We write
great emails.

If you’d like to stay in the loop with the arts and creativity in Aotearoa, get ‘em in your inbox.

If you’d like to join a movement of people backing the arts and creativity.



Michael Parmenter

Michael Parmenter’s Biography

Last Updated:
27/08/2021, 9:02 am
Arts Foundation Laureate 2010
Michael Parmenter, MNZM, is a leading New Zealand Choreographer whose name is synonymous with bold and innovative contemporary dance. He has created some of the most challenging and exciting theatrical works presented in New Zealand.

Michael Parmenter began dancing in Dunedin in 1977. During the 1980's he developed his dance skills both in New Zealand and overseas. He studied and danced with Erick Hawkins in New York and Min Tanaka in Japan. He has created a wide range of dance-works, from innovative solo and duo shows to full-length pieces for the opera-house stage. He has choreographed many of these for his own Commotion Company, in addition to numerous works for the Royal New Zealand Ballet and Footnote Dance. Michael is also recognised as a teacher of distinction and an engaging and challenging writer and speaker.

Michael's choreographing began whilst he was a student at the National School of Ballet. He presented the first evening of his own choreography with On The Move in 1982. His first solo show Between Two Fires, based on the sonnets of Michelangelo and the diaries of Franz Kafka and Vaslav Nijinsky, followed a year later. This show instigated Michael's collaborations with local composers. Altogether 5 major works emerged from his first decade of dance.

After his return from studies in New York in the late 80's Michael created, with Lyne Pringle, the innovative duo Insolent River and a series of works for his Commotion Company that included the signature works GO, The Race and The Dark Forest. The Dark Forest was subsequently made into an award-winning film.

During a break from the demands of directing Commotion Company, Michael created his award-winning solo A Long Undressing. In this highly autobiographical text-based work Michael recounted the challenges of growing up gay in a conservative Christian tradition, his encounters with various international teachers, and his later diagnosis of HIV and battles with cancer. Michael was one of the first high-profile New Zealanders to acknowledge his HIV status. During recent years Michael has been recognised as a highly engaging writer, speaker and story-teller and a spokesman in the area of the health challenges and the creative life.

In 1999 Michael returned to the choreographic arena with a pair of highly theatrical works. Jerusalem, a large scale dance/opera, which drew on the image of the ‘city of peace' from the Bible, William Blake and New Zealand poet James K. Baxter, premiered in Dunedin in 1999, and toured the country to critical acclaim. Following this success, Michael choreographed Seven Deadly Sins for the Royal New Zealand Ballet, a work to the music of Kurt Weil and Heinrich Schütz which confirmed his mastery of the Opera House stage. Empty Chairs, another work for the Royal New Zealand Ballet, became the source for Nightingale Fever a sequel to his solo work A Long Undressing.

In 2005 Michael moved to Auckland to direct COMMOTION: A Michael Parmenter retrospective, for the Auckland Festival, a production which toured throughout the country with great success. At the same time he took up a teaching role in the Dance Programme of the Unitec School of Performing Arts. This position recognised the significant role Michael has played in the training of a generation of young New Zealand dancers. As a regular teacher at Unitec and frequent guest teacher at the New Zealand School of Dance in Wellington and Indepen-dance in Auckland, Michael has contributed to the development of a distinctively New Zealand style of contemporary dance.

In recent years Michael has been developing one of the distinctive features of his choreography - intricate partner dancing - into two partner-improvisation forms, Piloting and TACTICS, which are continuing to expand the performative skills of New Zealand contemporary dancers.

Concurrent with Michael's move to Auckland was a return to academic study and a re-examination of his own choreographic practice. Michael completed his Masters degree in 2008 and followed this with a several new choreographies including the full-length TENT for a revived Commotion Company. In 2009 he began doctoral research in a co-tutelle between the dance department of Auckland University and l'Université de Paris, France. His research project ‘Gestures of desire' will stage an encounter between practices of dance and the phenomenology of life. He re-joined the performance arena in 2012 as a tango dancer.

Michael has received numerous awards and scholarships including M.N.Z.M. (Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit), Winston Churchill Fellowship and the Creative New Zealand Choreographic Fellowship. Early in 2010 he was named a Distinguished Alumni of Auckland University and appointed to the position of Adjunct Professor of UNITEC Department of Performing Arts. In the same year he received an Arts Foundation Laureate Award.