Researcher steps into Dunedin dance history

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Visiting American dancer and researcher Dr Caroline Sutton Clark has spent the past six months delving into the lives and work of Dunedin’s dance community.

Dr Sutton Clark has pursued the comprehensive oral history project, which has involved 26 interviews with 29 dancers, representing 24 different dance forms, under the auspices of the Caroline Plummer Fellowship in Community Dance.

“Dunedin has a wonderfully rich and diverse dance community, which has great meaning in many people’s lives,” Dr Sutton Clark said.

“However, it is often not in the public’s awareness.”

Dance has been a passion for Dr Sutton Clark throughout her wide-ranging career as a performer, choreographer, and teacher.

Embarking on her MFA and PhD studies about 10 years ago, she discovered a fascination with oral history, hearing “amazing stories” from dancers of all ages and backgrounds.

“I didn’t want those voices to be lost, so preserving those interviews has become an important part of my work,” Dr Sutton Clark said.

Digital files of the audio recordings will be archived at the Hocken Collections, and she has been able to use funding associated with the Caroline Plummer Fellowship to have about two-thirds of the recorded interviews transcribed.

“I’m hoping to find some volunteers who can help to transcribe the remaining interviews. It will be an important archive,” she said.

“My aim is for the interviews to be accessible to the public in perpetuity. It is a great way to preserve the dancers’ life histories and their work.

“For me, building the archive and listening to people’s stories is a form of advocacy.”

To celebrate the conclusion of the project, Dr Sutton Clark has brought together a cross-section of Dunedin’s dance community to present a multicultural public performance this weekend.

Entitled “Dancing Our Stories: Dunedin”, the free public performance will be held this Sunday, July 30, from 2pm at Dunedin Public Art Gallery.

“I am excited to bring these dancers together to perform in the incredible spaces at the gallery,” she said.

The University of Otago has confirmed that the Caroline Plummer Fellowship will continue in its present form. It will not be affected by any proposed changes to the university’s dance programme.