News: Going solo in Miniatures

Thursday 20 February 2014 by Carmel Smith

Miniatures – a transfixing solo based on Elizabethan paintings in the V&A – is the first ever solo by Cholmondeleys and Featherstonehaughs founder Lea Anderson – and her first work for Candoco Dance Company. It got a great reception at Duckie – the Vauxhall Tavern club night last year – and there’s another chance to see it next week at Laban Theatre. We asked performer Annie Hanauer to put us in the frame…

Tell us about the process of making Miniatures
Lea initially ended up in the miniatures gallery while looking for something else, and was inspired by the theatrical nature of looking at them as well as the paintings themselves. Neither of us had made a solo before and she was also interested in the idea of a solo being a kind of portrait. Before we started working together I went to the V&A to meet the miniatures myself. We talked a lot about them, and researched them in books, and made up stories about them. The particular history attached to each isn’t essential for the audience to know, but in the creation process it provided a lot of back story and context, and helped flesh things out.

How many pictures did you use?
It’s a little hard to count since we reference some of them multiple times for different purposes—whether it’s a facial expression, a gesture, what they’re wearing, or another element. I would guess somewhere around 40. Many, many fewer than in other works of Lea’s, but enough to fill your brain up while trying to make something new!

And did you agree on the ones you wanted to work with?
When we started working in the studio Lea had already picked out quite a few and grouped some of them together according to similarities they shared, and we started to piece them together into little strings of movement. That was completely fine with me as it was a new way of working for me, and she has used paintings and films as the foundation of work before—that was one of the reasons I wanted to see what it would be like to work together. We had quite a few color-coded post-its sticking out of books.

The red hair suggests at least one was of Elizabeth I…
There are definitely a few of Elizabeth I in there, although the fashion at the time was to emulate the monarch, so there were quite a few ladies rocking a similar look. Simon Vincenzi designed the costume, which I love, and he had a very clear idea of what he wanted. All the portraits we used are from the Elizabethan period. It was a rich time for art, and there is a lot of meaning encoded in the portraits.

Who else made an impression on you in the miniatures?
A lot of them are intriguing. I like the ones whose faces look like there’s some kind of story going on. When you start to look closely, all these portrait-sitting expressions we might think of as “neutral” actually have some pretty glaring differences—someone who is trying to look nice can look a bit mean, or pompous, or just silly. I also like the ones who are posed in ways that would be anatomically impossible.

Did you use male and female – and was there a difference in the movement they generated?
We used women and men, older and younger people. To me there’s a difference in how they feel, but since I’m clearly a woman dressed in a costume, it probably reads differently to the audience from how it feels to me. The dance is about the miniatures, but at the same time it’s also about the dance as a whole. We tried to make unexpected connections between things.

How did it feel to make & perform a solo work?
This was my first time making a solo, and working on my own away from the rest of the company. It’s an amazing way to work – you can get a lot done in a day when you’re working one to one. It also puts a different kind of pressure on you during the creative process, in a good way. One of the many reasons I wanted to work with Lea is that I knew she would bring a fantastic team of collaborators along with her. I felt really privileged to be working amongst such a great group. In performance a solo is a nice challenge because once the lights go up you have no one to rely on but yourself. You have to deal with whatever might come along. As long as you’re being true to the work, you’ve actually got a lot of freedom to put your personal stamp on each performance, which is a huge treat. Once you get past the nerves.

I gather it’s been made to be performed in non theatrical settings – where have you performed it so far –and has it felt very different?
We initially imagined it would be perfect for non-theatrical settings, but then it turned out to look really good on stage. There’s definitely a level of detail that benefits from seeing it in an intimate space, and being framed a certain way. We’re thinking about ways to scale up and scale down, since we will be touring to a range of different stages. So far it’s been performed at Roehampton University, where the audience was pretty close, and we did an excerpt at Duckie (club night at the Vauxhall Tavern), where the audience was really, really close! That was quite an excellent night – I counted it as a success that I (more or less) kept people’s attention the whole time, and they clapped at the end. Nothing like an experienced and vocal crowd standing at your feet with drinks in their hands to make you sweat. Next it will be at Laban Theatre on Friday 28 February & Saturday1 March.

You moved from Minneapolis to London to join Candoco in 2008. That was quite a commitment to make.. Had you experienced working with an integrated company before – or would you say Candoco are unique?
Before working with Candoco I had never really worked with other disabled dancers. I studied dance and was something of an anomaly, though I was readily accepted. It was a huge change to move to London but it was perfect timing – I had just finished my degree and had nothing to lose. Candoco definitely occupies a unique place in the dance world, but there are a lot of artists out there who are doing great work in integrated settings. It’s a credit to the UK that so much exists here – from the amount I’ve travelled with the company I can say it’s not so common elsewhere. With that said, there’s still a lot of work to be done!

What do you like best about living and working in London?
London is a fantastic city. I love the history and the mix of people; it has to be one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world. There’s so much going on here in terms of culture. Free museum entry is fantastic. It would be even better if everything else weren’t so expensive, and I do occasionally miss the sun.

See Annie in Lea Anderson’s Miniatures , along with works by Thomas Hauert and Javier de Frutos for Candoco:
Fri 28 Feb and Sat 1 Mar

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