Interview: James Cousins

Friday 17 August 2012 by Carmel Smith

James Cousins

Just two years after leaving London Contemporary Dance School, James Cousins is preparing to present a programme of new work in the main house at Sadler’s Wells next month. So how did he get here? James was the first winner of the New Adventures Choreographer Award. Set up to mark Matthew Bourne’s 50th birthday in 2010, the award will run bi-annually, giving a young choreographer the chance to develop their choreographic skills, be mentored by Bourne and associate artists and work with the company dancers for a year. We checked in with James to see how it’s going…

What has winning the New Adventures Choreographer Award meant for you?
Winning was a complete shock and absolute dream come true for me. I really didn’t think I stood a chance when I saw the shortlist – there was just so much talent on there. It’s all still a bit of a dream really. Never in a million years did I think I’d be being mentored by Matt [Bourne], collaborating with such a brilliant team and having my work performed at Sadler’s Wells, let alone do it within two years of graduating.
The Award has given me an incredible platform to launch off from. I think one of the biggest things winning has enabled me to do is to work with an incredible company. I am working with dancers who I used to watch perform professionally on stage when I was at college and it truly is the biggest honour and most inspirational thing to be working with them.

Are you still dancing as well?
Yes I’m currently also dancing for Marc Brew Company. It’s the only job I took as a dancer this year as I managed to slot it in around my rehearsals for my show. I worked with Marc last year so it’s nice to come back to it. It’s made my schedule slightly crazy though as I finish my creation period at the end of next week, then perform with Marc at Queen Elizabeth Hall on 31 August, then go straight into production week for my show at Sadler’s! I then get a couple of days off before going back on tour with Marc.

In a couple of weeks you’ll be presenting three new works in the main house at Sadler’s Wells – how does that feel?
Surreal! Whenever I have sat in the auditorium to watch something there this year I would think about sitting there watching my own work, but I just can’t imagine it! I’m terrified but completely over excited as well! It’s always been one of those dreams that you never think will happen. At college we had to write a five year plan at the end of third year and I remember jokingly putting on at the end of year five that I’d have my work at Sadler’s! It was only really when I saw the posters outside the building and my video on the screens that I started to believe it!

Tell us a bit about the pieces & how they have developed?
So I’m presenting a brand new double bill. The first piece is a duet performed by the incredible Lisa Welham and Aaron Vickers. I was inspired to make it after a show I co-choreographed called Jealousy at The Print Room. I never imagined myself making a duet, I always preferred making big works for lots of dancers but after doing Jealousy I realised oh, actually maybe this is something I could do! It’s loosely based on the relationship between the two main characters from Murakami’s Norwegian Wood done with a bit of a twist!

How did you first get in to dance?
I first started dancing when I went to secondary school, just in PE lessons. I had amazing teachers at my school and owe them a lot. They really pushed me, encouraged me and opened my eyes to a massive range of dance.

Where did you train?
I trained at London Contemporary Dance School. Again I have a lot to thank them for. Not only did I have exceptional teachers but I was also so fortunate in getting some incredible opportunities that really helped push me and promote me as a choreographer.

What’s been your career highlight so far?
Oh wow, I don’t know. There have been a few! As a dancer it’d probably have to be opening night on Broadway with Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake. I’d only just left college and seeing the whole of the audience at New York City Centre jump to their feet at the end was completely overwhelming. I remember half way through the show suddenly realising what was happening and where I was! It was completely surreal!
As a choreographer: having my work performed at Buckingham Palace in front of the Queen and the royal family!

Everything seems to be happening very quickly for you – is making your own work your main focus now – or are you still happy to dance work by other choreographers?
I’ve made it my focus this year but that’s not to say I don’t want to dance anymore. I love dancing other people’s choreography and feel I learn a huge amount from working with other people so it’s definitely something I want to keep doing while I can. It’s hard to juggle both but I will keep doing it while I can make it work and the offers come in!

Who/what have been influences on you in dance?
I think the people I’m surrounded by have probably been my biggest influences in finding my own voice. My teachers at LCDS were massively inspirational and had a big influence on my work. The dancers I work with as well play a big part in shaping my choreography. I was very fortunate that at college I had an amazing group of friends who were really interested in the work I was creating and invested a massive amount of time in it. I think my movement language has influences from all of them in it.
I like to keep working with new dancers as well as I feel that they keep pushing me and my choreography.

You’re based in London – what do you like most about being here? And dislike?
The incredible network. I love that you can go to see a show on your own but you can almost guarantee you will bump into someone you know.
The thing I dislike is sitting on tubes for hours on end! Especially after an epic rehearsal day!

New Adventures Choreographer Award: Showcase – James Cousins Fri 7 September, Sadler’s Wells (All seats £12)

Marc Brew Company with Evelyn Glennie & The British Paraorchestra Fusional Fragments Fri 31 August, Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank Centre (£20 -£10)

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