Interview: Katie Green Q&A

Friday 4 May 2012

Katie Green. Photo: Nuno Santos

After reading English at Cambridge University, Katie Green graduated from London Contemporary Dance School in 2006 and formed her contemporary dance company Made By Katie Green in the same year. Since then her company has won a number of awards and has received support through the Arts Council England’s Grants for the Arts scheme. She was an Associate Artist at Dance4 (Nottingham) from 2007-9 and Regional Artist at Déda (Derby) from 2010-11. As well as directing Made By Katie Green, Katie works as a freelance choreographer, performer and teacher, and since January 2011 I has been working as a performer with Cie. Willi Dorner (Austria).
Katie’s latest piece Matters of Life and Death will be showing as part of The Place’s Spring Loaded season next week (9 May). We caught up with Katie as she prepares for her company’s performance at The Place…

Taking an English degree at Cambridge is an unusual route in to dance making – how has this affected your outlook and way of working?
Yes, it was quite an unusual route, although I followed my English degree with a second degree at London Contemporary Dance School so that’s how I found my way into the dance world.

I chose to do a first degree in English because I have always been fascinated by story-telling, although it’s only much more recently that I have begun to develop works that use narrative choreographically. My first degree also taught me about attention to detail, rigour and reinforced the work ethic that continues to sustain me as an independent artist.

The thing I’m most glad of about my particular training route is that I think I was better prepared for the physical and emotional challenge of dance training. I found much of that first degree really hard – 3 or 4 essays a week, attempting to read what felt like the complete works of Shakespeare in my very first term… I just wasn’t ready to receive all of the information I was given straight out of school, but after a while of listening to lots of other people and time spent with some very good tutors, I had more confidence in my own view of the world.

I was also very fortunate to spend a lot of time dancing while I was at Cambridge, working with Kenneth Tharp, who was Dancer in Residence at my college (Queens’) at that time and Adèle Thompson, who is the current Dancer in Residence. I was President of Queens’ College Contemporary Dance Society and production-managed, performed in and choreographed for many shows while I was there. It was great work experience for what I do now. My ability to communicate clearly also helped me to win the Deutsche Bank Pyramid Award for Contemporary Dance in my third year, through which I was able to establish my company more quickly than I would have been able to without the financial support.

What was it that inspired you in Graham Swift’s Waterland?
I am drawn towards transition moments as source material for my choreography, points after which something changes irrecoverably so there’s no going back. I like to examine how different individuals deal with those situations and the impact they have on their relationships with other people: there’s always a strong sense of contrast around these moments which is very rich source material.

The discovery of a dead body is definitely a moment of irrecoverable change, and is such a striking image towards the beginning of Waterland. Although we take a lot of artistic license with that event in Matters of Life and Death – I’m more interested in reimagining and heightening the dramatic potential of the single chapter in which the body is discovered than I am in adapting the whole novel – the interplay of characters in the novel informed the way in which we generated material for the piece. It gave a template structure, which I was then free to play with. Read more

I was also drawn to Waterland because it is set in a Fenland landscape and I grew up in Lincolnshire. I’ve realised in retrospect that the issue of ‘home’ and feeling comfortable or ‘at home’ (or trying to reclaim that feeling after the ground has been pulled out from under your feet) is very important in Matters, so I think it was no coincidence that I settled on a starting point that connected with my own home.

Because the body is also discovered in water, I wanted to use watery imagery to draw all of the strands of the piece together, and this informed a lot of the movement ideas that have remained in the piece since I first started developing it in 2010, also informing Nuno Santos’ stunning images.

You’ve worked extensively with young people, acting as a mentor in Derbyshire, Yorkshire, the West Midlands, London, the South East and for YDE’s Young Creatives in the East Midlands. More recently you have been a mentor with your company’s own “Made By YOU project” which gave a young choreographer the opportunity to create new work on the company’s professional dancers. Why is working with young people so important to you?
I feel that it is part of my responsibility as an artist, it’s as simple as that. It’s not a responsibility that I carry heavily, but one that I really enjoy. I love what I do, I’m very lucky to be in a position where I am able to do what I do, and I want to communicate my enthusiasm to other people, to give them confidence in their own creative potential. I still have a lot to learn, but I also have knowledge and skills that I can share with other people, and, by doing that, everything makes a lot more sense to me. The wrap-around activities I deliver alongside the performative aspect of my work include workshops and intensives with young people. Marion Gough says that for dance to be appreciated fully it has to be “seen but also experienced”, and I agree. I set up lots of opportunities for people to have an insight into my working process. It’s about developing an audience for my work, and for contemporary dance generally.

