Interview: Russell Maliphant Q&A

Monday 29 October 2007

Russell Maliphant. Photo: Panayiotis Sinnos

Russell Maliphant has created over 20 pieces to date, collaborating closely with lighting designer Michael Hulls, and has set works on renowned companies and artists including: Lyon Opera Ballet, Ricochet Dance Company, The Batsheva Ensemble and Ballet de Lorraine. In 2003, Russell created Broken Fall with Sylvie Guillem and George Piper Dances and music by Barry Adamson. Broken Fall was awarded an Olivier Award in 2003. Rise and Fall – an evening of work at Sadler’s Wells including Broken Fall – was awarded a Critic’s Circle National Dance Award for Best Choreography (Modern)
in 2006. Further collaborations with Sylvie Guillen, Push and Solo, led to Maliphant receiving a South Bank Show Award and an Oliver Award (2006).*

Cast No Shadow, a collaboration between Russell Maliphant and Isaac Julien, premiered at Sadler’s Wells on 3 & 4 October and can be seen again at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, New York City on 7 Nov 07. More details

For Cast No Shadow you’ve collaborated with film maker Isaac Julien. This is the first time you’ve worked with a film maker to make a work. How has it been?
It’s been challenging – fun, exciting and nerve-wracking in equal turn.

What have you learned from the experience?
I’ve learned that collaborating in a media which I’m not familiar with is a steep
learning curve – but there is much that can be applied from the experiences I’ve
had working with light and music, in other productions, that can translate to
the work with film.

You usually work very closely with lighting designer Michael Hulls. How was that working relationship changed with the addition of a filmmaker – who in a sense also works in light?
It’s been a different process on the pieces with Isaacs’ films. The awareness
of entrances into and out of lit spaces has to some extent translated, or multiplied – to give entrances and exits between the live presence and the film presence.
Michael’s lighting is as great as ever and serves purposes beyond lighting the
figures on stage – it’s also been a necessity to reveal more or less of the film
to create a movement of the viewers focus between 2 dimensional and 3 dimensional

Isaac’s work is sometimes described as ‘politically charged’ – and one of the themes in Cast no Shadow is the experiences of displaced people. So much of your work so far seems to have been about sculptural forms and light. Has this ‘issue based’ way of working been a departure for you?
Yes – in many ways it has. For both pieces there was a lot of reading of news
articles that served as a starting point for thinking about the works – prior
to beginning work in the studio. This brought up images that seemed more or less
important for a theatrical/dance/film context to grow from and gave me some starting
points to take with me from the first day of creating with my company.

Are ideas around light and sculptural forms usually your starting point in creating work?
Generally, yes.

Have you ever been inspired purely by music?
Many times, as a beginning – though often I will then use that inspiration and
work with a composer to create something original and new for the piece. Of course
also then we start to work with lighting the piece, and that becomes an equally
important ingredient or layer.

When did your interest in dance first start?
I saw Nuryev perform La Corsaire on television at a Royal Gala performance with Margot Fonteyn, when I was very
young and that was one of the most dramatic, athletic and inspiring performances
that there can ever have been. I was interested from then on really.

Can you remember the first dance company you saw?
Apart from that television experience, I think the first live performance I saw
was dancers from the Royal Ballet.

The style/language of dance that you have developed has been informed by studying a wide range of martial arts and dance forms. Do you still draw on your early ballet training (with the Royal Ballet School) – or has it been subsumed into a wider range of movement vocabulary?
I believe I still draw a lot on my early ballet training – though it would be more overt in certain contexts – depending who I am working with. To an extent,
I aim to choreograph with the range of dancers that I am working with – or at least within the overlap between my own personal vocabulary and the vocabulary
that is within the range of a dancer that I am working with at the time of a creation.

Who or what are your main influences in the development of your work?
Well – Michael Hulls has got to be a main influence in the development of the
work I create. I was making work for a relatively short time before Michael and
I began to collaborate and the things that we have explored together have shaped
how I think about creating and what I see.
We had both done workshops / study periods with Jennifer Tipton and *Dana Reitz *
at around the same points (probably 1994) and were inspired to follow their path
of work between movement and light – so they work a big influence too.

What’s your favourite book? CD? Film?
Favourites for me depend so much on the time/mood/context – so way too many to
mention, but here’s a few
Books – I’ve really enjoyed reading Geoff Dyer recently – have read 4 of his
books this year and enjoyed them all.
CDs I love listening to Tord GustavsonChanging Places *DVDs * Raging Bull, Harold and Maud

Broken Fall, your award winning creation for the Ballet Boyz and Sylvie Guillem, seems to have been a turning point in your career. Do you regard now it as pivotal? *_Broken Fall_ was the first time I worked with Sylvie and the third I had worked with Ballet
Boyz – the piece was well received and probably reached a wider audience than
any previous work – largely due to Sylvie’s profile. In that way it was pivotal – it also brought an audience to see the work that would not have come to a lesser
known venue (than Sadler’s Wells or The Royal Opera House) with less well known
dancers, specifically to see my work.

Has winning awards had tangible effects?
It’s reassuring to receive an award – and feels good at the time when you’re
presenting that work.

How did it feel to return to the stage to dance with Sylvie Guillem in Push, when you had thought that your performing days were over?
Nerve-wracking in the beginning – too far to travel too late in my career – but I’ve really enjoyed getting back to performing and finding new ways to make my
body (and mind) feel prepared for a performance.

You have toured Push extensively – and it returns to London next year. Are you enjoying the experience?
Yes – very much

Do you find it difficult to recruit dancers who can work with your kind of movement – or do dancers train in a wider range of disciplines now which makes them more versatile?
I think independent classes are more varied in the mix of techniques used and
the work being performed in the rep of companies is also quite varied so many
dancers have a familiarity with a spectrum of techniques.

Cast no Shadow is one of the first projects to have been supported by the Jerwood Studio at Sadler’s Wells – which supports research and development, allowing artists the freedom to explore an idea with collaborators and dancers before any rehearsal period begins. What were the benefits of that support? Did it helped to shape the production?
The Jerwood support at Sadler’s Wells allowed Isaac and I to get into a studio
and see how we might work together. It gave us a real practical experience to
assess whether or not we might be able to work together, and see if collaboration
together might be a worthwhile undertaking. It allowed us to make a more informed
decision on that, and that absolutely helped shape the production.

See Cast No Shadow at Sadler’s Wells on 3 & 4 October

Russell Maliphant Company

Cast No Shadow is a A PERFORMA Commission with Sadler’s Wells
Co-Commissioned by Dance Umbrella
Part of Dance Umbrella 2007
Supported by Jerwood Studio at Sadler’s Wells

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