Interview: Joy Constantinides Q&A

Friday 4 March 2011

Joy Constantinides. Photo: Cheryl Tait Joy Constantinides is currently touring in Maresa von Stockert’s Tilted Productions new show Masquerade, which has been entrancing audiences around the UK with a dip into the world of dreams and arrives at the Place for two performances next week (3 & 4 March).

A founder member of Kim Brandstrup’s ARC Dance Company, Joy has also worked with many dance, opera and theatre companies – including English National Opera, the Royal Opera and Glyndebourne. In recent years she has performed with Tilted Productions Marjorie’s World Unhinged, worked with Aletta Collins in The Red Balloon and with Kate Flatt on Soul Play. And when the tour of Masquerade ends, she’s off to join DV8 on their next show.

Joy talks to us about the making of Masquerade, her thirty year career and what keeps her dancing professionally at nearly 62…

How long have you been dancing? **Well not for as long as one would expect for my age. I went to London Contemporary Dance School when I was 29. I took up dancing again after a long gap – I’d stopped dancing at 13. I’ve only been dancing for 30 years! I’m 10 years behind all my contemporaries & colleagues.
Because Maresa’s theatricality is so strong, whatever the skills, type, age, size, she finds a way of using her dancers.

Was it difficult to start training at 29? **It was very different – and much easier in a way. Obviously it was harder on the body, but because I was so passionate about it and had made that decision to come back and because I was so much older and more mature, I didn’t have any rebellious tendencies. I just lapped up everything I was asked to do and never resented the discipline or the hours. Although I was shy of my teachers they didn’t seem like another generation of humans who were hammering me into shape, so it was easier for me psychologically.

What happened in the gap years? **I spent a year at art school and went to Leeds University to study Fine Art & Art History. I thought I would be a picture conservator, or textile restorer – but it didn’t happen. I spent a few years pottering & then eventually returned to the idea of dancing. Back in London I got a job with an antique carpet restorer and started taking evening classes – crumby, open jazz dance classes & eventually I found my way to The Place. Someone suggested that I apply to London Contemporary Dance School – and I got in!

What has kept you dancing? **It is physically very hard – but I suppose because it was a vocational decision that I made later in life, I found that my skills are really as a performer. Even if my technical skills are not able to match my performance skills, I just leapt into that way of being ‘internal’ – to let time stand still & suddenly you’re in another world. Now it’s the only thing I can do well – so I keep on doing it!

Are there advantages in being an older dancer? **There are nowadays. I feel that I’m very lucky to have grown older at a time when there is a real interest in employing different generations in dance. I don’t think I would have got these jobs 20 years ago. Many dancers have told me they wish they kept on dancing.

But also, I’m single, I don’t have a family, I don’t have children, I’ve devoted my life to it. The life of a freelance dancer has no security, so you spend your life living a bit like a student. I have very strong family attachments, both my parents are still alive & and I go back to the family home for holidays. I don’t spend money going abroad, so that’s how I’ve kept going.

You’ve worked a lot in opera.. **Yes, that was my bread & butter at the time when I was dancing with Kim Brandstrup’s Arc Dance Company. In between projects I got a lot of work with the opera. It’s a perfect training ground for just being on stage, knowing how to hold yourself to suggest little theatrical moments.

I’ve always loved it. Being an older dancer I never dismissed it as ‘oh, you know, I’m just a spear carrier.’ It’s much less physically arduous. Most of the opera dances are just a little bit of an interlude, or adding to the crowd scene while the poor chorus are singing their hearts out – so it’s much less focussed on you. The responsibility of being a contemporary dancer on stage is much greater – and much more scarey.

But I’ve had some very good small roles in the opera which have been challenging and enjoyable. I did a lovely phrase of movement for Kim Brandstrup in Deborah Warner’s Messiah [English National Opera] in 2009.

Tilted Productions 'Masquerade' Tell us about Masquerade…
**Maresa’s inspiration for Masquerade is the world of dreams & sleep: the strange irrational images and illogical order, childhood fears and wish fulfilment. Some of her sources were Freud‘s analysis and the Surrealist movement of the early 20th century, so one of the first things she had us do was look at paintings by Magritte and Dali. There is this interest in bodies crumbling, solid forms melting, the familiar becoming unfamiliar – the surprising emerging from obvious places.

Maresa’s way of working is always very collaborative – she has a huge imagination and sets us all sorts of tasks. Her dancers are incredibly skilled at coming up with inventive and precise movements in response to her imagination. So we really contribute to the movement ideas, then Maresa sorts them, throws out what she can’t use, rephrases, retimes, puts it together from all the little sections of movement which the dancers have made up. She comes up with so many fascinating ideas and the final piece comes together in a very strange way – you don’t know how it’s going to develop. Gradually she just slots everything into place.

Maresa has always been interested in objects and how they can make a dancer move in different ways, rather than the dancer manipulate the object. In Masquerade the objects are body parts [constructed by SFX artist John Schoonraad] – legs, arms, an enormous head for a dancer to disappear into. And of course we use masks – which help you to turn into someone else.

It looks like being part of a dream… **The work is so physical that one doesn’t get in to a dream at all. One is not aware of the image which is being given to the audience, the atmosphere that they are picking up. We just concentrate on the physicality and timing of our movement and for all of the dancers it’s incredibly arduous & exhausting – for me because of my age. Although what I do is very hard, it’s not as enormously energetic as the others.

A central part of the work is a recurring duet in which you dance first as a child – and then later as an older person. It’s very moving – and convincing. What are you drawing on? **One of the first tasks Maresa gave me was to go to the school next door and watch how the children behave. I came back and showed quite a few movement ideas from children. That’s how it started and that’s what I feel when I perform that part. The task for the duet was that my feet should never touch the ground, so the physicality of the piece is very much what Jake Dodd could do with me – it really depended on his strength & inventiveness and then I responded with a bit of a wriggle here and a flip over there. The child’s gurgling laughter which is part of the musical score also inspires me. As a child I was very physical – I liked climbing trees, diving, jumping and turning upside down. I seem to have the urge to throw myself still in my body!

In the second duet Maresa directed me to be very delicate and frail and I have to say I think of my mother, who is dying. I see her – and I look so much like her – and that’s constantly with me. It’s quite profound, that moment or so.

Who have been creative influences on you? **I had very great teachers who had danced with Martha GrahamNina Fonaroff was my choreography teacher, Jane Dudley, Bill Luther & Juliet Fisher. In the Graham work it’s deeply profoundly expressive and much of it was influenced by the development of psychoanalysis and research into the psyche and archetypal images.

Then I danced for many years with Kim Brandstrup and I consider that he really created me as a dancer. He helped with all sorts of physical and technical controls, so that I didn’t become over indulgent in expressing things. It’s very easy for a dancer to become over expressive, be a bit too theatrical about something and lose the pure physical language.

Maresa works very much in the same way – I rely on her a great deal. She gave me a lot of cues with the child & the old lady duet – and really played with the subtle differences in doing the same material.

Masquerade tours until 11 March – what happens next? **I’m lucky enough to go straight into a job with DV8. This year has been extraordinary for me. Maresa has been an absolutely wonderful choreographer & director and now I’m very excited to be working with Lloyd Newson.

Tilted Productions perform Masquerade at The Place 3-4 March, 8pm.
“Book online”: or phone: 020 7121 1100

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Photo of Joy Constantinides: Sheryl Tait

February 2011

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