Interview: Anna Finkel & Chris Evans Q&A

Monday 30 April 2012 by Carmel Smith

Gecko 'Missing' Anna Finkel & Chris Evans

They were the performers in Lost Dog’s Place Prize winning It Needs Horses last year – and this week (Wed 2 & Thu 3 May) Anna Finkel & Chris Evans find themselves back at The Place, with a different company – physical theatre group Gecko – in Missing , another show which sounds equally demanding. So how did that happen?

Tell us about Missing
Chris Evans (CE): For me, Missing is an incredibly generous and alive piece of theatre. One sentence wouldn’t really do it justice – the show is an absolute feast.
Anna Finkel (AF): This is probably the trickiest question! Mostly because this style of work is highly experiential and interpretive so I hesitate to put any ideas into people’s heads. I’d simply say ‘come and experience the world of Missing for yourself’. There is a narrative, although it’s presented in a non-linear way. The show is pieced together by showing different characters’ individual perspectives, so that the point of view keeps moving on to the next one and so on…
The style of Gecko and Missing is explosive, dense, a bombardment of sound, physicality, movement, lights, storytelling, imagery and emotion. There are some moments to breathe – however I find that the breathing happens mostly afterwards, in the reflecting and processing.

What do you most enjoy about performing it?
AE : The dense, emotional nature of the show means there are a multitude of new things to discover each time we perform it. The style of the work requires the performer to go fully into the emotions that are being portrayed. If, for example, one night the sentiment of anger is softer, it will have a whole series of repercussions on how you play the rest of the show. It’s beautiful to be constantly discovering.
Amit Lahav [Gecko’s director] truly practices the theory that a show is never finished. He makes changes to the show daily – and given that some of them are pretty major, juggling scenes around is not uncommon. On top of this, he is always encouraging us to go deeper into the story – asking us to communicate our feelings fully.
CE: Whether physically, emotionally or technically, this piece has so many moments requiring precision. I really enjoy the level of attention that’s needed. It’s fun having to leave a scene as a performer, and come back the next second as a techie.

Gecko are described as a Physical Theatre company – in practice is that a very different experience from working with a dance company?
AF I couldn’t break it down as far as a dance company or physical theatre company; in my experience, every company working in the realm of contemporary performance has similarities, but also idiosyncratic differences. With Gecko, the creative process involves a lot of rapid fire devising. We will be given an idea about a scene and have 20 minutes or so to work something out, then we move on to another scene. A key difference for me is that in dance we tend to work with a high amount of detail right from the beginning of making movement. With Gecko, the emphasis is more on broad brush strokes that help us getting a feel for a scene or movement vocabulary. The process then involves putting those scenes together one after the other and adjust them as they create the narrative and carry the story through. The movement is less fundamental than with any dance work I’ve done. It carries less weight, so when performing a scene I am more preoccupied with what is being communicated and that’s where my focus lies.
CE: Essentially they are the same. The main difference I’ve found is that physical theatre can carve the audience attention in a wider range of ways. Somehow I watch dance differently to theatre, sort of like watching a film with subtitles. There is an attention shift with dance that physical theatre is able to hold onto.

Do you think of yourself as theatre performers, or dancers – or is that a distinction worth making?
CE: I feel more like a dancer purely because of my training and what I’ve spent the majority of my career doing. It’s not a title, or a label, I am worried about holding onto though..
AF: I think of myself as a dancer most of the time, that way I can throw myself into acting with a shrug and a smile.

Was it a coincidence that you found yourselves dancing together again after your Place Prize winning performances in It Needs Horses – or did a performing partnership grow out of that production?
AF: No coincidence, but I sure am lucky to work with such a great performer and individual! Chris and I were put together by Lost Dog for It Needs Horses. Amit came to see that show, invited us to audition separately and then hired us for the R & D [research & development] for Missing . We did another duet with Lost Dog last year, so this is our fourth piece together.
CE: It was a complete coincidence in as much as I had no idea Anna had also been asked. Maybe there’s a discount for hiring us as a bundle(!). Amit first saw us working together in It Needs Horses, so I would definitely say that a performing partnership grew out of it.

Although Ben Duke & Raquel Meseguer were technically the winners, as the performers of It Needs Horses you were an intrinsic part of it. Did it have knock on, advantageous effects for you – in the way that it has done for the winning choreographers?
AF: It Needs Horses required a lot of responsibility on stage, and it was the most naked I’d ever felt. To be able to perform it nearly ten nights in a row was a massive crash course in performance. In that sense it was very advantageous. The Place Prize also introduced me to Amit.
CE: It was wonderful performing a piece I believed in for ten nights during The Place Prize. We’ve done random dates of it around Europe over the past year and I love sharing it with people. I’ve met some interesting folks through it and continue to have positive experiences off the back of It Needs Horses.

What first sparked your interest in dance?
CE: I started dancing in secondary school. Up until then I had been training in Tae Kwon Do for years. For a kid who loved Jackie Chan and Michael Jackson in equal measure, getting into dance was a no-brainer.
AF: I can’t even remember! It’s always been a part of me. I remember loving the clapping and stomping part of gymnastics when I was about three.

Where/how did you train?
CE: I trained at London Contemporary Dance School. It was a course that allowed you to squeeze for all it was worth and gain opportunities; at the same time, you could also just get by and pass. For this reason it was a good boot camp, and made sure you knew if you loved dance or not.
AF: I trained at The School of Toronto Dance Theatre in Canada. It’s such a fantastic school and I have been singing its praises ever since I graduated. The strength of the training lies in the competence of the teachers, of the artistic director Pat Fraser, and in the varied schedule and the small classes. We were 24 in my year and 12 by the end of third year so there was a lot of personal attention and care. Our schedule was different every week to accommodate a host of visiting teachers in different disciplines. We had strong technique training of Graham-based technique and or contemporary barre/ballet every day. The focus was on being in the creative process and performing so for the most part our afternoons were spent working with external choreographers making pieces. We performed full shows at least twice a year. I can’t big it up enough!

Who/what have been significant influences on you?
CE: Despite highly valuing my training, my time with Hofesh Schechter was the most significant in terms of education. In general I’m influenced by people who work hard and love what they do.

AF: So many it’s hard to be specific. Those I’ve worked with in the past few years: Ben Duke, Raquel Meseguer and Amit Lahav are close to my heart for giving me the opportunity to connect with dance/physical theatre which makes so much sense to me as a performance style. In Canada, Susanna Hood of Hum and Peter Boneham, founder and director of the former Le Groupe Dance Lab taught me so much about clarity of expression, intention and the connection between body, voice and emotion.

What’s next for you both?
AF: Ben Duke is working on a piece to go along with It Needs Horses that we will be developing at the Almeida this summer. We’ll be touring that in the autumn after I have some much needed Canadian forest and lake time in August.
CE: I’m not sure just yet. I’m not dancing with Hofesh these days – but until they make a show that I’m not in, I will always be on the bench. I will move to Berlin next year, and my girlfriend and I will carry on making our own work. Failing that we’ll just make a baby!

If you weren’t working in dance, what would you like to be doing?
AF: There are too many things to choose from in this world! I’d likely be doing some sort of individual therapy. I enjoy connecting with people and facilitating people in experiencing themselves differently.
CE: Earning money?

Gecko are in Missing is at The Place 2 – 4 May , then touring to Contact Manchester and Plymouth Theatre Royal

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