News: Ben Wright Q&A

Sunday 20 November 2011

Ben Wright was part of the orginal cast of Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake and has danced with Ricochet, London Contemporary Dance Theatre, Richard Alston Dance Company and Stan Won’t Dance. He formed his own company bgroup in 2008 and now works in opera and theatre as well as dance. Based in Brighton, his latest work The Lessening of Difference is touring the UK, was at The Place last week and you can catch it again at the Bernie Grant Arts Centre on Sat (3 Dec)

How did your latest production – The Lessening of Difference come about?
After a gap of almost 20 years I recently became reacquainted with writer David Charles Manners on Facebook. After reading David’s book In The Shadow Of Crows I promptly asked him if he’d be interested in collaborating on a new work for bgroup. This would be the first time I had attempted to work with a writer.
After many emails and chats we were offered a residency at Dance Base in Edinburgh and began focusing on potential main themes of the envisaged work.
In an attempt to clarify the essential shared experiences that unite and define us – the notion of intimacy emerged as an over arching idea. It’s clearly an enormous and daunting subject but as I try not to shy away from the ‘bigger themes’ in life, we agreed to navigate the topic. The outcome of this process has perhaps paved the way for an entire direction for the company and a list materialized from our discussions that listed the experiences of life that define – and by which, perhaps, we learn – our common humanity.
Fear of loss, grief, doubt, despair, laughter, passion and obsession; hope, the need for meaning and belonging, the awe that moves us forward, the desire to be at peace with ourselves, our innate capacity for surrender and, therefore, love.

We hear audience participation is not unknown in your shows..
The work follows on from a personal growing investigation to build work that gently massages the boundary between audience and performer, both thematically and physically. Not a new concept I know but one that is close to my heart. Our last work About Around placed the audience in a seated circle of 50 chairs around the action so viewers couldn’t help but be involved – The Lessening of Difference reverts to an end on presentation but there are a few moments where I’ve lightly encouraged some ‘interaction’ – hopefully viewers will feel permission to engage with the dancers by the end of the show.

Tell us about the special effects..
There’s an analogy drawn in the piece to the transformative quality of snow and of love. During panto season gaining access to snow effects is not an easy task! Thankfully I have an awesome production manager who did us proud. We are a small scale company but I try to create work that never skimps on production values.

You’ve been a performer, teacher, choreographer – how do you characterise your work these days?
Well I guess it’s about having the courage to retain a multi faced identity. All streams of my work feed into one another and affords me a rich palette of experiences which I cherish. Choreographically I am picking up more commissions these days particularly in Sweden where I have been working with Skanes Dance Theatre and as bgroup develops I hope to focus more time on my ensemble. A choreographer’s life is of course so dependant on funding etc so keeping a few fires burning enables me to keep working and keep thinking..

What first sparked your interest in dance?
I wanted to be an actor but at 19 I met Lloyd Newson who was creating a work for a youth company I was involved with in Derbyshire. I met an incredible woman during that period who offered to teach me for free if I gave her my time – Eve Leveaux (mother of theatre director David Leveaux). She literally changed my life and I owe her so much for opening so many doors.
There have been times where I have wanted to quit; my performing career – towards the end – involved more theatre-based work with Stan Won’t Dance and the*National Theatre* – I’ve now reached a really happy balance.

Has being part of what has become a modern day dance classic (Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake) been influential in the way your career has developed? The show provided not only a great and rewarding role but also took me around the world. I met my partner, Theo Clinkard, on the job 15 years ago and have friends all over the planet as a consequence. When people struggle to comprehend the world we work in, mentioning Swan Lake helps people somehow contextualise your vocation and I think there’s a certain amount of kudos that comes with having been involved with such a work that can at least start a conversation! Working with Matt was a golden period for me…as an older performer I still wonder if one day he’ll consider me for a ‘character role’ or something?!

In 2004 you won a NESTA Fellowship to explore relationships between choreography, directing and film – was that a useful creative experience? What came out of it?
The results and questions that came out of that research affect all that I do. It paved the way for bgroup and as my life literally revolves around all notions explored I can only say that it has spawned far reaching developments in my practice.

What qualities do you look for in your company members/dancers?
I need the performers I work with to meet me halfway, to be physically very able, thinking and articulate. I work collaboratively and, believing that life experience brings out the out the flavour of a person, I prefer to work with artists that have had some life experience. There is a fair range of talents on show in The Lessening Of Difference and the joy of drawing on their skills as individuals is very energizing.

Bgroup is set up to have a shifting range of performers and each project demands slightly different criteria in terms of performers . I like having the option to re-think and not jump out of the same box twice.

Have you worked with your cast and creatives before?
I have worked with all the dancers before; Keir Patrick and Anna Bjerre Larsen are the most longstanding bgroupers though. My sound designer Alan Stones is an old colleague of 20 years and all of my lighting design with bgroup has been with Guy Hoare. Dick Straker who worked on video for the project is a new collaborator and I am fortunate to have a partner who is also a costume designer so Theo has been with me for years in this capacity.

What are you working on next?
I’ve just came back from New York City where I’ve choreographed Michael Grandage’s production of Don Giovanni at the Met and I will be restaging this a few times in the coming year. Future choreographic work includes a new main stage dance commission for Skanes Dance Theatre and Malmo Opera in 2013; The Marriage of Figaro for Glyndbourne Opera. Philip Glass’s new opera The perfect American for ENO, a new commission for Intoto, and directing Jonathon Dove’s new music work A Walk From The Garden for 2012 Salisbury Festival . And as for bgroup we are planning a new show for late 2012 with the working title Past Future Present. It will include a reworking of my disco work This Moment is your Life. Expect glitter balls a-plenty!

bgroup in The Lessening of Difference
Bernie Grant Arts Centre 2011
more details & booking

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