Interview: Rosie Kay Q&A

Wednesday 26 September 2007

Rosie Kay ** *Choreographer Rosie Kay makes her Dance Umbrella debut, performing in her own
work Asylum at the Purcell Room on 4 & 5 October.*

*This year as part of a Rayne Fellowship for Choreographers been shadowing MPs, watching film maker Anthony Minghella at work in Botswana
and working with Emio Greco in Holland.* *And then there’s the ballet on a routemaster bus for Birmingham Royal Ballet
and rehearsals for a UK tour of her riotous The Wild Party, but she still managed to find sometime for a chat with us…*

*_Asylum_ is based on the experiences of refugees. What drew you to the subject – and
how did you research it?*

There are so many strands to this piece… Even now I’m still seeing more in it.
First of all it was personal: I’d lost any sense of where I came from. I’d lived
abroad for six years and got to the state where I didn’t seem to have any possessions,
I was speaking three or four different languages, had been really pushing myself
to find my own sense of identity. Am I Scottish, part Polish, British, what am
I exactly and what does identity make you? My grandfather was Polish – so I know
what it’s like to be part of a third generation immigrant family.

Then I was living in Birmingham working with a lot of Afro-Caribbean and Asian
children and asylum seekers’ children in schools – and seeing the difficulties
of people having to find their identity in this country. I then went to visit
my mother who was living in Guyana, South America where there’s a big Afro-Caribbean
and Indian community and its an ex-British colony. It blew my mind; what a legacy
we have as a tiny island.

I felt there is something here that is rich; it’s not just about me, it’s a bigger
question. Back in the UK, I have a very good friend who’s Serbian, who was a refugee
at the time trying to get rights to live in Germany. I was also looking at the
research that was around on the experience of Bosnian refugees.

So I had all this personal experience and interviews with people and I also did
a lot of library research on the differing ways that men and women cope with exile.

*It’s a duet which you perform in yourself. What feels most important to you –
choreography or performing?*

I’m really entering a new phase now. I used to be a dancer who choreographed
and I’m now definitely more of a choreographer who happens to dance in my own
work. I do still enjoy it – but I’m sort of writing myself out now!

I’m performing in Asylum, I’m also doing The Wild Party (on tour from October ’07 – April ’08). Asylum is incredibly brutal, when I dance it I feel incredibly angry inside still, but
I don’t feel the need to take it out on my body anymore!

*You’ve won a lot of awards ( ‘Young Achiever in Dance’ in 1999, International
Solo Dance Theatre Competition in Stuttgart in 2000, Bonnie Bird Choreography
award, Channel Four Creative Class of 2005 & The Wild Party was named Cultural
Highlight of the Year 2006 by The Sunday Herald). Has this been important to

It’s an incredibly tough career. It’s tough to get in to dance school, to stay
at dance school, to get a job when you leave. Why on earth would anyone want to
be choreographer! I think you do it because you have to rather than you want
to. So it may seem like a lot of awards, but actually its feels like ‘thank God’,
it’s a little bit of recognition after a huge amount of hard work.

The one that stands out is the first big one – the International Solo Dance
Theatre Competition in Stuttgart in 2000. I’d been a dancer with Polish Dance
Theatre, but not been happy, so left. I wasn’t feeling like a dancer anymore but
I entered and won first prize and it was ‘wow’. It gave me prize money which got
me to New York to do some training with Merce Cunningham and I think it was the time when I thought ‘OK I can do this’.

When did your interest in dance start?

My first memory is of a lovely dance school, when I was about three, pretending
to be animals and licking my imaginary bowl of milk, going ‘I am a cat’. It was
like a revelation – of this is the job for me! Obviously the technique and training
comes along later but that love of magic, of transforming yourself, hit really
young. What’s lovely about the job of choreographing is it’s so practical – but
you’re trying to create this magic every time.

Can you remember the first company you saw?

I remember seeing Siobhan Davies Dance Company at the Northcott Theatre, Exeter in the 1980s – she told me recently that was
her first tour. Co-incidentally I’m performing Asylum as the ‘Brief Encounter’ before Siobhan Davies Dance at the Southbank centre as part of Dance Umbrella in October.

