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.