Story: Contemporary dance

Page 4. New companies and international work, 1990s to 2000s

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The void left by the demise of the nationally recognised, full-time repertory company Limbs in 1989 was filled with a proliferation of pick-up companies (formed for a particular work or tour) and choreographic experimentation in the 1990s. In Auckland, Brian Carbee, Catherine Chappell, Michael Parmenter, Shona McCullagh and Sean Curham all presented short seasons of works. In the South Island Daniel Belton and Raewyn Hill consistently premiered new choreography.

Michael Parmenter

Michael Parmenter had studied in New York, and returned to New Zealand in the early 1990s. His approach to dance was influenced by his association with New York-based choreographer Erick Hawkins and Japanese Butoh master Min Tanaka.

Parmenter has enjoyed critical acclaim throughout more than two decades of dance making; his achievements were recognised with an Arts Foundation laureate award in 2010. Other dancers to be made laureates included Douglas Wright in 2000 and Shona McCullagh in 2002.

New companies

Wellington ballet teacher Deirdre Tarrant created a unique environment for contemporary dance and dance-in-education when she founded Footnote Dance in 1985. With a dual commitment to fostering original works by local choreographers and composers, and establishing dance workshops in schools, Footnote provided a platform for new works and a future generation of dancers and dance audiences.

In 1997 Catherine Chappell began New Zealand’s first inclusive dance company for both disabled and non-disabled dancers, Touch Compass.

British-born Ann Dewey’s company Spinning Sun, based in Leigh, north of Auckland, performs in small-scale environments, including backyards and community halls.

Dance education

In the late 1980s tertiary-level contemporary dance education surged. From 1989 the Auckland Performing Arts School offered a diploma in contemporary dance with a focus on choreography. In 1994 Unitec took over the school and continued to develop its contemporary dance component. Whitireia Polytechnic in Porirua began teaching modern dance (alongside Māori and Pacific dance) in 1991. In the mid-1990s the University of Auckland set up a dance studies programme, which included a strong contemporary dance element.

Other universities, polytechnics and wānanga began to teach dance, and many courses had a contemporary component. Throughout the period, the University of Otago’s School of Physical Education and the New Zealand School of Dance continued their established training.


Choreographers as well as dancers emerged from the tertiary dance programmes, most notably from Unitec Institute of Technology, the University of Auckland and the New Zealand School of Dance. Malia Johnston, a graduate of Unitec, has been one of the most prolific of this group. Others include Raewyn Hill, Daniel Belton, Kristian Larsen, Maria Dabrowska, Sarah Foster and Fleur de Their.

International recognition

Many New Zealand dancers and choreographers have achieved international recognition and success. Following his spell as a dancer with the London-based Rambert Dance Company, Mark Baldwin founded the Mark Baldwin Dance Company in London in the 1990s, returning to Rambert as Artistic Director in 2002. Douglas Wright established his own company in New Zealand in 1989, touring it to festivals in the Netherlands, Switzerland, London and Australia.

Carol Brown spent 20 years in London, returning to New Zealand in 2009. She continued to present work both in New Zealand and overseas, building on her celebrated career in the United Kingdom and Europe. New Zealand School of Dance graduate Raewyn Hill became artistic director of Australia’s Dance North in 2010.

New Zealand Dance Company

In 2012 a new modern dance company emerged. The New Zealand Dance Company, directed by former Limbs member Shona McCullagh, reflected the lineage of modern and contemporary New Zealand dance while also drawing on contemporary influences.

How to cite this page:

Marianne Schultz, 'Contemporary dance - New companies and international work, 1990s to 2000s', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 28 September 2023)

Story by Marianne Schultz, published 22 Oct 2014