Interview: Making the Big Dance

Saturday 7 July 2012 by Carmel Smith

Wayne McGregor. Photo: Kois Miah

Wayne McGregor has been quite clear from the outset that his Big Dance for Trafalgar Square would actually be choreographed by the people taking part in it. His role was to piece the potentially hundreds of choreographic fragments together into a work to fill London’s central square in this landmark summer of 2012. So how is it all coming together? We asked Jasmine Wilson, Creative Learning Director for Wayne McGregor | Random Dance.

The Trafalgar Square mass dance has been part of Big Dance a couple of times before – but it sounds like you’re doing things differently this time…
In the past, it’s been about learning choreography online and then coming along to the Square and that’s worked well, but Wayne’s vision for this year was to bring more of a choreographic focus to the square and for us to use our usual creative learning process – but do it on a massive scale. The idea was that we’d actually take groups through a choreographic process.

We recruited a team of 15 freelance dance artists and trained them alongside our own dancers. We put together a resource book of creative tasks they could do around Olympic imagery – so we’ve been working with sporting action, Olympic architecture – and the Olympic values: Respect, Excellence, Friendship. We’d been working with action verbs in Undance recently, so we incorporated some Olympic verbs – ‘to throw’, ‘to fall’, ‘to catch’, ‘to lift’, ‘to jump’ – to really draw out a highly physical language.

How did you find people to take part?
We worked closely with the London Big dance hubs [East London Dance, Greenwich Dance, Siobhan Dance, English National Ballet and Sadler’s Wells ] to identify 5 to 10 groups each to be involved in the project – any dance styles, ages, abilities. We’ve got quite a range – from hip hop to Bollywood, contemporary schools groups to elders. Altogether there are about 750 people in 30 groups taking part.

We also wanted to give an opportunity to individuals who might not be part of a group, or have time to commit to so many sessions, to be part of the event – so they were able to go through their hubs and to learn the choreography which Wayne created for the Schools Pledge online and just come to one rehearsal– so there will be a huge unison finale with around 1,000 people.

It sounds like a huge, complex project..
Yes, but it’s really very much the same process that we use in our education and community work, just on a larger scale. And Wayne is used to working with all sorts of dancers and dance styles. It will be fascinating to see how he creates cohesion

Was it a challenge to work with such a range of dance styles and abilities?
It has been quite tricky – but what we’ve tried to do is go in and say these are the kind of creative tasks we do in our work, have a look and see how it works. We’d like you to do something similar but don’t obliterate your style completely. So for example our artist might go in to a Bollywood group and ask them to show some choreography they’ve got already, and if it’s quite static and all in the feet, they might say fantastic – you’ve got that language in your body – what can we do to ‘travel’ that, to extend it in to some arm movements….

How many sessions/rehearsals has it taken?
We wanted them to have a really extended process with us, so we started workshops just after Easter and offered two methods of engagement: either we went in weekly over 6 -8 weeks to make work with them, or they could do a couple of intensive weekends.

We also wanted to offer a chance for group leaders who might be more experienced choreographically to shift their practice a bit. So they’ve had mentoring opportunities with our artists who have gone in to set them off at the beginning with our ideas, our stimulus and practice – and then the artists visited again in the middle to give some ideas about structuring and again at the end to complete the process.

In June we started bringing groups together, just two or three at a time and for the last two weekends we’ve had all the groups together in each hub, with five rehearsals going on simultaneously across London – and Wayne travelling between them.

He’s been looking at the work online throughout the process just to get him thinking. It’s how he works in his own creative process – he makes lots of work and then structures right at the end. For him this is quite usual, for the rest of us it’s quite nail biting! We won’t actually bring all the groups together until the day in Trafalgar Square.

How will you be using that huge space?
We’ll be filling it! The audience will be on the steps in front of the National Gallery and around the sides of the square in front of the fountains. There will also be two big screens. We’re working with a filmmaker who is using footage of past London Olympics which will be mixed in with a live feed of the action.

Will there be costumes?
Yes – we had two issues to deal with. We wanted something which wasn’t just a tee shirt – but had a clear identity and there was the practical issue that this is a 45 minute performance – and we want it to look like a performance! I also didn’t want participants’ main memories of the day to be about queuing for ages to check in their belongings to a cloakroom.

We’re working with Studio X0 – some fantastic designers who we’ve collaborated with on other projects. They work a lot with technology and the human body and we asked them to create something which would work for everybody, but also had some sort of element for storage. They’ve come up with a sort of tabard, made of we suit material, which velcro across – and have pockets for things like keys, money and passes etc. There’s also a colour element involved – but let’s not give too much away before the day!

Wayne McGregor’s Big Dance 2012 takes place in Trafalgar Square on the afternoon of Saturday 14 July, from 3pm
The afternoon will also include film of dance projects in past and future host cities of the Olympics – Beijing and Rio de Janeiro (which will also be running its own version of Big Dance).

Dance Groups involved in Big Dance Trafalgar Square 2012:
Turbelle’s Performing Arts, Get Up and Groove & Murlow Youth, East London Dance Adults, Bolivian Heritage, Robert Clack School, NrgDance, Greenwich Dance Agency Adults, Montage Theatre Arts, Laban Adults, Laban Youth, Iconics, English National Ballet School, Physical Ballet, Sapnay School of Dance, SA Dance, English National Ballet Adults, English National Ballet Youth Company, Combination Dance, Amici Dance Theatre, Bounce Theatre, Sadler’s Wells Over 60’s, Sadler’s Wells Adults, WAC, Arts Depot Ignite, Chicken Shed, Apsara Arts, Bubblegum Dance, Maloca, Ravenstone Primary School, Roehampton Dance.

The piece will include film footage by Ravi Deepres with a specially commissioned score by Scanner and Joel Cadbury

Big Dance 2012 is part of the London 2012 Festival, the culmination of the cultural Olympiad.

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