Michael Parmenter — choreographer, lyric theatre director

Michael Parmenter's name is synonymous with bold and innovative contemporary dance in [New Zealand] . Over the past twenty years, Parmenter has created some of the most challenging and exciting theatrical works presented in New Zealand.

Parmenter has excelled himself. In Tristan & Isolde, both as a dancer and a choreographer. He has imbued the whole with an emotional intensity that has enlivened the intellectual rigour of his creation.

He has ventured bold experimental work in a variety of venues, and has also developed an enthusiastic following for his major works for the conventional opera house stage.

Michael Parmenter has choreographed, danced and directed large and successful works that have played to packed houses throughout the country.

He has also developed a reputation as an “inspiring spokesperson for the creative life.”

 

Reviews: Michael Parmenter

Michael Parmenter, Jerusalem

Michael Parrmenter's name is synonymous with bold and innovative contemporary dance in this country. His original and sometimes risque works are invariably challenging, thought provoking and fulfilling. … Sandra Greig, Christchurch Press, New Zealand, 2002

… dramatic and powerful presentation of excellence in contemporary dance.

a wonderful, articulate story teller with a poet's soul

The works

Tristan & Isolde 2004

Tristan & Isolde toured New Zealand in 2004

“Parmenter has excelled himself In this production, both as a dancer and a choreographer. He has imbued the whole with an emotional intensity that has enlivened the intellectual rigour of his creation.”

Weather, 2002 (music M. Gordon)

Weather, choreographed by Michael Parmenter; danced by Michael Parmenter and Sarah Jayne Howard

Parmenter dances Weather

Here we had a powerful piece of dance, examining the interior impulses and exterior influences on dance movement. A fog-like atmosphere… was beautifully lit, and set the scene perfectly for the explosive and strident composition. … Musically, Michael Gordon's wonderful original score added to this dramatic and powerful presentation of excellence in contemporary dance. Sandra Greig, Christchurch Press, New Zealand, 2002

Weather begins in the clouds and ends in the light, with powerful solos from both Parmenter and Sarah-Jayne Howard. …

Lighting creates impresive effects as Weather builds to a mesmerizing climax. Nigel Zega, Otago Daily Times, Dunedin, New Zealand, 2002

Nightingale Fever Presentation 2001 (music B. Dylan, D. Shostakovich)

Parmenter Nightingale Fever

Using only a chair as a prop and even in this limited space, Parmenter breaks his narrative with dance, a taste of the fluidity and beauty of his choreography.

Parmenter is more than a dancer, he is a wonderful, articulate story teller with a poet’s soul.” Nightingale Fever; Sheryl Robinson, The Akaroa Mail, New Zealand, 2002

The Nightingale Fever Presentation has been received with critical acclaim at the Head Masters Wellington Primary School’s Conference, “Breakthrough’s” 9th International Conference on ‘Thinking’and was be presented at their 11th International Conference in Arizona, USA in 2003.

Empty Chairs


Empty Chairs was choreographed for the Royal New Zealand Ballet.

Parmenter has the unique ability to extract form a great and well-known piece of music a narrative thread or dramatic scenario that is so in tune with the score that one suspects that he in communication with the dead composer.Salient

Seven Deadly Sins, 1991 (music K. Weill. H. Schutz)

Seven Deadly Sins choreographed for the Royal New Zealand Ballet, attracted record houses and was instrumental in helping the company develop audiences for contemporary work.

How brave of the Royal New Zealand Ballet to embrace Michael Parmenter's remarkable, if a little bizarre, version of the Brecht/Weill Seven Deadly SinsNew Zealand Herald

The dancing is a triumph. Parmenter's choreography takes a new direction in the organisation of such a large corps — 26 dancers. Moving well out of their comfort zone, the dancers give themselves unstintingly to the choreographer's vision, achieving a bold and dramatic result.Dominion

Parmenter's familiar themes of moral decay, pain and dereliction are here; but this time the setting is an abandoned opera house, not an abandoned church. But the work is more explicitly political in its comments on the failures of the 20th century society than Jerusalem, and more cohesive. The dancers rise to the challenge superbly, giving some of the most electric dancing we have seen from them in years.Evening Post

Jerusalem 1999 (music D. Downes)

Jerusalem, dance work, Michael Parmenter Jersualem, Parmenter dance/opera Jersualem, Parmenter dance opera Parmenter, Jerusalem Parmenter, Jersualem, dance/opera

Jerusalem, is a large scale dance/opera, drawing on the image of the “city of peace” from the Bible, William Blake and N.Z. poet James K. Baxter. It premiéred in Dunedin, Easter 1999, and toured throughout New Zealand to critical acclaim and to enthusiastic capacity audiences.

