David Willdridge sat down with Chris Connolly to talk about returning to STRIDE & developing it…
Chris: How much did you take away from your last experience working on STRIDE?
David: With last year being my first on the project, I was impressed with the vastness of its outreach. As far as projects that introduce people to dance, let alone young lads, STRIDE is a great model.
CC: What are you expecting this time around?
DW: You never can guess what’s around the corner, however, I’d like to see some familiar faces from last year and maybe get some new guys interested in starting a path towards a dance career.
CC: You took on a very diverse group at the Whitworth last year, who were brilliant. How big a role does inclusivity play in making STRIDE what it is?
DW: Last year was the first STRIDE to actively be more inclusive. This year that process will develop. We’re lucky to draw together a great team that offers quality dance sessions for everyone.
CC: And finally, what makes STRIDE such a special project?
DW: I can’t sing STRIDE’s praises enough. As far as projects go that introduce dance to young guys in an accessible and fun way, you’d be searching for a long time to find anything that comes close to STRIDE.
STRIDE is our free young men’s dance project, presented in partnership with professional touring dance company, Company Chameleon. Dance with a difference. Get involved today!
Interview by Chris Connolly – DM’s Marketing & Social Media Co-ordinator
Emily O’Shea sat down with Chris Connolly to talk about her first STRIDE project & the journey ahead…
Chris: Emily, as one of the brand-new artists on STRIDE, what excites you about working with the young men?
Emily: I find them so inspiring, they’re always incredibly creative without always being aware of how amazing the work is that they are creating. I think it is something we lose as adults, the innate ability to just think of something new or see something in a different way. I can’t wait to see the final performance, but then I suppose that means it is all over and sometimes, most of the time, the best bit is in the learning and creation.
CC: How was the first day of the project doing outreach yesterday?
EO: The first day was fantastic! I was at the University of Salford with The Chorley and District Boys Dance Company and I was honestly blown away with not only their talent but their focus and creativity. The older boys were supporting the younger ones with choreography, making sure everyone was included and had their input in the creative tasks. We managed to create a short piece of dance including a phrase of choreography, plus 2 sections the boys created themselves, which was performed to their parents at the end of the session. They were such a pleasure to work with and I hope they are able to be involved with the try-outs, creative sessions and performance in April.
CC: Why do you think boys should join the STRIDE journey with you?
EO: They should join because it is going to be so much fun! They will get to meet a load of cool new people, young people that are in their area as well as brilliant artists; not to mention Kevin Turner, co-artistic director of Company Chameleon. They will get to experience something they may have never tried before and, you never know, be inspired to keep on dancing – or even better; keep on creating!
CC: Now we’ve begun, which part are you most excited for over the next few months?
EO: The creation of new work excites me the most, seeing the boys grow and develop throughout the process, gaining confidence in the movement they create themselves. I’m really looking forward to the week intensive as this will be when it all comes together. The boys will have the opportunity to be inspired by each other – make new friends, explore their own creativity. This will be the week it all comes together, piecing bits of everyone’s work together to create one incredible site specific piece.
STRIDE is our free young men’s dance project, presented in partnership with professional touring dance company, Company Chameleon. Dance with a difference. Get involved today!
Interview by Chris Connolly – DM’s Marketing & Social Media Co-ordinator
Gary Clarke sat down with Chris Connolly to talk about his upbringing, COAL & art being his saviour…
CC: As Artistic Director of your own company, what does making new work mean to you?
GC: Up until now, I’ve only done short works with very few dancers so this is quite a new venture for me. It’s the first time I’ve created a full length work with a full company of dancers and also a bigger production & management team, working with live-music & community casts as well. It means I’m creating much more ambitious work on a much larger scale and also bringing in bigger and wider audiences, and different audiences who might have never seen contemporary dance. So it’s kind of ambitious on many different scales and to have the backing from Arts Council England and all the other commissioners on board makes it more secure for me so I can create the best work possible.
CC: All of your productions have very specific themes & stories behind their creation. Do the inspirations come from your own interests & experiences?
