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Bodies of work: Nancy Wijohn, dancer

Oct 5, 2015 Theatre

Illustration: Rebecca Ter Borg

This article was first published in the October 2015 issue of Metro.

“As dancers, we can make shapes and be quite abstract,” says Nancy Wijohn. “We want people to get it.” So Wijohn and her partner Kelly Nash called in director Rachel House to help them come up with a script for their show Ahua in Tempo Dance Festival, using gestures not words.

You need only look at the way someone walks to get a sense of their character. Wijohn has radar for the stories embedded in our bones. She’s also attuned to when things go wrong. After all, her body is her livelihood.

That’s how she got into Contact Care, a therapy based on releasing tension in the body resulting from hard knocks. She treats cats and dogs as well as people. “It’s easier to notice the changes on animals because they don’t have the psychology of humans. It’s more instinctual,” she says.

Strong-limbed with almond eyes and angled cheekbones, Wijohn has a look-at-me presence but came to performing relatively late. She grew up the youngest of eight in Mangere, where to be included you had to be physical. “There was always a lot of sport going on in my family. My older brothers wouldn’t let me play unless I was good.”

She really was good. A regional rep in rugby and netball, she was sizing up her potential to become a Silver Fern when she tagged along with a friend to an audition for Mika’s dance company. She ended up joining in and landing a job. “It was the first time I’d performed,” she says. “I just loved that feeling.”

A degree at Unitec followed, and for 11 years Wijohn has been a professional dancer, performing with Douglas Wright, Atamira and Okareka. As well as creating the intimate piece Ahua for Tempo, she is appearing in the festival with Atamira in Mitimiti, an expansive new work, five years in the making, choreographed by Jack Gray with visual design by Lisa Reihana.

Alongside her dance career Wijohn has retained her sporty streak as a fitness trainer. “I love seeing people push physical barriers.”

Ahua, October 8-9; Mitimiti, September 30-October 3. Tempo Dance Festival, Q Theatre, September 30-October 18.


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