Jerusalem is magnificently expressive, a masterwork stuffed full of memorable, fiery images fizzing on the optic nerve.The Listener

No recent choreographer has quite so boldly challenged the role of theatre as entertainment or religious experience. Jerusalem is a triumph of artistry and imagination.Otago Daily Times

The impact of Jerusalem will be long-term in the history of New Zealand contemporary dance. It is the first time that this art has been accorded the treatment usually accorded to ballet and opera.Dominion

Jersualem, which has its own website has won several awards:

Jersualem, Parmenter dance opera

A Long Undressing, 1995

A Long Undressing, 1995, an autobiographical work that toured to immense acclaim throughout the country, and won the AIDS Media Awards.

An extraordinary life told in an extraordinary manner. … a moving tribute to the human spirit.Nelson Mail

Long renowned as a dancer and choreographer, Parmenter reveals a talent and a passion for poetry. The words and image he employs resonate with the power of language and metaphor as much as the finely controlled visceral strength of his dance throbs with the love of life and an embattled acceptance of death.The Dominion

Aphrodisia 1993

Aphrodisia, a huge flying pageant that premiéred at the New Zealand Hero Festival and was repeated at the opening of the 1993 Wine and Food Festival.

Dark Forest, 1993

The Dark Forest, 1993, a theatrical work: a Kafkaesque family drama based on the music of the late New Zealand composer Anthony Watson.

A film of The Dark Forest,won numerous international awards.

Michael Parmenter's new work The Dark Forest is the stuff that dreams are made of. Dreams and nightmares. This multi-layered and beautifully realised dramatic work is one that will repay repeated visits and deserves to be in somebody's repertoire immediately.Dominion

Passionate and provocative, bold and beautiful, stirring and sensual, it contains some of the most complex and thrilling partnering you're ever likely to see.Listener

Fine theatrical moments of humour, sensuality and pathos, and masses of beautiful dancing to magnificent music.Sunday Star

The Dark Forest is an intense study of asymmetry and ambiguity in furniture, psychology, passion, privacy and family relations. The choreography fits the music as though one was commissioned for the other.Evening Post

Sweetness Rising to Celestial 100% , 1992 (music T. Yoshimatsu)

Passionate and strangely sad, the work captured beautifully the dynamic and textural physicality of Takashi Yoshimatsu's “Threnody to Toki” within the movements of the dancers. So totally intertwined were the visual and aural images that they simply melded into one — even the harmonic tensions were portrayed by the way in which each dancer upheld their limbs. Evening Post

The Race, 1992

The Race, a giant space-opera performed in the expanse of a Wellington shipping warehouse. The work proved extraordinarily popular and despite it's size, transferred to Auckland where it repeated it's success.

A major work — massive in scale and epic in content. This production is indeed an adventure in terms of a unique theatrical experience, and a complete departure for Parmenter from jis normal choreographic structure. I think it is his natural metier.Evening Post

It was wonderfully weird, clever, sensual disturbing, brash, irritating and definitely x-rated; a glorious celebration of theatrical wizardry and dance. But it is the music by David Downes and Parmenter's own jumbled brilliance which make he Race memorableThe Herald

Flowing sequences that seemed to have no beginning and no end were breathtaking to watch. Parmenter has created heaven on stage.Capital Times

The creation of the second urban section is tremendously exciting theatre. Fearsome looking scaffolding is erected in minutes, wire mesh gates appear from no-where, and the tension escalates. This is the world more as we know it — brutal, loud sex-obsessed and ugly. In scenes reminiscent of concentration camps and Francis Bacon's nightmarish paintings, where bodies hang like slabs of white meat, Parmenter assaults our eyes and ears with this hellish landscape.Dominion

Tide, 1992 (music J. Psathas)

Tide is one of Parmenter's most disturbing dances, brilliantly complemented by Psathas's chilling music.Dominion