GC: Yes, I tend to draw on real life as a sort of inspiration and look at the world to see what’s happening. I look at world issues and politics and what’s happening on the streets, in the arts, in music, TV and media – and I use that as a type of springboard to create work. I think it’s important that art should reflect life, so I try to interrogate these scenes or ideas that are happening at the minute. I’m passionate about politics, I’m passionate about people, passionate about people from communities, people who might be marginalised, like the working classes or gay communities. I’ve dealt with a lot of sexuality issues and prejudice in my work. Rather than trying to look elsewhere or look for abstract ideas, I very much work with issues that are in today’s popular culture. Especially with COAL, with this production that I’m bringing to Manchester, that is very much steeped in British history and politics.
CC: There’s an importance on music in your work. I remember coming away from seeing one of your pieces remembering the songs as much as the choreography. How important is its role in your work?
GC: Music is amazing and I think the power of music is really immeasurable. Music and movement is a great marriage. I use a lot of eclectic popular music in my work, music that audiences might recognise. Even in COAL, with the live brass bands, we use music that people understand so they have a connection and relationship with it. It’s rare that I use ‘abstract’ music. Although in COAL, Act 2 uses industrial noise as a soundscape, but that’s quite specific to what’s happening on stage. I love music that’s out there in the domain, that’s what I listen to. I’ve been brought up on popular music and that bleeds through into my work.
CC:And COAL obviously displays both of these things – a strong theme and music. Tell me the story behind why you made it…
GC: I’m from Grimethorpe, which is a lower working class mining village in Barnsley. I grew up in the 1980s and saw the dismantling of the coal industry which left my village in tatters. It was completely disseminated and became a derelict wasteland. So essentially what was once a vibrant village became desolate. And that’s when I discovered art and movement and creativity as a way of coping. I didn’t want to become a drug addict or criminal, which a lot of my friends became. I wanted to find a new way, a different way of coping. So art became a real saviour for me. Then I became a choreographer and felt like I wanted to create a piece of work which celebrated my community and the people of that community. For the work to act as a mark of respect and a tribute to all of those people whose livelihoods were torn apart. I wanted to create a piece of contemporary dance which was typically working class, which you never ever see. Contemporary dance can be quite elitist and I wanted to try to break that mould. Push the boundaries of the class system in contemporary dance. I think the Miner’s Strike and the working classes are constantly being explored in film and documentary, but never in dance. I wanted to make a piece of work which reflected history, which acts as a piece of education to people who might not know about the mining industry, a piece of work that could be clearly understood – so not to challenge an audience too much, but so they can allow themselves to follow the journey of the work. One of my aims was, ‘can I get ex-coal miners into the theatre to see contemporary dance?’ That was a big ambition of mine and I’m pleased to say that up to now a large percentage of our audience have been ex-coal miners. Some of whom have never been to the theatre, some have never seen dance, some have never seen live work before and suddenly they’re sat watching contemporary dance unfold in front of them, and that just feels amazing. That’s why I created COAL. I felt it was a story that had to be told.
CC: It obviously hits a note up here in Manchester, where it’s sold-out. You’ve done autobiographical pieces before, but this isn’t just about your experiences, it reflects those of your family’s and the working class population of the country. Did that place extra responsibility at your feet?
GC: Absolutely. I knew if I was going to tell this story I would have to do it well. Essentially, what’s on stage is people’s lives. The strike and the issues surrounding it are still really alive in a lot of the mining communities. So it was really important to us to get it right. Part of our research was to go out into the coal fields and meet ex-miners and their wives. We sat for hours and hours and they’d talk to us about their experiences and their feelings about that time, and then we had to try to translate that into the art of movement. It took some time to get it to a place where it felt authentic, but it’s very important COAL feels authentic. It should feel real when you’re looking at the work, as if you’re seeing real life. That it’s not an abstract version or a representation, but it’s a reality. And along the way I got ex-miners into the studio to give us feedback. I got very few people in the arts in to see the work because I knew that they would give a particular slant on it and I wasn’t interested in that at all. I was interested in the real people coming to view it and giving us guidance. Making sure we’re on the right track. But it’s a massive responsibility, the idea that all of the stories present in the show are not fiction, we don’t make anything up. It’s all real. And a lot of people who helped us do the research came to see the show, so they’re looking at their own lives on stage. Like a mirror image back to them.
