"All Bodies Welcome"

An introduction to Malia Johnson, of Movement of the Human, the choreographer defining the dance and choreography landscape across New Zealand. 

Malia Johnson

Malia Johnson

Despite clouds threatening rain, we sat outside at the waterfront cafe, Seashore Cabaret in Lower Hutt, a suburb 20-minutes outside of Wellington. We were here to meet Malia Johnson, a New Zealand native with an impressive repertoire over the past 20 years. She’s danced, choreographed, directed, and collaborated across sectors and disciplines in New Zealand and across the globe. (Seriously, read her bio).

Some people seek creative community, others create one. Malia is one of those who creates. When she first finished her training, there wasn't work—so she made opportunities for herself. In the past two decades the dance scene has grown significantly in New Zealand. Even so, when young dancers come to Malia for advice she tells them, “there isn’t a blueprint," encouraging them to push boundaries and find their own way.

After just a few minutes of conversation, it became apparent why Malia is so talented at bringing people of diverse creative backgrounds together. She possesses a strong vision with an open-minded spirit that looks for new, and even unusual creative combinations.

Challenging the stereotyped image of dancers in a theatre counting 1-2-3-4 and moving their bodies with ease, her pieces are rooted in deep and personal collaboration. Imagine unique bodies, cathartic storytelling, fashion, and the interplay of space, lighting, music, and bodies. Orchestrating these elements is at the crux of her work.

Malia finds she is most attracted to projects that are "more than just dance pieces, but a way to collaborate with multiple practices." While collaboration is a theme of her work, “it's tricky to collaborate well, but it creates the best outcome...when you have a trusting collaborative environment people are free to do their best work." To achieve this, "it's about understanding individually, how people function, and moving and shaping the work in response to their personal skills.”

Her years working with the World of Wearable Art (WOW) represent some of the most successful collaboration she has experienced. “WOW was an example of 200 people collaborating together really well, focusing on their individual crafts and really serving the overall experience."

It was her position at WOW that brought her back to New Zealand after a brief period abroad in Australia. The work was really inspiring and from the start, WOW was a “choreographic environment that didn't know it was. It was always about movement. It's the body and art colliding. The designers make garments for the body to move around as pieces of art. It's about movement architecture and I just loved that."

Today, she lives just outside the city center in Lower Hutt, a place she never thought she’d live. "There’s something good for creativity about living in unexpected places.” Wellington is such a small city, you can hardly walk down the street without stopping to say hi to four or five people, so she cherishes the chance to go for a quiet walk with her dog - often where she finds her inspiration. 

As with many creatives in this country, she’s lived in multiple places across New Zealand. As policy, prices and opportunities in Wellington, Auckland, and Christchurch have shifted, the arts has moved as well. “Artists move quickly” and follow opportunity. “They go where they can be free.”

But Wellington is “really special. Business, arts, and the government are so close together. It's a unique city” because these sectors bump into each other creating different opportunities. “Wellington was the place where the arts were in New Zealand, until the last 10 years. New health and safety regulations came down hard on a lot of artistic, urban spaces, but there is also new city funding to help.”

If you’re lucky enough to be close by, make it a point to see her work. Malia's studio, Movement of the Human (MOTH), has a number of things in the works right now. A few upcoming opportunities to experience her magic:

*All photos courtesy of Malia Johnson

*All photos courtesy of Malia Johnson