Being on stage is local dancer Amelia Butcher’s “absolute favourite thing ever”, and has been since she started attending “a jazz class” at the Jacqui Murray School of Dance at the tender age of three.
But it’s Amelia’s star as a choreographer that’s firmly on the rise these days as she prepares for her third show to be performed in Wellington next month under her brand name, Jenire.
Her latest work, Ominous, in which she also performs, opens at Te Auaha in the capital in early March for a four-night run as part of the Wellington Fringe Festival, marking another step in her commitment to forge a career in the competitive world of professional dance.
Amelia was part of the choreography team for Kuranui College’s winning Showquest performances in 2018 and 2019 while a student at the school. It ignited her passion for choreography and from then, she set her sights on gaining a place on the full-time commercial dance course at Wellington’s performing arts school, Te Auaha.
The first year of her three-year Bachelors in Creativity coincided with the covid-19 pandemic, which was “something else”.
“I did a lot of dancing in my bedroom through Zoom and we did our first shows with half an audience due to seating restrictions and did eight shows over three days to make up for it.” Conditions improved in her second and third years, which she described as “some of the best times of my life”.
“I learnt so much,” she said, particularly in honing skills as a dance teacher and choreographer.
“I needed [the third] year because I loved the choreography and to build my confidence and discover who I was.”
Part of that discovery was founding her brand, Jenire.
Characteristically, Amelia “got straight on to it”, commissioning a friend to design a logo and pitching her 15-minute graduation piece to the New Zealand Fringe Festival, which was accepted.
“It meant I knew I had something to go into when leaving Te Auaha.”
Her Fringe show, Amygdala, played to enthusiastic audiences at the beginning of 2023, marking the start of a busy and successful inaugural year for Jenire. It was followed by a second show, Zenith, performed in September, again to positive reviews.
It’s the creative freedom of choreography that appeals to Amelia, particularly in contemporary dance, where it feels like “there are no rules”.
“Contemporary can be literally anything. I just love to think I can do whatever I want. I watched stuff online and I was like, ‘Oh, they are doing really unique things’. I just want to explore what I can do. It’s never-ending. There’s always something new to create.”
A lot of Amelia’s choreography “can be very fast and very intense”, she said, partly due to her experience as a competitive gymnast, which she gave up in her teens to focus on dance.
As well as adding flair to her choreography, the strength and stamina needed for gymnastics stands her in good stead as a performer and can be an added bonus when looking for work as a dancer, she said.
As well as creating original work, Amelia is teaching at her alma mater Kuranui College in Greytown and at other arts schools in the Wellington region.
The love and support of her family have been critical to Amelia’s journey in the dance profession.
“I know some people, their families are not sure about their kids doing dance, knowing the kind of stress and the unknowns that come with it. But my family have all been really supportive,” she said.
“They know my passion for it and they’ve always helped me. I’m really grateful. They mean the world to me.”
2024 promises to be as busy and exciting for Amelia as last year.
She’s judging her first competition in April and will choreograph for different studios and competitions throughout the year.
“And then my biggest goal I’ve been slowly developing – and I’m hoping it will happen – is I want to create my fourth show,” she said. “But with this one, I want to take it to three different locations – Wellington, Wairarapa and Palmerston North. Fingers crossed.”
Ominous opens on March 6 and promises a mix of “powerful music, abstract choreography and advanced lighting” to create “a thought-provoking performance of dance that awakens new clarity and connections between nature and human nature”.
Tickets can be purchased at www.fringe.co.nz/