Interview: Siobhan Davies Q&A

Thursday 18 November 2010

Siobhan Davies CBE discovered dance when as an art student in 1967 she took dance classes with a group which became the London Contemporary Dance Theatre. By 1969 she was performing with the company and in 1972 made her first work, Relay, for them. Since then she has made over 40 works, for LCDT, her own company Siobhan Davies Dance, Rambert Dance Company and the Royal Ballet, amongst others, winning many accolades along the way. Lately she has been re-exploring her interest in visual arts, making work for gallery spaces and this week sees the opening of ROTOR – a major new work for her own building in Southwark and South London Gallery, in which nine artists from different disciplines respond to Davies’ new work The Score.

Your new work, ROTOR, opens at your company home in Southwark this week and promises to fill the building with performances, sound, installations and artworks. What was the initial inspiration?
I think of dance and choreography as sparks that can ignite responses from other art forms. ROTOR is a generator, an assembly of works made by different artists who were intrigued by the provocation from an original piece of dance, *The Score*. ROTOR animates the entire building because the works are distributed all around the spaces and this is what I intended the building to be used for. To juxtapose different art forms and see what dynamics that introduces.

You’ve been in your wonderful building now since 2006. Has it had an effect on the work you’re producing now? **Well, I’ve touched on this already. The building has encouraged me to negotiate and learn from other artists and that informs my work. But it also is a place where other dancers and choreography have a constant base, and where that work can be revealed as a vital and intelligent practice.

Are there any particular aspects/features of the building which have been influential/inspiring? **The building as a whole has been so beautifully and thoughtfully designed and made by architect Sarah Wrigglesworth. It has been terrific to work inside this other person’s imagination which so suits the purpose of this building.

What first sparked your interest in dance/movement? **While at art college I was introduced to dance through the sculpture Primavera Bowman. I found my first dance classes both exciting and exasperating. There was one class taught by the Merce Cunningham teacher Viola Farber that made me aware of how complete the connection could be between thought feeling and action, and from that moment I couldn’t stop.

Many of the works you’ve made since your first [Relay in 1972] are available to see in the “archive”: you have on your website. It’s a fantastic resource. How do you feel about that back catalogue of work – do you ever look at it yourself, or are you always looking forward? **There was an initial moment in which it was quite frightening to be so exposed through my early work but there came a time when I thought it was right that the work of dance artists could be seen to reach back into the evolution of their work to see how it develops over a period of time. Now I am trying to find ways in which the archive looks forward and how having this resource causes me to imagine and achieve what else is possible. For instance, we have begun to document work more thoroughly as it is made. And digital design is able to clarify processes, so that although it’s a two dimensional world, it is incredibly sophisticated and lively in how it is able to reveal layers of detailed information.

If you can be persuaded to look back – what from this vantage point have been stand out moments in your career? **The standout moments are when I have arrived at the different junctures, where I have better understood how extraordinary and informed a dancer can be without overtly demonstrating technical prowess. Instead their ability invites an audience to see the expression of a moving figure and how that figure can relate to the world they are exploring at that moment.

!! ROTOR takes place in gallery spaces – and last year you presented The Collection in the Victoria Miro gallery. What excites you about performances in alternative spaces? **I try to find the right place for a particular work. The Victoria Miro Gallery was perfect last year, and this year we’re at Siobhan Davies Studios and in 2011 I am creating a new work with Matthias Sperling for the Whitechapel Gallery. This doesn’t mean that it always has to be a gallery but I and the dancers have enjoyed the experience of being in the same space as the audience and, being that close, we are able to negotiate how we respond to them and see how they respond to us. We can also equally work with both broad sweeps of actions and small details.

In The Collection you and your dancers were in the gallery on an almost daily basis for hours at a time. Was it very demanding to be constantly in the public eye like that? **Yes! We were performing for nearly six hours a day and our sense of where we were in the cycle occasionally became blurred and disorientating. It was extraordinary to have this opportunity to make something that had to have structures and qualities that were able to withstand the constant gaze of the audience and to be able to deal with the choice that the audience could come and go.

