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Dancing to Her Own Tune – Fleur de Thier

Dance, Performance
image The Case of the… Fleur de Thier

“I like creating experiences for the audiences so they don’t come out thinking ‘What the hell was that?” But this show is a bit different – I think this may be one of those shows where the audience does come out and say, “What just happened?” But I’ve kind of done that intentionally…”

Fleur de Thier has often been described as ‘The Queen of Quirk‘, and while the Christchurch-based choreographer and dancer doesn’t shy away from the description, there is a lot more to her work than just quirkiness.

Her shows incorporate performance, theatre, comedy and music, and the eclectic nature of her creations can sometimes make it hard to describe her performances. Often there’s something a bit surprising, as in her new show, The Case of The… which features a lot of… suitcases.

“When I first came up with the idea, the suitcases represented our ability to travel, specifically the idea of how dancers need to travel to train and have a career,” explains de Thier. “Now, the cases represent our inability to travel, but they also represent the baggage that we carry in our lives; whether it’s a case full of treasures, or a whole lot of crap we’ve accumulated over our lifetime – the cases represent different things.”

The show was originally slated to open in early 2020, but the Covid lockdowns put a stop to that. In the ensuing months, the work underwent somewhat of a transformation. The risk factors for Covid – age and vulnerability – started de Thier thinking on how these factors impacted on dancers – particularly mature dancers.

“We were about to perform just before the first lockdown happened,” she explains. “At that time there were just two professional dancers in the work. But when Covid hit, I started to reimagine the work to look at what it meant to be vulnerable as a mature dancer. Rebound Dance Company is full of mature dancers who are phenomenal and I was aware that some of them were thinking ‘Well, I can do a headstand and the splits, but I’m being treated like I’m frail and I shouldn’t go out in public.” I really wanted to include them in the work to celebrate them and their resilience, and so the work took on a different form.”

The piece is a kind of diptych  – two seemingly different dances in one performance.

“There’s only one narrative – but there are two worlds in the show. It’s a bit of a surrealistic landscape. The younger dancers are quite playful and curious and the more mature dancers are more resilient and are moving through the world, bringing their suitcases with them and while they share the stage, they don’t necessarily interact.”

Covid is just the latest challenge for the determined de Thier. After leaving Christchurch for her own dance training, she made the decision to come back to the city and make her career here.

After 30 years of choreographing and dancing, she is still passionate about the opportunities living and working in Christchurch offers, however, she says basing herself here can have its frustrations.

“There are difficulties in that it sometimes feels like people in Wellington or Auckland – where things are often funded – seem to have no idea about the work happening here. I’m not sure there’s enough recognition of the creatives here or their careers and longevity. I feel like I have to remind the powers that be that I have a thirty-year-career, and I’ve been making one or two major works a year plus lots of short works. It’s not easy to sustain a career in the arts, and it always comes back to money. I do it because I love it, but it would be great to be able to employ more dancers. It would be great to be able to employ a graphic designer, or a producer, rather than have to do it all myself. And to be honest, it would be nice to be able to pay myself sometimes.”

Despite this, de Thier loves what she does, and loves the audiences in Ōtautahi who have been loyal to her work over the decades. She tries to surprise her audiences and she says her new show is slightly more experimental than some of her previous work.

“I’ve definitely got a steady audience, it’s a diverse audience. Interestingly, I’d say that a lot of my audience is not from the dance community, I think that’s because my work is accessible. I like creating experiences for the audiences so they don’t come out thinking ‘What the hell was that?” But this show is a bit different – I think this may be one of those shows where the audience does come out and say, “What just happened?” she laughs. “But I’ve kind of done that intentionally.”

de Thier says she’s been inspired by all the dancers in her new show, and working with different ages and abilities has informed her choreography. She believes the concept of collaboration is an important ingredient in her evolution as a choreographer, and that it’s a crucial way to find new audiences.

“Every time I do a collaboration with a visual artist or a filmmaker or a musician, all of a sudden, the audience extends out. My work is also a collaboration with the audience, we are reliant on them coming through – and their support is crucial to the whole thing.”

This is an inter-generational dance theatre work celebrating curiosity and resilience. It’s abstract, it’s fun, it’s wonderfully weird. 13 dancers and the metaphorical suitcase, featuring professional dancers Julia McKerrow, Aleasha Seaward and Rebound Dance Company.

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