News: Dublin's junk ensemble on UK tour

Friday 21 February 2014

Dublin’s award-winning dance theatre company junk ensemble make their UK touring debut next month with their highly entertaining physical dance/theatre/music production, The Falling Song. Artistic Directors, choreographers (and twins) Jessica Kennedy and Megan Kennedy were Artists in residence at Tate Britain in 2012 and are back in London as part of the tour with a date at Laban Theatre (11 March). We caught up with them as they prepare for the tour opening on 6 March in Lancaster…


Tell us a bit about your dance training – where you trained and why you chose to study there
Jessica and Megan: We began classical ballet classes when we were 5 years old in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and continued training throughout high school. We then began full-time dance training after high school where we truly discovered contemporary dance in Dublin at the College of Dance. We moved to Ireland because our father held the position of Head of Drama at Trinity College. After this, Jessica went to university to train in a degree course in Dance and English Literature in London. Jessica chose a university so that she could pursue her love of dance performance and choreography and also her love of literature and books. Megan attended Alvin Ailey Dance Centre in New York City. She chose Ailey because of its prestigious reputation and highly technical curriculum, and to live in NYC. Megan then attended university in Edinburgh to study drama.

When did you start making your own work?
Megan and Jessica: We first worked together in 2003 for Megan’s final dissertation at university, creating a show for Edinburgh Fringe. That sparked our interest in working together further and setting up junk ensemble, which happened a year later in 2004. We discovered that we work very well together; we approach work in a similar manner and ultimately we want to feel and see the same things happen in dance theatre.

Where does the name junk ensemble come from and does it have a specific meaning?
Jessica: The name originated from our first show in Edinburgh Fringe where we jointly called ourselves ‘Stage Junket’. We liked the word ‘junk’ and expanded this with ‘ensemble’ to demonstrate the collaborative way that we like to work. We enjoy the irony of calling ourselves junk but we also enjoy the idea that our work is something precious and unique – junk that one shouldn’t throw away.

The Falling Song – is the piece named after the music – or something else?
Megan: The title The Falling Song comes from notion of flying and falling that runs throughout the piece, coupled with the songs that the children’s choir sing.

What’s the piece about?
Jessica: The Falling Song explores masculinity and shows us the violence, vulnerability and self-destruction that we all have a bit of inside us. The piece is about falling – falling from grace, falling into and out of love and falling from great heights from the towering ladders in the set. There is also failure in the piece; failed attempts at flying and failed relationships. The performance is highly physical and demonstrates the physical extremes, performed by four male dancers. In contrast, the piece has young children singing songs about these dark themes, showing us the brightness that is contained in all of us.

And how did it work with the composer – did the movement come first or the music?
Jessica: We work very closely with our long-standing composer, Denis Clohessy. For The Falling Song, we began meeting with him six or seven months in advance of our own cast rehearsals. We then sat into the choir’s rehearsal quite early on and Denis discerned their vocal range and began working on the three compositions. Once composed, we gave the choir the songs to learn in advance, allowing them time to learn the songs before our own rehearsal process. Often in our work, the movement comes before the music. This was mostly the case for The Falling Song, with the exception of the choir compositions. Denis visits our studio rehearsals regularly and gets a feeling/mood from the movement sections and then goes off to work on them. From then on, it is a constant moving process, in order to perfectly capture the essence of the piece. Without fail, Denis wants the compositions to be right for the show, and will readily throw away the ones that don’t work for the piece.

Did you work with the dancers first?
Jessica: We first work just the two of us. Megan and I research and devise ideas for the piece, creating movement tasks, images (sometimes influenced by films and photography books) and researching stories and themes that we are interested in. We also meet regularly with the designers (set and lighting and music) so that we can all feed into each other, influence each other and then head down the same path. We then begin collaborating with the dancers through improvisation, movement tasks, choreographic ideas and image-based tasks.

What made you decide to use children’s choirs in the show?
Megan: We had been interested in using a children’s choir for a long time but particularly for this production as the choir juxtaposes the dark subject matter we were exploring. They bring a beautiful brightness and innocence to the stage and flit in and out of the cast’s choreography.

How do you find your singers?
Megan: We ask for recommendations from each venue we are touring to.

And how do you rehearse each choir with the dancers?
Megan: We have two rehearsals with the choir without the dancers present to go over all the songs, teach the choir their choreography, and run the show a few times so they understand how long they are onstage or backstage for and that stillness is a virtue. The choir meets the performers during the technical rehearsal, where everything begins to fit into place.

Are you excited about the company’s UK debut?
Megan: I am hugely excited about touring to the UK. We have wanted to do so for quite a while – the opportunity to travel to such a variety of cities and venues and work with a new choir in each place is extraordinary.

How do you and Jessica work together in making and producing the work of junk ensemble?
Jessica: Megan and I always make sure we have a research phase before the cast rehearsals begin. This is where we develop our themes, main choreographic ideas and images that we want to see in the piece. Thus far, we’ve had two residencies in Dance City in Newcastle, which have been hugely beneficial to the development and make-up of the piece. The Dance City residencies enable us with two weeks of researching and devising in the studio, with additional classes and workshops that we held. Once we begin the cast rehearsals (which comprise of 6 weeks plus 1 production week), Megan and I make sure to communicate throughout the day, following our scheduled plan from the morning. We work through this list during the day and film parts of the rehearsal to keep a record. Often we have to split up in the rehearsals, working as two groups, so the video camera is useful to see what the other group has been up to afterwards. It’s important to us that we talk through things (we haven’t always followed this model in the past!) and that we both share and compromise on matters that we mightn’t agree on. At it’s very worst, we flip a coin if we can’t agree at all! We generally want to see the same things happen in the rehearsal room and we continue to want to make the same kind of work.

junk ensemble’s The Falling Song,
Laban Theatre, 11 March 2014
www.trinitylaban.ac.uk

UK tour dates:
http://thefallingsong.co.uk

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