Jennifer Shennan is a dance writer and historian based in Wellington, New Zealand. She has been a contributor to this website since 2014. Her posts on this website can be accessed at this link.
Jennifer grew up in Auckland where her dance teachers included Poul Gnatt, Beryl Nettleton, Bettina Edwards and Russell Kerr, and where she danced in seasons by Auckland Repertory Ballet. She went on to undertake a Bachelor of Arts and then a Master of Arts at Auckland University. Her Master’s thesis on Maori dance resulted in the publication in 1984 of Maori Action Song—no whea tenei ahua hou? In Auckland she also performed and choreographed with various companies and studied dance anthropology and kinetography Laban (with Professor Roderyk Lange), Balinese and Indian dance forms (with Liong Xi) and Renaissance and Baroque dance (with Wendy Hilton).
On moving to Wellington in the 1970s she worked with her husband, ethnomusicologist Allan Thomas, developing courses at Victoria University Wellington (VUW), and choreographed many productions for VUW, Massey University and Wellington City Opera. Jennifer also taught Dance Studies for many years at New Zealand School of Dance, and for Continuing Education and the Theatre Program at VUW, as well as courses in the Dance and Anthropology Programs at the University of Auckland.
In Wellington she also began a career as a dance reviewer and her work has been presented by The Evening Post, The Dominion Post. New Zealand Listener, Radio New Zealand and Dance Magazine (USA). Following Maori Action Song, her major publications have included The Workbook of Kellom Tomlinson, 18th century dancing master—a facsimile edition; A Time to Dance: the Royal New Zealand Ballet at Fifty; and The Royal New Zealand Ballet at Sixty (ed. with Anne Rowse). She also edited One and a Half Pacific Islands—stories the Banabans tell of themselves, which documented life on Banaba in the Central Pacific and the decades of mining for phosphate (most of which ended up on New Zealand farms), then the re-location of their total population to Rabi Island in Fiji. The Banabans’ dancing was about their only ‘invisible cargo’. Her writing has also been published in a range of scholarly journals across the world.
She is currently a trustee of the Russell Kerr lecture series in ballet and the related arts. An oral history interview documenting her life and career is being recorded by Michelle Potter.
Featured image: Jennifer Shennan, 2019. Photo: © Michelle Potter