Tide reasserted itself as one of the most stunning pieces of choreography ever seen. Accompanied by the nightmarish music by John Psathas, the piece was terrifying in intensity and directness.Capital Times

Weathers From a Spark, 1992 (music J.S. Bach )

The outstanding new contemporary work of the year — sophisticated, elegant and joyous.Evening Post

Filled with joy, it is playful, quirky, unpredictable, heart wrenching and utterly delightful. It is also the most sophisticated and elegant piece of choreography I have seen in New Zealand for years. Subtle intelligent and always accessible, this is stunning choreography.Dominion

Wilderness, 1990 (music Somei Satoh)

Michael Parmenter, Wilderness

Wilderness, 1990, to a commissioned score by Japanese composer Somei Satoh.

Parmenter's sense of imagery in this reflective piece, combined with his absolute body control, portray the agony and torment of his experiences in almost crucifixion-like state, as he faces his own mortality.
Performed to the magical accompaniment of original music by Japanese composer Somei Satoh, balanced on a rock reflected into a pool of water, this personalised and private moment was shared with an audience.
Sandra Greig, Christchurch Press, 2002

Wilderness raises questions of doubt, stirring emotions of fear and uncertainty, hinting at growth and success, as Parmenter emerges with the light, a cross between a living statue and a feral being.
Tensions rise with Somei Satoh's evocative eerie soundsacpe, and Richard Till's lighting turns Parmenter to stone.
Nigel Zega, Otago Daily Times, 2002

It is a most remarkable and unconventional theatre pieceEvening Post

a tour-de-force of endurance and controlOtago Daily Times

Gravity And Grace, 1990 (Stravinsky, Bach and Messiaen)

Gravity And Grace, a program of three new works presented in the New Zealand International Festival in 1990, with choreography to the music of Stravinsky, Bach and Messiaen, all performed live.

Intimate Constellations, 1990 (music J.S. Bach)

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It comes as a relief to witness and experience dance material which explores a wide realm of human experience, and is not merely obsessed by the possibilities of the human body alone. James Tennant's playing of Bach's Suite for Unaccompanied Cello no 3 went a long way towards the success of this deeply spiritual workOtago Daily Times

Listeners at the Breathing Place, 1990, (music O. Messiaen)

An aching sadness pervades the work, heavy as the weight of tears, yet never despairing. It is finally and remarkably hopefulDominion

Messaien's Quartet for the End of Time supported some inspired movement, with examples of exquisite ensemble work in which the dancers “breathed” with the musicMusic New Zealand

Fields of Jeopardy 1988 (music by D. Downes, J. Psathas and D. Shanly)

Exhilarating in its demanding manoeuvres exacted by a group of seven dancers who charge through space catching and supporting each other in a series of gravity defying formations.Otago Daily Times

The adrenaline rush is better than bungy, wave-jump or luge; no paraphernalia impedes the power pack bodies zooming through space. Whoosh!!Sunday Star

to miss Fields of Jeopardy is to miss a chunky, spunky, daring, top-speed, hard-working, life-affirming democratic dance. The dancers obviously love the work and the audience obviously love the dancersEvening Post

Visually spectacular and in a practical sense death-defying. The discipline, energy and trust within the company left the audience totally astoundedStamp

Go, 1988, (music by D. Downes)

Go, the first full evening work for the group Go, marked the beginning of Parmenter’s extraordinary collaboration with New Zealand composer David Downes, and was illustrative of the way Parmenter could create challenging and provocative dance, yet still make connections with a wider audience.

Images of radiant beautyOtago Daily Times

If Parmenter set out to shock, stun and stimulate people then his aims have been well realised in GO Dominion

Parmenter has created another visionary work in the evolutionary chain of contemporary dance Agenda

Insolent River — A Romance (music by D. Downes)

Insolent River — A Romance, 1988, a new version in collaboration with Lyne Pringle and a new score by David Downes, surpassed the success of it's predecessor.

The work is bold and subtle, funny and sad, shocking and important. Dominion

There are moments of humour, and the ending is hopeful. But it us fundamentally a devastating piece.Evening Post

while there are few concessions in the intellectual rigour of its subject matter the performance remains accessible an indeed gripping throughoutSunday Times

Insolent River — A Tango, 1985, (Four Volts)

 Insolent River— A Tango, a seminal work in New Zealand dance that challenged existing assumptions surrounding the appropriate environment for dance.

