A tribute to the dexterous, powerful and vulnerable Douglas Wright

by Sarah Foster-Sproull / 16 November, 2018
Douglas Wright directs dancer Sarah-Jayne Howard during the Black Milk rehearsal at the Sydney Opera House July 19, 2006. Photo / Getty Images

Douglas Wright directs dancer Sarah-Jayne Howard during the Black Milk rehearsal at the Sydney Opera House July 19, 2006. Photo / Getty Images

RelatedArticlesModule - Douglas Wright

To choreographer Sarah Foster-Sproull, Douglas Wright was both mentor and friend. 

I fell in love with movement through seeing Douglas Wright dance and witnessing the power of his choreography live.

As an aspiring dancer in training in the late 1990’s I ‘fangirled’ my way through watching every single performance of Buried Venus and the Douglas Wright Retrospective, in both Wellington and Auckland. During his live performances of Elegy, I would sit on the edge of my seat, with tears in my eyes, like a big ole’ dance loving cliché.

Experiencing his work in an age before the internet and social media made everything so accessible. It meant that I had to lean in close and savour every moment while it lasted. Later in my career, after hoping with all my heart, he offered me a job as a dancer in rapt, and I began a new journey with his work from the inside. I was hoping to pull back the veil of his mystery and magic, but in reality, I spent most of my time trying to please him, in the way that you might do with your idols. It was a bit tragic.


I recall the furious work ethic in the studio, his unrelenting drive for perfection, and the practice, practice, practice. Douglas was incredibly specific about the detail within a movement, and each gesture or inflection was deftly choreographed. His conversational and gestural movement material was mixed with explosive jumping. Cutting through space like a banshee was a trademark. As dancers, we were always 100% with him, ready to develop, refine, and push his ideas as far as possible. I was in awe of his choreographic crafting, and attention to detail.

With Megan Adams assisting him, Douglas was capable of achieving an incredible amount in a short time frame. In rapt, our job as dancers was to embody his directional specificity with wild abandon, and it was a tough task.

At this time, he was not dancing much due to his health, but Douglas would still get up to demonstrate the occasional movement or sequence. His material was often the hardest to achieve, and sometimes he was astounded that we couldn’t do it as he did. This led to a fury of practice, refinement, discussion, and more practice.

Sarah Foster-Sproull. Photo / supplied

I witnessed some of my dearest friends flourish under Douglas’ direction. He had an uncanny ability to unlock something hidden within certain dancers, a regal fury.

Pretty soon after this experience, I retired from performing, as in many ways I felt I had done all I wanted to do as a dancer. The experience working with Douglas had inspired me to work more seriously on my own choreography.

I had a short career with Douglas, but a long friendship. When I visited him, he would get me to sit in the ‘good’ chair while he sat on the couch. We would drink cups of tea and eat small cakes. I never imagined that he would eat small cakes, but he did, so there you go.

I got to ask him all the choreographic questions I had, and I was uplifted at his genuine interest in my own choreographic practice. His support of my work opened doors for me, that would not otherwise have been opened. These times, his opinions, and our discussions are very precious to me.

My feelings about Douglas’ choreography are mirrored throughout the national and international dance community. I am one of many who have been deeply moved by his creative voice. Since he passed on November 14th social media has exploded with tributes of love and gratitude from his friends and admirers. The stories are glorious, and a beautiful reminder of Douglas as a dexterous human, both powerful and vulnerable, witty and unrelenting.

There is a legacy of dancers and choreographers left in the wake of Douglas’ passing that are reflecting deeply on what dance in Aotearoa means now. I remember reading that Douglas said wanted to make a tornado, something energetic and wild.

That is what he did, and how I will remember him.

Vale Douglas Wright, with love.


 

Sarah Foster-Sproull is a former dancer turned choreographer who was the recipient of the $100,000 Creative New Zealand Choreographic Fellowship in 2017.

Latest

China-New Zealand relations aren’t in crisis – no thanks to Winston
102611 2019-02-21 10:09:27Z Politics

China-New Zealand relations aren’t in crisis – no…

by The Listener

Winston Peters’ contrariness and belligerence in the media feed the impression of a self-indulgent, China-baiting tear.

Read more
Germany considered changing the autobahn speed limit and people weren't happy
102497 2019-02-21 00:00:00Z World

Germany considered changing the autobahn speed lim…

by Cathrin Schaer

A Government-initiated working group suggested putting a speed limit of 130km/h on motorways to lower emissions and make roads safer. Big mistake.

Read more
Stan & Ollie pays tribute to Laurel and Hardy's brilliant buffoonery
102440 2019-02-21 00:00:00Z Movies

Stan & Ollie pays tribute to Laurel and Hardy's br…

by James Robins

John C Reilly and Steve Coogan are lifelong devotees to comic duo Laurel and Hardy – and it shows.

Read more
Colin Hogg: Why my mates matter (and keep on ending up in my books)
102594 2019-02-21 00:00:00Z Books

Colin Hogg: Why my mates matter (and keep on endin…

by Colin Hogg

With his second book about Sam Hunt proving a hit, Colin Hogg ponders why so much of his writing career has been inspired by his mates.

Read more
Vote for your favourite dish in the 2019 Peugeot People’s Choice Award
102345 2019-02-21 00:00:00Z Top 50 Restaurants

Vote for your favourite dish in the 2019 Peugeot P…

by Metro

Vote for your favourite dish in the 2019 Peugeot People’s Choice Award and be in to win dinner for two.

Read more
Death of the gods: The woeful response to kauri dieback disease
102578 2019-02-21 00:00:00Z Planet

Death of the gods: The woeful response to kauri di…

by Bob Harvey

The closer you get to a kauri, the more you realise you are looking at one of the wonders of the planet.

Read more
National’s failure to grasp climate change a major challenge for NZ
102598 2019-02-21 00:00:00Z Planet

National’s failure to grasp climate change a major…

by Steve Abel

National's Bluegreen wing are set to hold their annual conference this weekend. Greenpeace’s Steve Abel will be there to challenge the party.

Read more
The native Mandarin speaker who's translating te reo on television
102606 2019-02-20 22:10:47Z Education

The native Mandarin speaker who's translating te r…

by Vomle Springford

Lidu Gong first started learning te reo in bed.

Read more