I was very in to jazz dance and theatre then – but I hadn’t really seen much
contemporary dance. I remember seeing her work and thinking that’s interesting;
it had this abstract level, I don’t really understand this, but I do…

*This is the first time you’ve performed as part of Dance Umbrella. Does this
feel like a career milestone?*

It really does! It came back to me recently as I was walking through the Southbank
centre, I trained as a student in London and its about ten years ago to the day
I remember being at a Dance Umbrella event, going ‘one day it will be me’. Dance
Umbrella is such a great international festival, its not just about London or
UK based work…

*After graduating you worked in Poland, Germany and France. What bought you back
to the UK – and Birmingham, where you’re based?*

I’d almost given up dancing – I knew I wanted to be a choreographer, but I couldn’t
be abroad, I needed my own language, and I’d have to start again. I saw the Dance
Artist in Residence post at DanceXchange in Birmingham. I’d taught a huge amount but this kind of gave me my choreographic
stripes. It was great experience working with a massive range of people – and
it just got me back into the UK scene.

I had a good look at the funding system and around then (2003) it was becoming
more regional. I thought if I could survive in Birmingham – with beautiful studios
and real support, I could really invent my own world here. And I’ve had dancers
from Korea, Hawaaii, Brazil, people come and work with me. I don’t feel the pressure
of a big scene – and I don’t feel lonely, because there’s DanceXchange.

You worked recently with Birmingham Royal Ballet. What did you do with them?

I really liked working with BRB. There’s a very strong technical element to my
work as well. I did a lot of ballet training with Polish Dance Theatre and in
Berlin It’s a different way of choreographing – you need to go in and know exactly
what you want & you’ve very tight deadlines. I did *Mars* with them in 2005 – using Mars from Holst’s Planets. It was really great working
on the huge Hippodrome stage. This year I made a ballet for them in a routemaster
bus – which toured round Birmingham.

*You’re currently on a Rayne Fellowship. What are you focussing on – and how’s
it going?*

I picked out a few strains I needed to develop. A big one was I’m working on
this new work Supernova & it’s looking at some really massive themes – and
there’s no point doing that without a good grounding. The Wild Party was very theatrical and I wanted to strip everything away and work with someone
who’s got a great physicality in his work, so the Rayne Fellowship enabled me
to go to Holland to work with Emio Greco, and then they decided to give me a work and let me reinterpret it, so its become
something much more than just a shadowing.

I’m also really interested in politics so that was why I’ve arranged to shadow
MPs. I thought there’s no point in going on about politics if you don’t really
understand what it is they do – so I shadowed my MP Clare Short in Birmingham and I’m going to be shadowing her in Westminster along with Ed Vaizey the Shadow Arts Minister & hopefully look at the House of Lords as well.
I think it’s that contrast between sitting in a grotty MP’s surgery room in Birmingham –
where everyone coming in are say, asylum seekers, or have immigration problems,
or domestic violence issues – the really tough part of life – I wonder how that’s
going to compare with what MPs are like in Westminster.

I’ve also been out to Africa to see Anthony Minghella working. I’m very interested in working in film and he makes such rich, visually
emotive films. I was really interested in seeing how he directs. I’m getting
to that point when I really need to develop directing skills to get the best out
of people, so watching him was an amazing experience.

*You formed the Rosie Kay Dance Company in 2004 – so its relatively early days.
What are your plans for it?*

It’s been useful to have a bit of business experience and I’m trying to find
ways to make the company a little bit more self sufficient. Arts Council England
has been fabulous to me but I’m aware of the threats to funding, with the Olympics
and everything, I’m trying to find ways to make the work international – and get
it so it supports itself. I’ve just been working on a project in the Middle East.
I want to make avante garde cutting edge work, but I’m not precious about it – if it’s a commission for a ballet on a bus, great, bring it on – I still think
there’s got to be excellence in the work & high quality – but I feel like
I’m quite uniquely versatile in being able to do work for children at the same
time as work which is definitely for adults. There’s a quirkiness and a quality
to it – I’m not in my ivory tower going ‘oh no I can only do this’. Dance for
me has an ability to communicate and touch people and to really express some of
the stuff of life that we find very hard to express normally in words. It is this
cross cultural thing, so I believe in that – and then it’s finding a way that
I don’t have to work in a bar, or something to fund myself! It’s tough to survive.

If you weren’t working in dance, what would you do instead?

I would have thought I might be a human rights lawyer – but probably just because
I’d want to stand up and go ‘objection your honour’! Either that, or I’d be up
in the highlands being a painter. But I really am doing my dream job actually…

*See Asylum on 4 & 5 October, 7pm, Purcell Room, Southbank Centre. Tickets £5, or FREE
if booked at same time as Siobhan Davies Dance.* More details/online booking

See a clip of Asylum on youtube

More on Rosie Kay Dance Company, including The Wild Party tour dates

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