By TIMOTHY GORDON
A reflective tribute to my dearest friend and colleague Juliet Fisher
(The Contessa Cosy (Juliet) had these names for us in the Company Z Dance Trust. I was Cappy Cosy and Izumi Griffiths, a dancer and friend, Juliet named Google Earth!) These names, incidentally, came up during rehearsals we were having for a performance that Juliet was to give in Auckland New Zealand, which remarkably was her first appearance as a dancer in the country. I was composing this work on Juliet and Izumi was dancing with and alongside her. 1
A personal message
I am writing this in honour of Juliet and her work in dance in New Zealand during the first decade of this new century.
When Juliet and I first met, I encountered a woman who exuded dance throughout her being. Juliet's eyes melted all concerns and there was an absolute clarity in her person that exemplified her chosen art. We were connected at once and began a friendship and collaboration that lasted some number of years in Auckland, New Zealand, beginning around 2003.
We first worked together at the University of Auckland (a degree course) and then at City Ballet (a diploma course) and lastly with Company Z Dance (a dance company and charitable trust). Juliet was a trustee of the Company Z Dance Trust.
I am deeply indebted to Juliet for contributing so generously and profoundly to those students and dancers of hers and to them also for absorbing her work in the capacity they did while with her in those latter years in New Zealand. There are two in particular who were later part of Company Z Dance and who responded fully to her information and took it on themselves to embrace her code and direction. They were Sophia Kalogeropoulou and Benjamin Ord.
These students of Juliet's have gone on to personify her integral vision and have created their own path from the information and practice they accessed from Juliet and her work with them.
They go on, Juliet accompanies them.
Juliet became a sister of a kind to me. We grew as friends and also partners in dance with our different backgrounds and experiences to appreciate the wide vision that we both had over the period that we knew each other. Her background was a dance steeped in contemporary exploration, whereas mine commenced in a classical tradition. We saw though in each other a genuinely empathetic but rigorous approach to dance education and a similarity in our understanding of a resilient and enduring language of dance as a vehicle for compositional dance integration.
This dance work of hers was steeped in the digestion and acquisition of information belonging to her only. The delivery in which she presented her dance phraseology was sublime in its meticulous preparation and always true to her own understanding and physicality. Juliet's work was an accumulative work, with clear pedagogical influences from some of the finest masters and creative personas of the contemporary dance sphere. She deciphered and translated these influential discoveries and transmuted them over time into what became her work, her code: Juliet's Code.
In 2006, Juliet's Code was a dance work made on Company Z Dance, featuring both Sophia and Benny, in honour of Juliet's work with the company and inspired by her. The programme notes contain the following:
In Juliet's Code we have attempted to capture a molecule of her work and personality. Endeavouring to reveal some of the influences of her own artistic career and to convey some of the atmosphere we experience as a consequence of her expertise.
In visual terms Juliet's Code explores the time of exposure taken to absorb the sculptural forms in the composition of the dancer's body. Playing with this distortion of time, (that was explored) allowing for a new perspective in the viewing and perceiving of how the body relates to the space in and around it. Almost photographic rather than choreographic.
In hindsight, there was no replication of her technique in this composition, but it had an atmosphere that was both an endearment and homage to her in its deferential ascetic structures and moods.
The music included the electronic compositions of New Zealand composer Douglas Lilburn and additional Japanese drumming rhythms.
There were references to her discipline and to her relationship to Martha Graham. The use of fabric so close to her was a way of entering her history and her experience of torsion in the body and in its extension in its full theatrical form. 2
Her work and code as we experienced it was intensely difficult to master and perform. This was because of its physical determinations, articulations, range, control, sustainability, prowess, and the working into the torso of a very deep blending of a varied and challenging sculpturing and phrasing of the body. Juliet taught a mastery and economy of the muscular possibility. She demonstrated these articulated nuances and how body weight and its gravitational parts could sculpt and sketch dance through an atmosphere that the dance artist was encouraged to create.
There were definitive peaks of extraordinary insight in her outstanding ability to convey in dance what was worth revealing, and which was both alluring and enduring for her students and others of us to behold.
To see her work was a revelation. This frontier that she exemplified was one of informing dancers' bodies toward a very unique and varied form that encompasses both a true physicality and true intellect; a state which prepares the dancer for choreographic implementation and invention, and which, most importantly, enhances the capacity of the dance artist to communicate with the composer and deliver original activity.
Her connection and devotion to dance had everything to do with being deeply connected to the inner workings of the body, listening to its machinations and responses.
Juliet knew and drew upon her extensive experience with the many innovators of her contemporary world, not only of dance but of music and design, choreography and education.3 She had a particular allegiance to the field of education and she gave so immensely and generously to those that were fortunate to have her as a teacher, mentor and friend in New Zealand.
Juliet's brilliant sense of humour and repartee was remarkable in both its speedy reactiveness and sophistication. She looked at the fragile nature of life and could eliminate its sometimes ultraserious position with a delightful light-heartedness that lifted all who were around her. From something seemingly very important and dour she could unwind its tension and fling it down, back on the floor of reality.
The Contessa was a woman who adored fabric, its textures, colours and variety and she was on a continual mission creating wild and wonderful objets d'art to wear. Juliet had a most inimitable sense of style, always adding, subtracting many an impossible type of thing and linking them like a dance around her person. We would get into roars of laughter at the op shops in Takapuna in Auckland, with outlandish and ridiculous posturing, amongst the stale aromatics of those assorted garments and paraphernalia. She was definitely a woman of guts who could have worn a paper bag and it would have looked wonderful.
An ode to Juliet
Contessa! I beseech you, where are you? Why have you departed us so soon; we barely had the time to digest each other, we can't say goodbye because we are bound together through time and space on this endless journey. The never-ending bond that we formed is eternal and living. We will sing your song long and true. We hanker after your profound presence and sigh because we wished our existences to continue to endure for a much longer space on this here Earth. Your suffering recently was difficult to bear so now you are free of that pain and can go ahead with the continuum of your immense capacity for inquiry into that which you were so dedicated to: the evolution of the dance form. May this dance that you embodied be reflected in all who were your compatriots and those who over time witnessed your work as dancer, teacher and mentor, so that there are those who carry your dedication forward. We are all in awe of you and will be ever endeared to the sincere and utter brilliance you shone on those who were blessed enough to have had this timeless contact with you.
Juliet Fisher (1941-2015)
Copyright Timothy M. Gordon,
October 4, 2015
- The dance composition was included in Auckland's Tempo Dance Festival in 2008. It is called Fetish Effigies, which was the name of the New Zealand composer James Gardener's score. For photographic stills of the performance, see: http://www.timothymgordon.com/photogallery.htm#fe.
- Footage from Juliet's Code can be viewed at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BYm-BC4gtpA
- For further biographical information on Juliet's career, see: http://www.timothymgordon.com/companyzdance/staff.htm.