by Susan Cunningham
Susan Cunnigham speaks with Ross Cooper of the Curve Foundation. One of Scotland's most popular choreographers (not a long list that but still..... ED!) and Ana Lujan Sanchez one of the choreographers who worked on a piece for the company's recent performances at the Ediburgh Festival.
What struck me when I met Ross Cooper of the Curve Foundation was: here was a guy who knows what he wants and how to get it! He worked with Merce Cunningham after meeting him in New York and asking him outright if they could perform one of his pieces, earning them the accolade of being the only Scottish company ever to show his work.
He was not at all daunted by working with Cunningham as he treats all dancers/choreographers with equal respect. He doesn’t believe in artistic hierarchy (although he did confide in me that some years ago he had a dream to work with William Forsyth, an ambition which will be realised next year.)
From humble beginnings- their first performance was in a drug rehabilitation drop-in centre in Muirhouse, Edinburgh- they now rival any of the UK's contemporary dance companies with their standard of repertoire.
Although not one to feel that he owes Edinburgh a living, he does feel it is vital that he works here. He grew up nearby and values the support he gets from the Scottish Arts Council. He also feels he does not have to compete with other Scottish companies for funding as he believes that what he offers is unique; “We are a repertory company with the best talent coming from all over Europe” explains Mr Cooper.
He doesn’t compromise with fancy costumes or elaborate sets. Something I asked him about, curious as to whether this was due to a lack of funding or a deliberate choice. He assured me the only changes he would make with a cash injection would be longer rehearsal periods and time to widen the dancers movement vocabulary.
His “bare-bones” style of dance is refreshing, you feel totally involved in the movement without being confused by exterior elements.
Ross tries to reach as wide an audience as possible without compromising the ethos of his company. Based in the Brunton Hall in Musselburgh, primarily a family orientated theatre, you could be performing to an audience of 8-80 year olds.
I wondered whether he was aiming a different pitch at the Edinburgh Festival. However, he was adamant that the programme was a true example of what the Curve Foundation stands for regardless of why or where they may be.
I find his work exhilarating: I am involved in the exertion of the dancers and the word “sexy” comes to mind. However it is not overt or gratuitously titillating but just in the way beautiful bodily movement is! I asked him if he was aware of this, ( bit of a silly question I realised as soon as the words had left my mouth!). “Of course!” he laughed. In fact he often urges his dancers to tone it down, not let it show in their faces, allowing the movement to speak for itself.
This is no more evident than in “Cervantes” choreographed by Ana Lujan Sanchez. What struck me about the piece was the rawness of movement- it shows how hard a body works to create a technically perfect performance. With no score it relies solely on the sound of the dancer’s breath and movement as accompaniment, drawing you into the dancer’s mind. You feel so close to the soloist that you can see the concentration and exertion that he needs to perform ( something that is so often lost in theatrics).
I spoke to Ana about her piece and how she found working with the Curve Foundation compared to the Rambert Company.
How did you come to work with the Curve Foundation?
I did the solo Cervantes for the workshops at Rambert in London and Ross came to see them. He said to me; “can I buy it for the Curve Foundation?” and I said “yes, sure!”. He brought me over for a day and I had to teach all the steps to these two dancers. It was quite manic. The Curve Foundation don’t get a lot of funding, they have to work really fast, with little time.
So I did it in one day then they went on tour and I came back for the Festival. It amazes me as they only had two days to get in shape and remember all the material. I only had half an hour to really work on the piece as well!
What differences, other than rehearsal time, is there between working with Rambert and the Curve Foundation?
With Rambert I did the piece with a dancer who was injured so no one was using him. He got better towards the workshops so we worked during the lunch break to do something- I said; “it doesn’t have to be a finished process, just to try” and that’s how it happened.
When I came to Curve Foundation I didn’t know what the dancers were going to be like and it takes a while to readjust to them and also them to you. I think it’s a good experience.
Did you adapt the piece for the Festival programme?
