Before balletLORENT’s tour of Rapunzel comes to the Lawrence Batley Theatre in Huddersfield this February, Rich Jevons talks to Founder and Artistic Director Liv Lorent about her work.
At what point did you decide to become a choreographer?
Like most children I liked dancing to music (and did plenty of it!), but I didn’t know about choreography back then. I remember seeing dance and ballet on stage and literally thinking that they were somehow improvising in sync. That they could just dance like that off the top of their heads. I didn’t realise that there was somebody’s hand behind the scenes, making it all happen.
I trained in dance, but the mirror constantly told me I wasn’t the type and that I’d never be the dancer I wanted to be. That made it an easy transition into wanting to choreograph.
What were your aims and intentions when you formed balletLORENT?
Back then lot of people were springing up independent dance companies, but they were usually established dancers turning their hand to choreography. So it was unusual that I was skipping that bit.
I was very interested in developing an unpretentious movement vocabulary, trying to find a way of moving that is full of beauty without specific virtuosity. Where a dancer makes it look natural, easy and organic. I wanted flow and grace, but it’s insanely hard to do that and make it look like throwaway freedom. To make it look as free and easy as a child running down a hill. I wanted a movement that has an embraced sense of velocity, gravity and fall – the sort of movement you’d see with birds in the sky or fish in the water. I’m very fascinated by that kind of organic, pure, natural movement.
What interests you in using casts with a diversity of age and experience?
I’ve frequently worked with children alongside professional dancers or older people. In Rapunzel we have children who have had little training, some none at all, and their way of moving is embraced in the choreography. It’s very important then as a choreographer that you don’t spend your time making the type of movement choices you would on a professional dancer. What I want to do is embrace the beauty of innocence and get the professional dancers to have that amount of liberation and lack of self-consciousness in their movement.
It’s about the beauty of generations, of real life, real hard work, and real existence that includes pregnancy [balletLORENT have had pregnant women in their cast], age, family and have a realm of life experience brought into the work.
My company of professional dancers have an age range of being in their 20’s to 51 years old. Some of them are from a ballet background, some more contemporary, some break-dancing, and that diversity enriches the humanity of what we put on stage. It’s a reflection of the diversity found in the audience.
Underneath the Floorboards was for the under-fives – how did you go about conjuring up that magic world which a lot of us have almost forgotten, as we move into adulthood and forget the wonder and amazement of being that age. Also there’s that phrase, never work with children or animals…
That piece was very much a response to real life. I spent some time in the Edinburgh Fringe working with children, and that involved having them sit next to me properly on a row and watch respectfully for 30 or 45 minutes. And of course they found that intolerable. I see around me a lot of parents having the same issue and I wanted to make a work in response to that.
I loved the challenge in Underneath the Floorboards, to consistently carry out a narrative and let the children’s interventions be an enhancement to the experience. It was a massive artistic challenge and great fun. I made it from the point of view of being a parent, not just a choreographer.
With la nuit intime you worked with Carte Blanche. It’s about the night club underground and dance as a piece of installation. What interested you in depicting that scene?
When I was a student in London, I used to work in those underground bars around Soho and Mayfair. What I noticed was that you could go and see something show-y, but there were also people on their own looking for companionship, warmth or intimacy; something much more special.
I remember thinking that when I was older, I would design a piece that was about this kind of Utopian place using dance. It’s an evening where you are surrounded by ever changing dance with a great soundtrack and beautiful songs for about three hours. Just to come and go to the bar or out for a smoke, but not having any sense of having to appreciate it in a formal way. Enjoying completely not feeling penned in, watching incredible dancers close-up doing exquisite things. We don’t normally get to see dancers like that.
Like with Underneath the Floorboards, we were working in a way which would not be a sacred space on stage but in an everyman space. The dancers love it because there’s something very real about it. They can feel up close how much the audience appreciates or loves them.
You merged la nuite intime with Ball to do Night Ball including break-dancing and quickstep. Can you tell us a bit about how that worked?
The original Ball was more ballroom-inspired and the Night Ball has the same convention. It’s in a big dance floor surrounded by cabaret-style tables, chairs and a bar. It’s about an hour performance of all different dance styles – brilliant dancing, some naive dancing and crazy dancing as well. The kind of dancing people wouldn’t want to show in public, that you don’t do sober. I love it when someone who doesn’t dance at all suddenly has one too many and they get on the dance floor and let go! It’s about dusting off that kind of private dancing you do behind closed doors, or when you’re feeling extra brave – it’s great and fun, liberating and very beautiful.
Why did you collaborate with Zoviet France for the soundtrack of the Designer Body?
We were looking at music boxes and birdsong – lots of things I knew they specialised in. It’s a fantastic piece of music and we did the work as a full fifty-minute, seven dancer piece but also as a very short solo.
There are 300 spins in that – can you explain how this is achieved?
There’s one big turntable and they go at different revolutions per minute. The whole choreography is based on the revolve.
And how is Designer Body resolved, you talk about stripping down to being vulnerable?
It starts with a woman on the revolve with her hair done, wearing lots of clothing including hats and heavy makeup. Over the course of the 300 revolves the dancer gradually removes all articles of clothing and adornment. At the end, she is naked with no makeup. We go from a body in the most man-made of ways, the most dressed and rarefied as possible then take it right down until we nothing left to hide.
What appealed to you about the fairy tale of Rapunzel?
I’ve done a lot of research on Rapunzel – read a lot of versions, and I was searching for the right fairy tale that meant a lot to me. I also wanted find a fairy tale that we had a lot to offer to. The interesting thing about Rapunzel is that it’s such an odd story. The husband and wife are so significant at the beginning as they long for a child, but we are left with the parents falling off the edge of the page in the ordinary tale. I wanted to keep the husband and wife present and tell their story and their reactions.
What aspects of the production have you made darker than we are used to from a fairy tale?
As a parent with children I want to see a work that speaks to me and challenges me. I wanted something that could make me feel emotions with the right kind of production values and aesthetics to also keep children entertained. The story itself is about childlessness from two viewpoints, and that will speak very clearly to the grown-ups that have experienced that.
There is also plenty to engage children: the witch’s creatures in the garden, Rapunzel’s hair, the tower and the Prince. We deliver the tale on two levels: one that speaks to grown-ups very profoundly, and another that is totally entertaining. The narration keeps people hooked and audiences have been spellbound.
If there was one thing you’d like the audience to take away from Rapunzel what would it be?
The feedback that I’ve had repeatedly is that it’s very nourishing to go and watch something that hasn’t been made cynically. This is a piece of work made from the bottom of my heart with some incredible collaborators. The quality of the costumes, the lights, the set design – this is a really top work that’s not been made as a money-making exercise. While we still have it this is an ACE [Arts Council England] funded piece. It means there’s capacity for imagination and original thought. There’s no sense trying to become a West End tourist attraction, and it’s really important to us that an audience can still watch really well-made dance theatre that isn’t made by financial producers. It’s a difficult financial climate for all of us so it’s important to make the most of it while we still can. Hopefully it’s close to art while being immensely entertaining.
Thank you for TPR’sintelligent questions – it’s really refreshing!
balletLORENT’s Rapunzel runs at the Lawrence Batley Theatre, Huddersfieldfrom 20th to 21st February 2015.
Please seehttp://www.balletlorent.com/rapunzel.htmlfor more details.