Those who were fortunate enough to get into the performance were stunned, amazed and excited by what they saw… a seminal point in avant-garde theatre which seemed to alter what had gone before and what was to follow.Agenda

Between Two Fires, 1983 (music by Jack Body)

Between Two Fires, Michael's first solo show based on the sonnets of Michelangelo, and the diaries of Franz Kafka and Vaslav Nijinsky. This show drew extravagant reviews, and instigated Parmenter's renowned collaborations with local composers.

…you come away inspired by the triumph of the workEvening Post

One left feeling pure, having experienced a theatre that was somehow extremely spiritual, holy almost, while achieving that through the most physical and sensual means possible… one body. Salient

On The Move, 1982

On The Move, the first evening of Michael's own choreography.

Syndrum 1981, (music Ross Harris)

Perhaps we have never seen a work choreographed to a New Zealand score quite as cleverly as Syndrum — one can only call masterful the match of movement mood and music.Dance News

 

Michael Parmenter dancer Biography — Michael Parmenter

Over the past twenty years, Michael Parmenter has created some of the most challenging and exciting theatrical works presented in New Zealand. He has ventured bold experimental work in a variety of venues, and has also developed an enthusiastic following for his major works for the conventional opera

Learning in New Zealand and internationally

Parmenter began choreographing whilst a student at the National School of Ballet, and presented the first evening of his own choreography with On The Move in 1982. In 1983 he performed his first solo show, Between Two Fires, based on the sonnets of Michelangelo, and the diaries of Franz Kafka and Vaslav Nijinsky. This show drew extravagant reviews, and instigated Parmenter's renowned collaborations with local composers. Altogether 5 major works emerged from his first decade of dance.

During the 1980's Parmenter developed his dance skills in New Zealand and overseas, including:

Commotion dance company, solo work, choreographing for others and Jerusalem

In 1990's he establshed his own dance company, Commotion, and choreographed for other companies such as the Royal New Zealand Ballet, and Footnote Dance Company, and continued to develop his work as a solo artist. Six major and acclaimed works preceded his hugely successful Jerusalem.

Jerusalem, a large scale dance/ opera, drawing on the image of the “city of peace” from the Bible, William Blake and N.Z. poet James K. Baxter, premiered in Dunedin, at Easter 1999, and toured throughout New Zealand to critical acclaim and to enthusiastic capacity audiences. Jerusalem has its own website.

See below for a list and description of his works.

Michael Parmenter Jerusalem

Michael Parmenter has been the recipient of a number of awards and grants.

Parmenter followed the success of Jersualem with Seven Deadly Sins for the Royal New Zealand Ballet, which attracted record houses and was instrumental in helping the company develop audiences for contemporary work.

Empty Chairs, another recent work for the Royal New Zealand Ballet became the source for a sequel to his solo work A Long Undressing: Nightingale Fever. In Nightingale Fever the choreographer told the story of the complicated creative process that was the making of this new dance.

Television and film

Parmenter has created several works for television, and a film of The Dark Forest, which won international awards.

Speaker and story-teller — Michael Parmenter

Michael Parmenter is a superb dancer who is also a fine writer, an engaging speaker and a great story-teller. In addition to his many theatrical presentations, Michael has built a reputation as an inspiring spokesperson for the creative life.

Michael Parmenter choreographer

Michael was the first high-profile New Zealander to acknowledge his HIV status. Following battles with both cancer and AIDs, he is now one of the longest surviving AIDS patients in the country, reflecting his courage and perseverance. In 1995 Michael toured his autobiographical solo work A Long Undressing to sold-out houses throughout New Zealand.

In 1998 Michael’s contribution to dance and theatre was recognised when he was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit (M.N.Z.M.).

Michael's presentations are engaging and inspiring. His opening address at the Artists with a Heart exhibition in Wellington drew special praise from then Governor General Sir Michael Hardie-Boyes, and his contribution to the Time Capsule at the 2000 International Arts Festival received an especially enthusiastic response and has been broadcast several times on National Radio. His presentation at the 9th International Conference on Thinking, in Auckland in January 2001, was one of the highlights of the conference. As a result Michael presented at a conference in Chicago in June 2001, receiving a standing ovation and invitations to perform at a number of campuses across the U.S.A.