Originally it was a solo that starts as the audience walks into the auditorium. It is not a piece that everyone has to be sitting down before it starts. It is different for the festival as we wait until everyone is in before Chris starts dancing.
What is the difference between the audiences for the Curve Foundation and those for Rambert?
It’s going to be different because Rambert is an established company. It’s founded and has a great following from years and years ago. People go to see Rambert and they know what to expect. The Curve Foundation is coming up now and I think people are still finding out what they are about. The reaction from the audience is completely different. I admire Ross because he is doing something he believes in- he’s not trying to please the audience or follow what everyone else does.
Why did you choose to do the piece in silence?
I was like; let’s do something and see what happens and I didn’t want to think about the music as I was doing another piece at the same time. The more we rehearsed like that the more I felt that within the solo you really see what the dancer has to go through; concentration wise, physical, sentimental, anatomical. It’s almost like for me I don’t feel like it’s silent.
I’m sure it’s really bad for a dancer to open a show like that, to go there in silence. I think the more the dancer is focused into what he dances and believes in himself and blocks the audience, it’s not a show; we get a chance to see what the artist has to go through.
It’s great to make movement and make it look easy and co-ordinated. You get the typical phrases; “dancers are so beautiful, they are so perfect, they are so co-ordinated”. But we have to go through a process in our heads and bodies in order to achieve that. To me that’s what the solo “Cervantes” means.
You have been described as a very bendy dancer. Do you choose dancers that are able to move like you?
I normally look at the dancer and get inspired by the way they move. When I start working I do move in front of them as we make up the material but I am open-minded so they don’t have to look like me. Everybody’s unique and it would be a waste of time to choose someone by “you have to look like me!” . That doesn’t feel good for the artist. I push them to achieve something they didn’t think they could.
You received the award Outstanding Female Artist at the 2003 National Dance Awards- does this put pressure on you to maintain a certain standard in your work?
No, not at all! I thought it is great that in this country they give awards to dance, to art but I didn’t think I would get one. I’m foreign- I’m Spanish. So when I did it was like; wow! It’s great that they appreciate my work but it doesn’t change you at all.
What sort of dance do you like to go to see?
I try not to see a lot of dance (interestingly, the completely opposite to Ross who informed me he likes to see everything! ) because when I work with Rambert it takes a lot of my time and then every piece I do, I do outside Rambert so sometimes I work twelve hours a day and it’s all pure dance.
I usually go and see a lot of galleries and museums. I’m quite open-minded, I like to go and see theatre/theatrical dance, DV8 or Pina Bausch because they don’t take things too seriously (we here in the Lab are not to sure about that! Ed!) That’s going to sound bad! But they are human they’ve got something to say in a different way that’s not dance.
Do you think dance can be a platform for more serious issues such as politics or religion?
It’s hard as dance is such a big word and there are so many different kinds, you’ve got neo-classical, classical, contemporary, modern, street, theatrical so I don’t know where it’s going to go. It feels at the moment that everyone is allowed to express what they want and people will gather or make a picture of what it is.
Do you have a dream person you would like to work with?
Not a dream person because I think every time you meet someone they become like a dream in a way. I hope, it’s been great up to now, but in the future that everyone I work with is honest, raw and that is all I ask for. You have to have your feet on the ground and I love people like that. You go; wow! I really respect this person because they are following what they want.
What ambitions have you yet to fulfil?
I’m very happy with what I already have. I wanted to be a professional dancer when I left Spain- I think I’ve managed to achieve that- well every day is a new day, I’m in there so it’s good!
I think to be a director of my own company would be great. Not for myself but to be able to give to dancers a salary, good conditions, time to express themselves. It’s hard, you talk to Ross and he tells you about the politics, trying to raise money.
It’s not because some people are better than others, it’s just there is so little money that they have to split. I don’t know how they manage with such a little budget. It’s hard for them to work in those conditions but they really love it otherwise the Curve Foundation would be finished!