December 12, 2021

Open Letter to Raewyn Whyte (National Treasure)

[To add your tribute, comment on this post.]

From Lyne

Kia ora Raewyn

I hope you are enjoying your new life on the shores of the Hokianga. I know it was nearly a year ago that you handed over to me at Theatreview, but we (dance people who love you) are finally getting our thoughts together to thank you. You left a big gap when you took flight.

I took over your role at Theatreview as the Dance Editor and have been endeavouring to follow in your footsteps. This letter comes in part from Theatreview to thank you for fulfilling your Dance Editor role so magnificently from 2008 until 2020.

From John

It was at a forum on performing arts reviewing at TAPAC that we first met. And soon after that you told me you’d been planning to set up a dance reviewing website then realised Theatreview already provided the platform. So began our treasured collaboration, with you bringing your comprehensive institutional knowledge of dance practice in Aotearoa New Zealand to the site as a dance reviewer and dance editor. What a win that was for Theatreview!

The heritage of dance reviews Theatreview has amassed over the 13 years of your stewardship is a taonga that is greatly valued by the dance community – as attested by the many letters of support that have accompanied our applications for funding (no, I won’t go down that rabbit hole of frustration) and the tributes that follow and flow below (thank you Lyne for collecting those).

Your skills at drilling down through Google Analytics to compile comprehensive stats on Theatreview’s reach has also been valued immensely.

May your new lease of life in the embrace of Te Hokianga-nui-a-Kupe bring you and Derek all the pleasure you deserve.

Ngā mihi mahana, arohanui, ka kite anō.

Back to me.
But this is a more recent part of your dance story.

It’s hard to know where to start with mapping your immense contribution to our dance industry; you gave so much from the late 1970s until today. That is a very long time to keep your passion burning.

I first met you at the Student Arts Festival in 1979 in Christchurch, I remember doing Contact Improvisation with you – Helen Busfield had brought the technique back to NZ and we were all enamoured with this new way of moving!

We were all vying to get into Limbs at this Festival, they were so sexy and hot! This was the festival where I also met Deirdre Tarrant for the first time – but that is another story of another dance legend.

Since we met, I have always been blown away by your immense generosity and deep DEEP love of ‘the dance’. You looked after me, encouraged me and housed me over several years in Grey Lynn on my annual teaching stints at Unitec.

Now I will hand it over to some other people to express their thoughts:

From Tai

Raewyn you have been a huge supporter of not only myself in my own personal career but the dance and theatre community at large. From lecturing at tertiary institutes to being a well-known and prestigious theatre critic – in particular of dance – through to internet and website support from your business, Raewyn, you have contributed to many an artist’s career.

Your knowledge of dance and theatre went beyond the call of duty, making yourself available to artists, especially young artists just starting out; you offered first-hand knowledge freely to help the struggling artist on their way and even went as far as to mentor them under your wing.

Considered a mother figure by many, you and Derek opened up your home every year before Christmas to the entire arts community to come and celebrate the ups and downs of the artist’s year, to share the trials and tribulations over good beverage, food and entertainment in a friendly and cozy environment, an event well looked forward to by all.

From MJ

I have personally benefitted hugely from your dedication to dance because to write about an art form gives it much more credibility to the general public. From the early days in the 1980s with your dance newsletter / magazine Dance News when you wrote a lot about our fledging Limbs Dance Company – through to just recently with your work in dance writing and reviews for many publications, I have always appreciated your thoughtful interpretations of the choreographies and dance works you have reviewed, written about and assessed.

Raewyn you were/are tireless in your work and support of dance in New Zealand.

From Felicity

In DANZ Quarterly of November, 2013 I wrote that; “The intellectual asperity of Raewyn Whyte has, no doubt, contributed enormously to links dance practitioners have made with tertiary education”. Since its inception in the early 90s, you have been integral to the implementation of tertiary dance programmes, playing a substantial role in setting up the influential, future-focused programme at Unitec, both through NZQA, and as it developed to undergraduate degree status. Since then, your skills in historical explanation, critique and perspectives about the evolving art form have meant that hundreds of tertiary dance students understand those issues, and that they belong to a classical form of social habitus.

Raewyn you have made yourself available to students and your colleagues with a benign and generous spirit that is marked by the development of a critical email network, called NZ Dance News. Through tireless timing and energy, you ensured that the increasingly large group of emerging and mature artists stayed in touch with each other. Your voluntary time was colossal, selfless and impossible to respond to other than in the regular usage of the networked service.

On a personal note, I have grown professionally as a critic, writer and scholar through your sharp and consistent mentoring and advice.

From Ali

After teaching dance studies at Unitec for a number of years, educating most of the current choreographers of today, you expanded the email network nz dance news which provided a vital communication link for the dance world nationally and internationally.

Raewyn, you never saw yourself as a professional dancer. Instead you provided unconditional support for dozens of artists over many years.  You are an impeccable colleague and friend.

From Malia

Many of New Zealand’s leading dancers, choreographers, teachers and academics acknowledge, respect and are deeply grateful for the valuable role you have played not only in their lives and careers personally, but in the dance community generally as a tireless and passionate advocate for dance. You have played a pivotal role in the development and ‘professionalisation’ of New Zealand’s dance sector over the last 30 years, and have remained a key contributor in roles as diverse as writer, reviewer, teacher, mentor, artistic/creative advisor, industry advocate and connector, and website developer.  I remember, strongly, the impact you had on myself and my colleagues whilst training – you had a way with us where the academic and historical teachings of dance were as valuable to us in our practice as was the physical – no mean feat.

You also supported the community in practical and versatile ways – teaching us how to research, how to use the internet…  I remember the Graduate Dance Company’s first paid gig was shifting you and Derek out of your home in Grey Lynn in early 2000.  Your advocacy and support of dance writing and dance writers has been tireless and your contribution and hours that you spent connecting the community with each other and with opportunities through NZDance News was EPIC and definitely not unnoticed by any means – we are all very aware and know how much work and time this took.  We love you dearly and are forever grateful for the energy and passion you have shown and show your fellow dance and live performance lovers.

Back to me.
And yet, there is so much more to say about you Raewyn, but we will leave it there for now.

Enjoy the tui feeding on the flax flowers as you look out over the everchanging waters of the Hokianga Harbour and know that you are forever in our hearts.

We love, honour and thank you for all that you have given and continue to give. You will forever be an essential link in the dance whakapapa of Aotearoa. We feel privileged to share the grand dance of expression and exploration with you.

Best wishes for your writing and gardening.

Ngā mihi nui aroha from Lyne and your fellow dancers.

Susan Jordan       posted 14 Dec 2021, 03:43 PM

I’d like to add my thanks to Raewyn, especially in the 80’s & 90’s in Wellington. Your intelligent reviews of my postmodern, and often extreme, choreography helped to establish my reputation and career. Later in Auckland, you were also very supportive of the work accomplished out of the Auckland DANZ office. Bless you Raewyn and may you continue to enjoy your more relaxed life. Arohanui

Lyne Pringle

Many lovely tributes flowing in that celebrate Raewyn’s contribution to dance and wishing her well in her ‘retirement’.

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