CC:And finally, can you give some words of advice to anyone wanting to follow in your footsteps?
GC: Believe in yourself. I’m not from a privileged arts background, and I’ve managed to carve out a career in contemporary dance which is hard to do, but with persistence, self-belief, being true to your art form and being true to yourself there will be a way forward. Rather than money, finance or success, let your art guide you and take your time. Be patient with your art. I think a lot of young people fall into the trap of wanting to be successful and they don’t give enough attention to their art form, which results in them creating weak, mediocre or diluted work. ‘Follow your art with your heart’ and keep a sense of humour about it all.
This is the end of the sold-out COAL tour. See it again in 2017…
Kevin Edward Turner, Co-Artistic Director of Company Chameleon
Company Chameleon’s Co-Artistic Director sat down with Chris Connolly to talk about his past, choreographic honesty & self-expression…
CC: Company Chameleon was founded in 2007, but really it all began when you met Anthony Missen. How does it feel looking back at how far you’ve come?
KT: What does it mean to me when I look back? I mean, yeah, the dream started about 20 years ago when Anthony & I first met at Trafford Youth Dance Theatre. It was always a dream of ours to go away, do professional training, dance with different companies and eventually come back to Manchester to set something up – which we ended up doing 9 years ago, in 2007. So it was kind of a childhood dream. But when I look back at how far we’ve come & what we’ve achieved in those 9 years, it’s unbelievable to be honest. If you would’ve told me at the beginning of the journey what we would be doing now; touring the world, getting really great reception for our work, then I’m not too sure I would have believed you. So when I look back, I’m first of all surprised, & second of all I’m proud of what we’ve been able to achieve here in Manchester with the company.
CC: Your new production, Witness, comes to The Lowry next week. What’s it about?
KT: Witness is the name of the evening’s production. There are two parts to it that are both quintets. The first part is a piece of choreography called Words Unspoken that myself & Anthony made in 2012 with a Spanish company called La Mov. Now, La Mov is a contemporary ballet company so that piece in particularly was a partnership. We were trying to make a bridge between our work – which is very dance theatre, quite contact driven & contemporary – and their work, which is neoclassical. So it’s a nice opener to the piece. It’s 20 minutes long and looks at ideas to do with secrets and memories and things we don’t readily share. So that’s the first part of the programme. The second part of the programme is Witness which is a 55 minute piece. Witness is a piece about mental health, but more specifically, my journey with Bipolar and how I had a crisis with that round about 3 years ago and the piece charts that. But it’s not just about what happened to me and the impact it had on me when I had a breakdown, but also of the impact that it had on my loved ones as well, so you know, it’s called Witness because it’s what I witnessed both real and imaginary, and what my loved ones witnessed and what the audience will witness.
CC: You’ve been very open about the experiences that shaped the creation of this work. Is that new to you or does every piece you create come from such a deep rooted personal place?
KT: I think when I look back at the rep & the work that we’ve created over the years, I think most of it comes from a personal experience of something and I think the reason we do that is to try to unlock big ideas. I think a great way of doing that is by going through your own personal experiences. When I think back to the first piece that was created under ‘Company Chameleon’, RITES, that was a piece created by myself & Anthony. That was about coming of age, about what it means to be a man & the initiation rites up to that. Also, more broadly about masculinity in general. That very much came from personal experience, so yeah, it is part of the way we make work. And the reason why I was so transparent about what has happened to me is because one of the reasons for making witness was to bring awareness and highlight the issue of mental health, because silence is a killer. Suicide is the biggest killer for men under 45 and anyway I can contribute towards the discussion or debate around mental health can only be a productive and constructive thing to do. Also, on a personal note as well, the reason why I’m also sharing my story is to let people out there who are struggling know that it is possible to find your way out of an impossible situation because there were many times I felt I was unable to get out and I hope that people see me doing this and making this work and hope this can be the same for them.
