Interview: Wilkie Branson

Monday 13 May 2013 by carmel smith

Wilkie Branson in 'Varmints'. Photo: Paul Blakemore

Bboy dance artist and film maker Wilkie Branson is the choreographer for a new children’s dance theatre adaptation of Helen Ward’s book Varmints which opens in the Lilian Baylis Studio, Sadler’s Wells this weekend. In the midst of preparations (he’s also performing – that’s him above) he found a few minutes to tell us about it…

What was it about Helen Ward’s book Varmints which made you want to adapt it for the stage..
Varmints is a really special book, it’s so rich in the tones, and moods it evokes with Helen’s poetic text and Marc Craste’s cinematic illustration. When I first saw it I thought this richness and its touching poetic ambiguity of the story would be well served by dance a dance adaptation.

Tell us about the creative team involved…
To try and do justice to the epic transformations the book deals with and also the intimacy of the protagonists story we are using a large and diverse creative team. To work with the narrative we have Sally Cookson as director with Adam Peck as dramaturg, both work together often alongside composer Benji Bower. We also have Guy Hoare as lighting designer, Holly Waddington as set and costume designer with Yoav Segal working as projection designer. For a small scale show there are a lot of creatives.

Do you do things differently when you’re making work for children?
It can be difficult to lose sight of who your audience is when your making work for children. So its important to keep them involved in the process, during the creation for Varmints we have had several schools coming in to see what we’re doing and give us feedback.

You work in film – and Bboying is the basis of your dance language – how did the move into making work for children come about?
I first time I work on a project for younger audiences was when I co-choreographed How cold My Toes for Sally Cookson and Travelling Light. Since then I have worked for Travelling Light, who specialise in work for young audiences, several times.

With your company Champloo you made a small budget show you made a show which toured to nine countries – with film screenings in 20 countries. Tell us about White Caps – and was that definitely the last show in York earlier this year?
White Caps was an adventure of a project, and some of the stresses we’ve had putting together this show remind me of the ambition we had then. It feels good to be pushing things on the limits of what possible on the resources you have. It all paid off in the end with White Caps, we travelled around the world showing to audiences, which is a massive privilege. But after three years of touring its time to move on from it. I had to keep investing a lot of time into the production to try and keep it going and every time we toured it was a stress to make sure we broke even. In the end we had gone so far and it was time to put it to one side to make way for new things.

You’ve recently become a Sadler’s Wells New Wave Associate – what does that mean for you?
Its a great privilege. Being recognised and supported for what you’re doing is so important for the development of new choreographers. I feel like I have a bit of a second home at Sadler’s Wells now, having spent a lot of time there both performing and taking part in the Summer University, the opportunity to make Varmints is a big part of them investing in and helping me develop.

Varmints is at the Lilian Baylis Studio, Sadler’s Wells, 17 & 18 May
More details & booking:
www.sadlerswells.com

It tours the UK until 23 June – dates & venues

wilkiebranson.net

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