The Public Reviews’ Rich Jevons catches up with choreographer James Cousins, whose dance company are bringing a revival of the 2012 There We Have Been and new work Without Stars, both inspired by Haruki Murakami’s novel Norwegian Wood, to the Lawrence Batley Theatre in Huddersfield later this month before heading to The Place in London.
What first inspired you to dance?
When I was very young, I remember my parents took me to see Riverdance and I loved it so much that I went home and learnt the video by dancing around the front room. The next thing I recall after that is when I went to secondary school and had a great dancer teacher who really encouraged me.
What appealed to you about dance at that time?
It was after a performance by Rambert when I was just 15 that I was left speechless and knew then that dance was something I definitely wanted to pursue. It was the energy and the power of the movement that really got me.
What was the main thing you took from your time studying at London School of Contemporary Dance?
It gave me the understanding to be able to describe to my dancers better what I wanted them to do and it gave me tools to use with them. The main thing was choreology which is all about analysing movement and being able to talk about the dynamics, rhythm and shape in the space. It gave me a really detailed understanding, which is so useful for me when I’m trying to get across to my dancers what I’m wanting.
You were the inaugural winner of Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures Choreography Award and performed in his Swan Lake, what do you most admire about him?
The thing that I’ve always most admired about his work is how he has attracted such a wide and large audience who watch contemporary dance. People go thinking it’s ballet, but actually the movement is very contemporary. He’s put bums on seats and made dance that people want to go watch and experience.
What I learned from dancing for and being mentored by him, was about characterisation and the importance of understanding your character and your relationship to others. As a choreographer he turned something that was just physical movement into a whole story, just by adding focus. This helped me to see that out of abstract movement by adding a direction and intention, you can tell a story with it.
What do you look for as a choreographer?
I like to be inspired and choreographers that I can learn from. In terms of my collaborators I look for people that I admire. It’s getting people who are at the top of what they do and are exciting and creative people to work with.
What led you to setting up your own company?
It was really off the back of the New Adventures Choreographer Award and that gave me the platform and the exposure to do it. So many people came to watch and we were able to get a tour together. Having my own group at that point was something I was very excited by; to make work with dancers that I wanted to work with.
How have you approached adapting the novel Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami?
What appealed to me about the book was the atmosphere, which is dark and emotional but also very tender and there’s a lot of fragility to the characters. The characters are so rich and that excited me to work with all those layers and that complexity.
In terms of transforming it into dance I approached both pieces [There We Have Been and Without Stars] quite differently. The duet in the former takes a very small portion from the novel and we just chose a few chapters that were relevant. It was around a broad theme and highlighted the key relationship that I portrayed in a more abstract way.
It’s a duet without the female touching the ground. How has that been to work with technically?
In terms of working it was very hard because there’s only so long he could hold her up and as the day goes on in rehearsal he gets very fatigued. It meant that we couldn’t do full days so we’ve just done short sessions.
The lighting is very dark and uses a chiaroscuro effect on the trailer video.Is that what we can expect in the show itself?
Yes, it’s quite dark and atmospheric. There We Have Been has a blue at the bottom which goes up to white at the top, so the closer you get to the floor it gets colder and more intense. As she moves further away from it she feels lighter and freer.
The lighting is very integral to both pieces and I’ve worked very closely with the designers to really make the dance and lighting work together as one. Without Stars is a grid that the four dancers come in and out of; one can’t exist without the other.
How much will we understand the narrative or how much is it about pure movement?
It is abstracted; if I wanted to convey the narrative very clearly I’d be looking to make a play. But what dance can do is show emotions and feelings in a way that a play never could. It can go deeper into other aspects. The audiences so far have come away with a narrative, although not always the one I intended, but something that’s quite personal to them.
There seem to be some very complex emotions going on in both pieces.
In There We Have Been she’s on this guy but actually he’s not the one she needs. As the drama builds, the intensity builds, you really feel that she is yearning for someone else.
They can be seen as two separate pieces or as two parts of one – but they feed each other, they add more information to the other half. It’s not linear, they have overlapping elements. In Without Stars it’s a quartet so the relationships are more complex.
James Cousins Company’s There We Have Been and Without Stars plays at Lawrence Batley Theatre, Huddersfieldon the 18th November 2014 before the London show at The Place on the 21st and 22nd November 2014.
Photo Credit: Irven Lewis