CC: You play your own character, so to speak, what’s it like reliving that part of your past?
KT: A few people have asked me that and, you know, sometimes it’s very emotional and sometimes it’s very challenging but at the same time I think it’s quite cathartic because it allows me to see how far I’ve come. When I was ill I don’t remember the timeline, I don’t really remember what happened. I have flashes of images or really obscure feelings. So in the research process I had to go back and interview my loved ones to build a picture of what happened during those times. Things that I did, things that I said, how it made them feel, how it impacted on them. So, yeah, I did ask myself ‘do I want to put myself through it?’, but it also gave me the opportunity to apologise and take responsibility for my actions. Even though my loved ones had already forgiven me as they knew I was unwell.
CC: Chameleon has grown into a national & international critically-acclaimed touring dance company. What does the company stand for & what does being an Artistic Director mean to you?
KT: I think the company is about trying to make work that is relevant, that’s about the human condition. I think the company is about making work that emotionally involves people and engages them. We hope that the audience will walk away from our performances thinking and feeling differently than when they went in and hopefully spark a different train of thought or a conversation from being inspired by what they see. Now, being an artistic director. What do I think that stands for? I have to wear many hats. I have to be an administrator, project manager, producer, choreographer, performer, teacher. So, you know, it’s a complicated role being an Artistic Director. It has many facets to it, but I enjoy that. I enjoy the diversity, it made me have to learn some new skills as I’ve gone along that are very different from the creative aspect of what I do. But I think the most important thing for an Artistic Director is to have a vision and to create the circumstances to allow that vision to become alive and active.
CC: From a personal point of view, why do you create & perform dance?
KT: Well, for me, making work is the best way I can express myself. I get a huge amount of enjoyment from the process of making and performing. But ultimately what’s behind all of it is trying to find a connection with the audience and if the work and my performance in the work can help contribute towards the audience member having a better understanding of the subject matter and to experience something really authentic and honest, I feel that I’ve done my job.
CC: And finally, going back to Witness, it certainly shines the spotlight on mental health. Is that the main reason for making it?
KT: I think that is definitely one of the main reasons for making Witness. To highlight and bring awareness towards mental health issues, but also it’s something significant that’s happened in my life and I suppose it’s something that’s happened to a lot of people. Whether it’s happened to them personally or to somebody that they know. I think it’s something that is often not spoken about and I think it’s something that is still a taboo subject. So I think part of my job as an artist is to try to be relevant and try to tackle issues such as mental health in order to stimulate debate and contribute towards the debate. Also I felt if I was able to be courageous enough to share my story, then it would hopefully inspire other people to share their stories, too.
Pedro Machado, Artistic Co-Director of Candoco Dance Company
Photo by Hannah Dye
Candoco Dance Company’s Artistic Co-Director sat down with Chris Connolly to talk about his inspirations, diversity & his journey…
Chris Connolly: Candoco’s 25 years have included: 500 performances, 60 countries, 7,500 workshops and 400,000 people. What does it mean to you to be Artistic Co-Director?
Pedro Machado: It means more than the numbers. The numbers are great but… they’re just numbers. Candoco is a contemporary dance company that hires disabled and non disabled dancers in its cast. We have a mixed repertoire, we invite different choreographers to make work and we give lots of workshops with a lot of people. And yes, we have travelled 60 countries which is very nice. I mean, for me, being Artistic Director means to be able to direct the realisation of ideas. I invite choreographers to come into the studio not knowing what is going to happen and then after 7 or 8 weeks process they leave with a piece created. The dancers; they come, they are part of the creation, they make it come alive. I also see them grow as artists throughout the years, throughout the spaces. So it’s how those ideas change people, how ideas happen when people come together. And personally it has just been a place where I found a home. Where I found a sense of belonging and I could give something back.
