by Neil Nisbet
Without any doubt Jasmin Vardimon is one of the best dance theatre choreographers in Europe. She has been making work for ten years now and the company will be kicking off 2008 with a preview of 'Yesterday', the company's new work and a celebration of those ten years. We caught up with her during rehearsals in Brighton.
What can you tell us about 'Yesterday' the company's new work?
It's a piece to celebrate ten years of the company. It's gonna be quite different from previous pieces as it doesn't originate from a specific concept or environment. It's more to really celebrate the work I've done up until now. I intend it to be a smaller piece which will be easier to tour [because] the last few works were quite hard to tour.
The revolving stage [from Justitia] was a big set and quite hard to tour abroad. But [Yesterday] is slowly growing. It won't have a big set in terms of shipping [to other countries] but it will have quite an impressive visual element in it. With previous pieces I liked to start in a location but [with this work] it's more of a memory. It's not finished yet, it's mostly in my head but it's more [of a] thought process so it's not as linear as 'Justitia' was for example.
What stage will the work be in for the Sadler's Well 'Sampled' festival?
That's a very early stage because the piece is being created for the autumn. Because we got some support from various organisations to do research, from The Place, I got a bit of time at the National Theatre, we decided to do a research period now for [Yesterday]. So I'm only at the stage of selecting material from old pieces and creating some new material that I want to weave into the old material. So what I'm creating for 'Sampled' is a short [section] between 15 and 20 minutes to [illustrate] what the new piece is going to be like.
How do you develop the intricate movement we see in your work?
It's a process that happens in the studio, mostly. I normally come into the studio with some ideas, some of them are clearer than others, sometimes it's just a direction, sometimes I have a visual clarity of what [it is] exactly that I want. A lot of the time I start from a concept and that is developed with the dancers in the studio.
I work, a lot, with task orientated techniques so I would give [the dancers] a task and see how they react to my idea and then I'll take it from there. I always find it quite hard to explain the process because it's very long, I think I'm notorious for working for long periods, creating and researching for quite long periods of time.
I like [the] process of digging in and not choosing the first things that comes out. [I] always try to go further and create the antagonism then go back and see how things happen after you create [that] antagonism in people, to look at many different options [within] a specific theme or specific movements and various styles of presentation before I decide how I want to present it.
Was 'Justitia' a success from your personal perspective, was the feedback positive?
I think so, yes. Especially from [the] audiences. Emails that I get [via] the website and the reaction of the audience in the theatres, we got fantastic feedback. We were all very pleased with the reactions, especially [from] post show discussions.
It was interesting to see how people interpret different bits and different stories they've seen in [Justitia]. A lot of the time I'm always fascinated how the reaction varies in terms of what people understand or what people see in a scene. Sometimes you think what you saw is what it is but sometimes in the post show discussions people hear other peoples opinions, how they saw it and I like those interpretations. It's like when you read a book and you understand it in a different way and with 'Justitia' it's happened quite a lot actually, for some reason, maybe because it was more narrative based.
Will British Dance Edition 08 be about spreading the word on 'Justitia' internationally?
Not for this year. We are going to concentrate on a different project this year. We're going to tour 'Yesterday' this year, in this country and touring internationally in 2009.
With 'Justitia' it was quite hard because we had quite a lot of interest internationally and it always stalled on the transportation of the set because it's extremely expensive to transport the set. It's a very heavy set. That's one of the reasons that 'Yesterday' is going to be without a set, without compromising my artistic freedom with [the work]. It will be quite an impressive set [design] but it won't be heavy.
We'll have a lot of video projection, which I have used in previous work but 'Yesterday' will have different layers of projection so it will be a softer set.
How is the company going to progress and grow over the next 12 months?
Well, we just recruited a producer and he's working on developing our relationship internationally as well as developing the management side of the organisation because we've had quite a lot of requests [for projects] in the last few years and our management didn't grow as much as the artistic side so we're concentrating on developing [that].
We are also developing an education programme together with Royal Holloway University that's going to run in their theatre department and another college in the south east, Sussex Downs College, we're developing a foundation course with them.
I was keen to develop that because I feel like there is a big gap in [dance] education in the UK because there are good dance schools and there are good drama schools but there is no school that trains for the "in-between". If there is [some training] it's more for musicals which is a completely different approach.
I find it hard when I'm auditioning dancers, in the last two auditions I saw about 700 performers in each audition and I found it quite hard to find performers that have the physical ability that I demand from my dancers and also be able to act and deliver text and become a character. I find that a lot of the time I need to train them and go through that process. So one of the reasons to develop our education [programmes] is for professional development rather than the early stages of studying.
I believe that the whole sector will benefit from it because there is no training in this field. [When] we started to talk about it we found quite a lot of organisations are keen to have this [training] model so we're going to start it small and see how it all goes.
In your view does contemporary dance need to lean more toward "dance theatre"?
No, I believe there is a place for everything, the contemporary dance world is so varied, [there are] so many styles which I think make [the art form] very rich. Personally, what I'm interested in, if I ever go out, I go to see theatre, it's what I normally enjoy. I'm interested in telling stories or in communicating thoughts and provoking thoughts and pure movement doesn't do it [for me]. Personally I'm not interested in creating beautiful shapes or beautiful visuals, or not only that, I'm interested more in communicating ideas. I think dance theatre is my language.
I'm interested in developing this sector because I think it's not developed enough, in this country especially. I want more dancers that I can work with in the future but you also educate future audiences, in a way, when you expose them to [this type of work].
A lot of dancers have never been asked to deliver text, even dancers that I've worked with, the first time they delivered text was when they worked for the company. I find it very strange that [dancers] don't know how to use their voice, they just know how to use their body, I feel like it's one complete thing.
What infuriates you about this business and what do you love about it.
What I really don't like about this business is the fact that you don't have [places] to work. In London and in Brighton (the company is based in Brighton) it is almost impossible to find suitable rehearsal space to work with that you can develop big work [in] and explore working with [big] sets.
You hire the space and then you have to clear up at the end of the day because there are classes. Compared to our neighbouring countries where most of the big companies or companies of our size are [located], like in Germany, they have Opera House's and in every city there is a company resident in that Opera House. In France there is the Choreographic Centre and so on and again there are companies in residence [within] them. In Belgium there are a lot of buildings for dance [and] for dance companies.
In this country there are very few companies that have their own houses and can develop their work from beginning to end and be able to leave their things in place. Creating 'Justitia' was a nightmare because of the big set. To find a place that you could leave it for the whole creative period and really explore it was [really difficult]. There was a production space where we got the set in then we found out that the ceiling was too low so we couldn't turn it for the whole first period of rehearsal. I had to go around it [instead of the stage revolving]. So those kind of things, having the space to work with that's our big nightmare.
The thing that I like is "it". Creating and the process of creation and the excitement about creation, new material and just doing it and performance and the reaction from the [audience]. I like every bit of it that is connected to the creation and the performance of [the work] and I'm not talking about administration or that side of it.
Jasmin Vardimon Company will be performing a preview of 'Yesterday' at Sadler's Wells Theatre in London on 26th January.