News: Ben Duke - on Lost Dog, rabbits and Virginia Woolf

Wednesday 1 October 2014

Lost Dog and Lucy Kirkwood - 'Like Rabbits' Photo: Benedict Johnson

Ben Duke set up his company Lost Dog (with co-founder Raquel Meseguer) in 2004, aiming to bridge the gap between theatre and dance, making work in which dance is framed by stories and characters – using a mix of text, live music and movement. He has worked in theatre (National Theatre of Scotland, the Gate Theatre, Handspring UK), as well as with dance companies (Scottish Dance Theatre) and in 2011 Lost Dog’s It Needs Horses won them The Place Prize for Dance. Their latest work, Like Rabbits , is inspired by Virginia Woolf’s short story Lappin & Lapinova and is a collaboration with award winning writer Lucy Kirkwood. It was originally presented as a work in progress at the Almeida Festival 2013 and premiered at Brighton Festival earlier this year. There’s a chance to catch it again at The Place this month (10 & 11 October)…

You’ve said that “We began with an idea and we continue to wrestle with it, to say what needs to be said and dance the rest.” How has process of working with playwright Lucy Kirkwood informed Like Rabbits – has it affected the balance between text and dance in the final piece?
We called the company Lost Dog because if the work were a dog it would be a mongrel. A dog of no definable type or breed. But still very much a dog. The work is combining genres of performance but our primary concern is making a good performance.

Lucy’s influence on the work does not show itself in a shift in the balance between text and dance, one of the first things Lucy put on the table was her openness to the idea that there might not be any words. We ended up using the text that was needed, but there is not a lot. What Lucy brought to the work was her consummate skill as a story teller and also as a director.

You’re performing as well as co-directing. What kind of challenges does that present?
I was not in the work initially. When we presented it as a work in progress at the Almeida festival, it was performed by Chris Tandy and Ino Riga. So really the work was devised with Chris and Ino and I was outside it. Chris was then unable to continue working on the piece and I learnt his role. I find it very challenging to be in the work and directing it. It is something I have tried to avoid in the last few years. Apart for the impossibility of the task it always feels unfair to the person you are performing with as it is hard to be fully present as a performer when half your mind is off stage watching the piece. Having said that it gave me a new understanding of the piece stepping inside it and luckily for me Lucy is a great director and I also invited Lise Manavit (who has worked as a performer with Lost Dog for the last two years) to be rehearsal director. So with these two experts watching the work I felt able to concentrate on being a performer.

What was it that attracted you to working with Virginia Woolf’s short story Lappin & Lapinova? It’s interesting that you picked a literary giant, but one of her lesser known works. When did you first read the story? I only read the story relatively recently. It was Lucy’s idea. And as soon as I read it I thought it was a really good idea. The idea of a couple who create an animal fantasy for themselves lends itself to the use of a physical language alongside text. I had been interested in Virginia Woolf’s work for a long time but in staging more obvious choices. About five years ago Raquel (Meseguer, co-founder of Lost Dog) and I discussed an idea of creating a work inspired by Mrs Dalloway but it didn’t happen in the end. And realising how much we found in this very short story I think we would’ve been overwhelmed by Mrs Dalloway.

How does it feel to be performing this work in a theatre that is stone’s throw away from where Virginia Woolf lived in Bloomsbury?
I enjoy that connection. I trained at The Place and walked through Gordon Square regularly on my way there. I remember once walking past number 46 where they had lived and there was a upturned polystyrene cup spiked on one of the railings and on the cup someone had written Septimus Smith – who in Mrs Dalloway throws himself out of his window onto the railings. It was a very literary piece of litter and it stayed in my mind. It somehow reminded me how contemporary Woolf still is. I am curious to know what she’d have made of this re-telling of her story.

Has the work changed since it was first seen at Brighton Festival earlier this year?
It will be a bit different but not much. We had a great audience in Brighton and putting it in front of them helped us see how a couple of moments in the story telling could be clearer. So we have been working on those. I think also the design of The Place theatre will help the work feel more intimate than it did in Brighton.

What will The Place audiences be seeing of your new Lost Dog piece in the live trailer after the show?
I will be trying to show the best bits of the new piece which is based on Milton’s Paradise Lost – explosions, fights, the creation of the universe, that kind of thing. It’s still in development so there are no confirmed tour dates yet, but hopefully we’ll be premiering it in Spring 2015, look out for updates on

Lost Dog and Lucy Kirkwood – Like Rabbits
The Place, 10 & 11 October, 8pm

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