Interview: Clemmie Sveaas

Friday 11 April 2014 by Carmel Smith

Clemmie Sveaas (foreground) with Christopher Akrill & Charlotte Broom - HeadSpaceDance. Photo: Urban Jörén

You’re almost certain to have seen Clemmie Sveaas in something – it might have been as the Princess in the Javier De Frutos/Pet Shop Boys collaboration The Most Incredible Thing, dancing with New Movement Collective, or with Bern Ballett in Cathy Marston’s Witch-hunt (for which she has an Olivier Award nomination), or as Mole in William Tuckett’s The Wind in the Willows – or maybe dancing with Rambert or Phoenix Dance Theatre, before she went freelance.

Next week she’ll be dancing in a new programme of work by Christopher Akrill and Charlotte Broom’s HeadSpaceDance, with If Play Is Play.. – a dance-drama collaboration with actor, playwright and director Matthew Dunster and choreographers Luca Silvestrini and Johan Inger. Last year the company’s debut performances were in “an opening programme that is about as good as it gets” said our reviewer. We caught up with Clemmie in a break from rehearsals…

How did you first get involved with HeadSpaceDance?
I have known Chris and Charlotte since 2005 when the three of us were in Cathy Marston’s creation of Ghosts at the Linbury Studio Theatre. Not only did we become great friends, but we have continued to work together in various different projects over the years. I think we share a similar work ethos and creative outlook, which is perhaps how we have continued to enjoy working with one another for such a long time now.

When they asked me to join them for HeadSpace’s Three and Four Quarters last year it was a no brainer! I knew I wanted to be a part of it the minute they mentioned it to me. And here I am again for the second programme!

It feels to me that Chris and Charlotte have built HeadSpaceDance on a foundation of strong relationships. Working with people where there is already a bed of trust is very conducive for a productive and creative environment.

This time, for If Play Is Play… the company has been working with Matthew Dunster, who usually works in theatre. Has that been very different?
I wouldn’t say it has been VERY different, but there have certainly been a few interesting tools that he has brought to the studio which you wouldn’t necessarily get from a ‘straight choreographer.’ For example we ‘actioned’ a bit of script that he had written based on one of the scenes, and then used the actioning words as a basis to create a duet. We have done personality tests, to try and get an understanding of the characters we are playing. Generally speaking we have approached the work from quite an emotional starting point in order to create the steps. But Matthew has a very sharp and clear understanding of movement coupled with a very strong overall picture of what he wants to achieve. I would say that this combination made us all feel we were in very safe hands from the beginning of the process. I hope this experience will encourage him to choreograph more in the future!

For The Days The Nights The Wounds and The Night I hear he asked you (and the other dancers) to consider what it’s like to be a dancer in a city like London and how it affects the rest of their lives.. What do you like about being a dancer in London? Or don’t like?
There are of course pros and cons to living in London, just as any other city. I feel incredibly lucky to live right in the hub of such art and culture. For any performer to have so many options (work and pleasure related) on your doorstep is such a luxury that I try not to take for granted. But this is also my home, where I grew up. So I have the comfort of family and friends which is wonderful so as not to feel overwhelmed or lost in such a crazy city like London.

I suppose the down sides are that it is expensive which is tricky on a freelance dancer’s wage. It can also feel incredibly busy, and there is a sort of ‘each to their own’ mentality here, which can feel slightly alienating at times. Having said that, when it all gets a bit much, we also have the most amazing parks and open spaces where you can breathe and find peace…. So there is always a plus side!

Your recent performance in Cathy Marston’s Witch-Hunt for Bern Ballett has received a number of nominations for awards – including an Olivier. Congratulations! Were you aware that it might be an award winning performance when you were a part of that production?
Thank you very much….. And No!!!! The whole thing has been a complete shock to me and completely unexpected.

I went to Bern last February for two reasons. Firstly to work with Cathy Marston who I had wanted to work with again, since Ghosts in 2005. And secondly to get out of London for a bit. I had recently had a bit of a tough time and thought escaping to the beauty of Bern would be a good move….. So that’s what I did. And this has been the outcome! The whole experience has been very important to me and I feel incredibly proud of the piece we created. But I never dreamt I would come away with an Olivier award nomination!!

When did you start dancing? Was it always what you wanted to do?
I did ballet off and on from about the age of 8 and then started taking contemporary and jazz classes at the place at around 11. But it was always just a hobby.

Then at 14 after taking part in a ballet weekend I was told that perhaps I should look into training more seriously. So I went to London Studio Centre at 16.

I suppose it was fairly late to start thinking seriously about dance as it wasn’t something I had thought about as a potential career up until that point. But what it meant was that once I arrived at LSC I had a lot of hard work to do….. And that’s what I did! I believe this was an important part of the training for me and a good thing to realise about the industry early on.

You are sometimes credited as dancer/actor – is it an equal balance, or are you primarily a dancer who also acts?
I have been lucky enough to start to introduce acting into my career over the last couple of years. (Actually a lot of this is thanks to Matthew Dunster). It is something I want to do more of but obviously I have been dancing for a lot longer and have a lot more to learn about acting. London Studio Centre did offer up a fairly broad training from ballet to voice to singing, but in the third year I specialised in contemporary, so did a bit less of the more theatrical training. In time I would love to get more of an equal balance as eventually I know my body won’t allow me to continue to dance in this way and ideally I would like to make a gradual transition into acting. But for now, whilst I can still dance I am happy for the dancing to be slightly more present.

You’ve had a lot of variety in the roles you’ve played so far – from the Javier De Frutos/Petshop Boys’ The Most Incredible Thing, to performing with New Movement Collective – and earlier this year you were Mole in Will Tuckett’s The Wind in the Willows! Do you thrive on this variety, rather than dancing with just one company?
It is exactly the variety of roles and range of people I get to work with, which makes me love being a freelancer. I have danced in the past with Rambert and Phoenix and whilst I had some incredibly important and wonderful experiences, I feel I am at my best in a freelance environment. I feel constantly challenged and inspired by people with many different skill sets to me. I never want to get to a point of safety where I am in danger of becoming complacent.

What would be your ideal project?
My ideal project……. Too tough! To do more of the same and continue to work with people who are happy to teach me how to be better.

What else are you up to this year?
HeadSpaceDance is bringing back their first program Three and Four Quarters for a small tour at the end of the year.

I will be working with New Movement Collective on a couple of new projects one which will be in the Purcell Rooms, Southbank Centre, Please be Seated and one which we are developing hopefully for next year.
I am continuing development on an idea with Javier De Frutos and Rufus Norris which we started at the end of last year.

A year full of potential possibilities for the future! Fingers crossed!

HeadSpaceDance are at the Linbury Studio Theatre, 16, 17, 22, 23 & 24 April

Tour dates:

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