In the case of the Made By YOU project, I wanted to give young people, and one young choreographer in particular, the opportunity to work at a professional level and to learn about what it means to be a professional choreographer. In the run-up to recruiting the Made By YOU choreographer I ran free open choreographic workshops across the East Midlands, meeting many very talented young people. I hope to be able to extend the scope of the project in the future.

Alexa Mason, the successful recipient of the Made By YOU commission, really rose to the challenge that the commission represented. Alexa is now undertaking a degree in choreography at Falmouth College.

It’s so important to me that people are drawn into the stories I tell – I’m always heartened when people say to me that they were ‘moved’ by something I’ve made, because I know what a rare experience that is.

Who have been important influences on you?
I have worked with theatre director Tom Cornford since 2007, when we collaborated on Cilgwyn Theatre Company’s production of the Faerie Queen, in which I was a performer and movement director. I learnt so much from Tom during that intensive working process about devised theatre and emotional intention in particular, as well as the importance of rigorous research and effective ways to manage rehearsals. Since then Tom has worked with me as a mentor and dramaturg.

Similarly I have been fortunate to work with great choreographic mentors – Kate Flatt, and before that Anna Williams have mentored me during the process of making Matters of Life and Death. They have both been influenced the development of my choreographic signature over the past couple of years, and also share Tom’s talent of being able to make me see through the logistics of the day-to-day running of rehearsal – and help me connect with the core of my work.

I am also influenced by the generous dancers with whom I work and my other creative collaborators. We had a real treat during our time developing the piece at Choreodrome 2011, because we were also able to spend time with guest practitioner Jovair Longo, who helped us to rediscover some fundamental principles of Contact Improvisation, which we then took forward into the process of devising material.

You’ve recently become a Trustee of the St Hugh’s Foundation which previously supported your work through a Fellowship award in 2009. How do you feel the Foundation benefited your work? How does it feel to be on the other side of the process, providing support for others?
Well to get down to the practical side of things, the money I received from the St Hugh’s Foundation provided cash partnership for two other successful funding applications, both for the development of Matters of Life and Death. Without their support the piece would not have been made. Given the extent to which this piece has really challenged and consolidated what I understood previously about my choreographic practice, that’s no small contribution.

The Trustees of the Foundation (before I joined them) also did this wonderful, unheard of thing of recognising just how much effort I had put into an interim evaluation for them, also recognising that the scope of my project had increased beyond what I had originally envisaged, and topped up my Fellowship Award in order to increase my chances of being able to fund future developments. That was a very unexpected and exciting letter to receive! It made me really appreciate the confidence they had in me, and that made me feel confident in myself.

It’s interesting to see the other side of the funding process now that I’ve been invited to be a Trustee, although I do feel the weight of responsibility when looking through beautifully crafted applications (and knowing what it feels like to put yourself forward like that), knowing we can only shortlist a couple out of the many we receive.

Are you involved in any 2012 Cultural Olympiad projects?
I was involved in one last year, a commission called Moving Colour, which was part of the Igniting Ambition programme in the East Midlands and required me to create a new outdoor work for 14 dancers (6 from Sweden, 8 from the UK) which was performed at the SO Festival 2011 in Skegness and the Passage Festival 2011 in Sweden and Denmark.

This year I’m busy over the summer with activities related to the Olympics celebration year – I’m teaching at Youth Dance England’s U.Dance 2012 weekend in July, leading an Olympics-inspired summer intensive for young people at The Place and will be collaborating with the architecture team at the Royal Academy of Arts to put together a site-specific dance piece for their courtyard, for performances during the London Festival of Architecture 2012.

I actually made a deliberate choice not to apply for project funding for myself this year, as I wanted to take my time planning my next piece, which I will start developing in the autumn. If I think about it, it’s really the first year since I graduated from The Place that I haven’t spent at least 2 spring months either planning for or actively involved in a Made By Katie Green project, and although I’m already itching to get started on the next one, it’s nice to have a bit of time to take stock!

Matters of Life and Death is at The Place on 9 May, 8pm
Box office: 020 7121 1100
The Place
Made by Katie Green

Leave a comment

You must be signed in to post comments.

Sign in now

What’s On