CC: What inspires you as a dance fan, a dance artist and an artistic director?
PM: It’s funny because my first premiere as Artistic Director started here at Contact.
CC: So this is where it all began?
PM: Yeah, as I came in today I remembered. I have been here as a dancer a few times, too.
CC: And your inspiration?
PM: It comes down to ideas. I’m interested in artists who make me think or feel differently about things. I think artists who transform the world we live in and people who allow me to see another aspect of life, of work, of dance inspires me.
CC: Tell me about the double-bill…
PM: It’s one piece that we’ve been doing since our 20th anniversary, Set and Reset / Reset. It’s a very special piece in our repertoire. It’s a restaging of a piece that already existed from when we were an exclusive dance company, so to speak. When we were a company of only disabled dancers and a piece from 30 years ago. But not only this, it’s a beautiful piece. Beautiful movements, beautiful patterns, beautiful co-ordination. Very intricate, very subtle. So it’s great to be performing it with almost the 3rd or 4th cast to celebrate our 25th anniversary.
CC: And Let’s Talk About Dis…
PM: This piece by Hetain Patel, in one way, is already becoming a fan favourite. As a light-hearted piece, it is, in a funny way, one of the few pieces we have that actually talks about disability directly. Actually he doesn’t talk about ‘disability’, he talks about identity and our identity containing disability, so that is what’s interesting I think. Set and Reset / Reset is an abstract piece of dance, all the dancers move in their own way, but they are essentially as one in that piece, where as Hetain’s piece allows the audience to meet the dancers personally & the Candoco audience likes that.
CC: With such different works on the same night, this double-bill is almost as diverse as the company itself.
PM: We like diversity.
CC: Quite an old piece & a brand-new piece, too.
PM: I always find it fascinating that dance dates so quickly. It’s such a young art-form compared to other art forms. It is usually done by younger people and a piece that is 30 years old is considered as ’old’. You wouldn’t think this in any other art form. In music, in visual art, even in cinema.
CC:The Observer described Candoco as, “The Company for which choreographers reserve their wildest and often most inventive work.” Why do you think that is?
PM: In a way that encompasses the vision for the company. The idea that diversity makes the art form richer. That is the reason we do it. I think choreographers are used to working with a particular set of dancers, with a particular set of training, with a particular set of style attached to their training and then they come and meet someone who dances using a wheelchair or dances using crutches, this gives different possibilities. I think it gives permission to try different things, too. Plus sometimes choreographers will choose to use the issue of disability, as Hetain did for this production, so I think in one way a commission for any other company when it gives an opportunity for choreographers to think outside the box, to take risks, we look after our choreographers so I think it’s a good set up for them and for us.
CC: And finally, Candoco’s motto is ‘what dance can be’. What does that mean to you?
PM: You know I said I like transformation at the beginning & I think that we’re trying to do a little bit of this, from how we perceive dance to be & maybe change peoples notions of disability. I love dance, but I think dance can be very selective with the kind of people it invites in. Part of this has got to do with aesthetic choices which themselves are guided & ruled by training. There is something about the way training is made & the style that we have in training. We all oblige sometimes, without thinking about it. It doesn’t have to be like this. For example in Europe we consider classical to be anything that reminds us of ballet, where as Indian dance is much, much, much older than ballet. It has like a thousand years more, so I mean that’s classical in a sense. So I think, in one way, the problem is we are perpetuating an aesthetic choice without questioning – and for a disabled person that is very serious because, you know, I have many non-disabled dancers – usually women who started dancing at age 4 or 5 because they started moving along to some music so someone said ‘I’ve got a great idea, let’s take them to ballet’, but maybe parents with a disabled child wouldn’t say this even though they can enjoy dancing the same way, and I think dancing has been with us as a species for all mankind. Perhaps it was around before agriculture. I think we’ve always danced & no one cared if someone moved differently or whatever. You just dance because you dance. Society created a set of rules and parameters that excludes people and I think that’s what we want to change. We want to see what can be.