Michael Par­menter

Sunday Star-Times - Sunday Magazine - - FACE - Pho­tographed by Chris McKeen

It was on a Ja­panese moun­tain­side where Michael Par­menter dis­cov­ered the strength to en­dure what was to come.

A young Par­menter, to­day one of New Zealand’s most lauded chore­og­ra­phers, was study­ing be­neath a dance mas­ter who favoured un­ortho­dox train­ing meth­ods. It was 1985 and Par­menter and his fel­low stu­dents were led up a moun­tain, then sep­a­rated, each with only a rain­coat for shel­ter and a stash of bis­cuits.

They could have found their way down, Par­menter says, but they were asked to stay up there in soli­tude. And so he did – for eight days.

Half­way through his or­deal, Par­menter stopped re­sist­ing his re­al­ity, al­low­ing the hunger, cold and lone­li­ness to en­velop him.

“In fac­ing those things, they turned out to be not as ter­ri­fy­ing as they ap­peared to be when I tried to push them away by imag­in­ing some­thing else. “I re­alised that was the whole point of it; danc­ing is be­ing com­mit­ted 100 per cent to the mo­ment.”

The ex­pe­ri­ence in­spired In­so­lent River: A Tango, one hour and 45 min­utes of what frankly sounds like chore­ographed tor­ture, first staged in 1985. Four years later, Par­menter was di­ag­nosed with stom­ach can­cer and HIV.

“Ter­mi­nal”, they called it, but Par­menter is still here.

He was the first high-pro­file New Zealan­der to be open about his HIV sta­tus, but it does not de­fine him to­day. At 62, he’s cre­at­ing, teach­ing and writ­ing his doc­toral dis­ser­ta­tion. He’s learnt French and spends six months of every year in Paris. And he’s still a dancer. These days, it’s tango. Michael Par­menter’s works

and will be per­formed at Q Theatre, Auck­land, Oc­to­ber 4-6 and 15-16, re­spec­tively.

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