Interview: Ben Duke Q&A

Tuesday 23 September 2008

Ben Duke in Lost Dog's 'Hungry Ghosts'

Described by Time Out as ‘a very bright new voice in dance theatre’ Lost Dog have been gathering accolades, awards and new commissions since their formation in 2004.

Co-Director Ben Duke trained as an actor before getting into dance. He’s performed in Carrie Cracknell’s highly praised I Am Falling at the Gate Theatre and worked with Punchdrunk, Maresa von Stockert’s Tilted Co and Fleur Darkin, to mention just a few.

Lost Dog have just started a UK tour with their latest work, Hungry Ghosts, which is inspired by the events of the Moscow theatre siege in October 2002. Catch them at Laban on Tuesday 30 September…

What first drew you to dance?
While I was doing a degree in Newcastle I was working as an usher at the Theatre Royal where I saw this show called Bernadetje by Alain Platel – it was amazing! I wanted to be involved with that sort of work, but felt I was too old for dancing. The work that inspired me most was being made by Ballet c de la b, DV8, Derevo, Complicite, Pina Bausch and William Forsythe. Performance that was hugely physical. I’m so attracted to the simplicity of
sweating bodies on a lo-tech stage – beautifully raw.

How did Lost Dog come about?
I met *Raquel [Meseguer, co-Director] at the London School of Contemporary Dance. At the end of our first year we made apiece together, *Pave Up Paradise*. The movement and text was very much us, based on our experiences and how we liked to move and also a reaction against a training that was very Cunningham based and certainly in technique terms was focused on turning us into the kind of dancers we had no interest, and no prospect, of becoming – we were never going to be employed by Richard Alston. I was really driven by my limitations as a dancer – if I can’t do other people’s material I am going to have to make up my own. I was also driven by a desire to dance as myself – dancers can hide behind their fantastic technique and not reveal anything about themselves. I am less interested in the tricks of the body, but more about the humanity of the body – and the idea
that a body in space – still or moving – can give us this insight into who someone

Isn’t Pave Up Paradise performed by Phoenix Dance Theatre?
Darshan Singh Bhuller came to this first performance of Pave Up Paradise, he really liked it – and bought it for Phoenix – he was their Artistic Director
then. The work was in their repertoire for the spring and autumn season that year. This really struck a chord with a lot of people and got the ball rolling for us.

Hungry Ghosts is inspired by – but not about – the Moscow theatre siege in 2002. What was it that caught your imagination?
I’ve never felt qualified to delve into the politics of it – but something did capture my imagination. I saw a documentary about it and it opened with some video footage from inside the theatre as the terrorists walked onto the stage with their balaclavas, weapons and explosives. The audience just kept relaxed as they watched what they thought was some avant-garde performance. But then they realised what was going on, this was not a show anymore, this was a group of terrorists, and this was now about life and death. Although interestingly in the end, despite having the opportunity, they didn’t detonate their bombs, people died accidentally at the hands of the rescuers rather than the terrorists.

But this was just a starting point. We decided not to focus on the Chechnyan politics, but rather to reflect upon the individual experience of being involved
in such a situation. We drew on our own experiences of terrorism in London and the fear it generates, but also on unrelated experiences of loss and lives cut
short as a way of creating a show that was some kind of emotional response to terrorism, it’s not a documentary or a politically driven show. It explores our
experience of powerlessness in the face of these seemingly random acts of terrorism and looks at the feelings of loss and guilt experienced by those who survive them.
We created a show that was, when done right, moving and at times darkly funny.

And what’s with the name _ – _ Lost Dog_?_
We were filling out the form to go to Edinburgh Festival – we needed a name. It was going to be Mongrel, but it felt a bit negative, so we went for Lost Dog. It’s about something that comes from a mixture of things but has lost its parentage. Our culture is very big on labelling – we were interested in creating something that was true to itself. An example is the fact that we perform in dance slots, but would also like to be seen in theatre venues.

Hungry Ghosts at Laban, 30 Sep 08. Tickets £12 (£8 concessions) More details/online booking

More on Lost Dog, including UK tour dates:

See Ben Duke in the Gate Theatre production of I am Falling at the Lilian Baylis Studio, Sadler’s Wells

A version of this interview also appears on

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