Conversation and talk about dance – often with people from other walks of life and art forms (heart surgeons, sculptors, poets) have been regular features in your programme at your studios. You talked about this being a way of ‘moving the art form on’. How is that developing? **One discipline tempers another and the conversation that turns up between two disciplines can produce another way to think about or experience them. I am constantly looking out for more two way exchanges. At Siobhan Davies Studios we programme events in the building that allow us to test and tease dance alongside other peoples knowledge about their chosen work.

In many ways it’s such a exciting time for dance – but in the current economic climate how confident do you feel about its progress & development? **My immediate concern in this economic climate is for the independent dance artists who constantly have to find funding for each separate project. This is a very committed group of artists and they are essential to this art form and its development. Dance at last has evolved a far more varied approach to how it can be done and seen, this adaptability gives it a strength which we must use now and for which it must be credited.

Who are the artists (in any art form), thinkers, perhaps scientists, who have inspired you the most over the years? **This is such a hard question because it feels like a Desert Island Discs moment. I am drawn to artists who shock me by doing something very simple and exact. I also like recognising the mess that work is sometimes made from. It’s an odd collection: Marcus Coates the performance artist, Antonio Damassio the neuroscientist, the artist Cildo Meireles, Eva Hess the visual artist, John Berger the writer, and the writer Italo Calvino. Also Jonathan Burrows and Matteo Fargion, and I could go on. But most importantly all the dancers that I have worked with these last years that feed, teach and excite me an enormous amount.

You’ve just had what might be described as a milestone birthday [60th]. Have you celebrated it – or was it just another day? **I had a superb party at the building, and all the administration team gave a spectacular performance of *Minutes* (from The Collection). It was fantastic, memorable and tender. I felt very lucky to be amongst such a good group of friends so I nearly forgot that the years are adding up.

More about ROTOR

'ROTOR', Siobhan Davies Dance. Graphic designed by Marije de Haas as a response to 'The Score' ROTOR at Siobhan Davies Studios, 85 St. George’s Road, London SE1 6ER
3 – 14 November 2010 Wed-Fri 5-9pm; Sat-Sun 2-6pm
Advance booking recommended; Book online: 08444 771 000* **Tickets £12, £6 no booking fees – allows entry at any time during a four hour session. It is recommended that visitors allow 1-1.5 hours to view the full exhibition.
Last entry is 8pm (Wed-Fri) and 5pm (Sat-Sun).

Live performances by dance artists Andrea Buckley, Lindsey Butcher, Annie Pui Ling Lok and Charlie Morrissey of: – A Series of Appointments, Siobhan Davies
- Live Feed, E V Crowe
- Songbook, Matteo Fargion

Installations: **- Stuck, Angela de la Cruz
- I’m Going to Show You, E V Crowe
- Is it madness. Is it beauty., Clare Twomey
- The True Story of Someone Putt Only Half Heard, Alice Oswald
- The Conversation Revolved, Sam Collins
- Studio Interval and Interval, Alexandra Hughes
- Vortice, Ben Tyers

ROTOR at the South London Gallery, 65 Peckham Road, London SE5 8UH
3 November – 12 December 2010. Tue-Sun 11am-6pm, Wed 11am-9pm

Installation and performance:
- COR, Massimo Bartolini **There will be a special one-off live performance of work by Siobhan Davies, Matteo Fargion, E V Crowe at South London Gallery on 9 December 2010, 7pm. Tickets are £7/£5.

ROTOR will tour to the Whitworth Gallery, Manchester 28 January – 6 February 2011. Further dates tbc

On 27 and 28 November, Siobhan Davies Dance perform Minutes at the Hayward Gallery as part of Move: Choreographing You.

What’s On