intermittently; “a pocket here, a pocket there. I just think it’s too long.”

She describes her early career as a “gawky, awkward sort of dorky tumbling into dance. I was never the person who was the top pick of anything – was not the best. I was in a really cool bunch of students at the School of Dance. We were all different and I learnt a lot from being around diverse people. When I graduated, I had to figure out what now – do I really want to be a dancer, is there a place for me?”

The next five to six years were spent working in a restaurant, a clothing store and children’s theatre, making one or two works a year with girlfriends. “It was very low key. I then decided to go to dance classes consistently to keep in contact with people who were making things, to keep fit and activate my brain.” All of a sudden she was on her way. Choreographer Raewyn Hill offered her a dance job and they then worked together for eight years.

Orchids. Photo/Jocelen Janon

Orchids. Photo/Jocelen Janon

She learnt her skills by generating movement and ideas while dancing for top New Zealand choreographers. “I learnt to make work by creating for other people. Stepping away and making my own work was about me thinking, ‘If I created for these amazing people, how do I create for myself?’”

She has developed a devising, choreographic process. “I have a specific vision and my collaborators contribute to this and I craft the material to support the presentation. It is more akin to a director role than a didactic choreographer role. The dancers are the most important people in the work – the work is those people.”

Foster-Sproull’s light essence belies a fearless determination. As a dancer, she gave herself unsparingly, and she does the same as a choreographer. Her plans for her fellowship are comprehensive and impressive. “I have a series of works in lots of different destinations. I want to learn some things to add to my toolkit to diversify my practice.”

She also plans to create an evening programme that engages with the dance community – “where there are classes, we do choreographic practice and we put on a little thing at the end of it. I also want to make an oral history project where I interview people around the theme of fellowship and make a document of that. So it’s not an exclusive thing. It is really just to push the making of work to the extreme – there are a lot of things I have to do.”

Orchids, Foster Group and Tempo Dance Festival, Q Theatre, Auckland, October 12 & 13.

Super Ornate Construct, Contrast, Footnote New Zealand Dance, national tour, October 22-November 11.

MostReadArticlesCollectionWidget - Most Read - Used in articles
AdvertModule - Advert - M-Rec / Halfpage

Latest

How China’s skewed sex ratio is making President Xi’s job a lot harder
81865 2017-10-21 00:00:00Z World

How China’s skewed sex ratio is making President X…

by David Skidmore

As odd as it sounds, China’s economic policy is being held hostage by its heavily skewed sex ratio.

Read more
Allen Curnow: The poet who helped define New Zealand
81753 2017-10-21 00:00:00Z Profiles

Allen Curnow: The poet who helped define New Zeala…

by Sally Blundell

A new literary biography takes the measure of poet Allen Curnow, whose work helped define New Zealand’s voice.

Read more
Does sugar really cause kids' hyperactivity?
81849 2017-10-21 00:00:00Z Health

Does sugar really cause kids' hyperactivity?

by Marc Wilson

Parents blame sugar for causing kids’ hyperactivity, but the evidence suggests it’s not the culprit.

Read more
Minority Rules: Who will be the first voted off Coalition Island?
81921 2017-10-20 15:49:43Z Politics

Minority Rules: Who will be the first voted off Co…

by Jane Clifton

As a reality-TV show full of dramatic challenges, this new Labour-led Government has a lot going for it.

Read more
How to blend your TV into your interior style
81897 2017-10-20 14:13:55Z Technology

How to blend your TV into your interior style

by Noted

Most TVs are a central part of the living areas while at the same time, taking it over. Samsung's Frame TV hangs on the wall like a piece of artwork.

Read more
A play about Tinder, plus more upcoming Auckland theatre
81874 2017-10-20 11:49:18Z What's on

A play about Tinder, plus more upcoming Auckland t…

by India Hendrikse

Your guide to what's on now and later in Auckland

Read more
The decision's been made, what comes next for New Zealand politics?
81839 2017-10-20 06:58:41Z Politics

The decision's been made, what comes next for New …

by Richard Shaw

Expect some questions about how NZ forms governments, an angry National in Opposition and curiosity about political odd couple Ardern and Peters.

Read more
Bill English concedes: 'We all know the rules, we play by them'
81833 2017-10-20 06:15:01Z Politics

Bill English concedes: 'We all know the rules, we …

by RNZ

Mr English, flanked by his wife and senior party colleagues, appeared emotional towards the end of a short press conference accepting the decision.

Read more