by Martin French
Along with Richard Alston Siobhan Davies is one of the most well established and experienced choreographers working in the UK today. She was there at the start, in the UK at least, so we had a quick word!
Article19: Can you tell us a little about your new work ‘Birdsong’?
There are so many places to start from to try and get through into the middle of it. It was the second piece that I wanted to do in which I knew the audience would be closer to the work. In this instance they’re on all four sides so to some extent by the very shape of it we would be in a holding area amongst the audience.
Two things that should work well with dance are sound and light [because] both of them give or take away a lot of information from what dancers do [and] I realised that whatever I did in this square area with the audience looking down on it would look as if we were doing something [that was] under scrutiny.
You’ve got music and dance traditionally working well and I thought ‘wait a moment’ I need to look at this in a bit more detail having made Plants and Ghosts basically to silence. I had become fascinated by [the fact] that if you make dance to silence then it is up to you to order the phrasing, to shape its phrasing, to shape its’ dynamic in a way that you normally don’t have a chance to do if you work with any particular kind of rhythm or character.
So I enjoyed doing that and I had learned a lot so I thought in this case [with Birdsong] can I work with sound or music and try to understand specifically what that piece of sound or music is going to do. Then I tried to find various pieces of sound that would shock me in some form, I don’t mean shock in an antagonistic way but drive me out of the normal.
The first piece was a piece of birdsong. It is beautiful and it does have extraordinary phrasing but it is totally and obviously inhuman and that energised me to choose other pieces of music and then Andy Pink [the composer] couched the whole idea of a musical world coming from various sources.
The other influence was the fact that David Ward the artist would produce a light source from above with a very very powerful projector which animates the floor very simply but makes it into a very particular world or landscape. Therefore working with the dancers is about what expressions we are able to bring to the audience knowing that our particular land at that moment was made articulate by how we moved in this light landscape with this kind of sound.
Article19: Why did you decide to work in the round after working with the proscenium arch for so many years?
If I could say ‘I knew something’ then I knew something about working in the proscenium arch having worked in it for thirty years so I think I might have reached a block in terms of what more can I do. I mean of course there is a lot more I could do but I needed to re-address many of the things I might have started to take for granted or even as performers what we might have taken for granted.
So I wanted to put myself and the dancers in a different context which would greeneries us and it did. Every piece I try to look at how we make movement, we try to make nuggets of movement that is as absolute as we can be given the knowledge we have and the situation we are in. We try and make these nuggets, tiny bits of movement and by working through the body with these bits of movement.
Reason for doing that appear later in other words the movement drives us into an understanding so if you don’t work incredibly hard and with enough detail then you don’t arrive at the understanding. So both these two pieces drove me harder into that wedge trying to find with the dancers these clear reasons for moving.
Article19: Do you find making dances more difficult now after being in the business for so long?
No I think I’m getting more and more driven and more and more energised by a form of expression that the body gives. I’m not saying it’s a total thing I just find there is something extraordinarily expressive about the dancer moving, about a dancer who wishes to move in a quite expansive way. In other words you can be very pedestrian with movement and very expressive.
You can be highly technical and possibly expressive but it’s when you really make the language of movement bounce around your body in as full a range as possible that I am able to deal with. One of the reasons I want to get close to the audience is that the audience seems to find that still mysterious but very engaging.
Article19: The company is developing a new home for its’ self how is that proceeding?
It’s about seven years since we started and seven years ago it was a reasonably selfish thing where I simply wanted myself and my dancers to be able to work in a good studio. I felt well if I have a position that would help draw money down then I should try and use that then at least, if nothing else , there would be another studio that could be beautiful in the centre of London.
Once you get started going down that path it needs to become less selfish than that because a tremendous amount of money gets involved. So it will be a home for the company, which I’m delighted with, but it will also be a home for Independent Dance which is the Gill Clarke and Fiona Millward independent dance teaching programme.
So there will be a morning class every day and as they are able to expand I hope more courses for the profession. There are good building that have been made for students and even for companies in terms of The Royal Ballet and maybe Rambert in the future but there are less building for the itinerant professional. They know that they can go there and there should be one hell of a good studio to be able to work in. chiefly for classes rather than for rehearsal although I think what we are trying to do is get various kinds of choreographic bursaries going.
We are set in the borough of Southwark and hopefully the building will be of use to other dance companies in Southwark and to the teaching profession and to schools in that area, even if they don’t necessarily come into the building, although they will some of the time. We would be able to help resource teachers and students.
Article19: When will it be opening?
I hope the company the will be able to practice in it this time next year but I don’t think we are going to open it until the following year because the building programme is by its’ very nature a bit flexible.
Article19: How do you think dance fits in with today’s culture of cable-tv, video games particularly for young people?
I think it is extraordinary that it is physical language as well as an intelligent language. Any of the arts adds to our understanding. Some arts may be more present or less present at a particular point but they all add to some kind of understanding and they can all use whatever contemporary languages that are there to be had!
So we are just part of that mix. Personally I love the idea that dance is ephemeral and live and that your are able to see the one thing that occasionally I think we forget about and that is the body in flux in intelligence in form right there in front of you, in decision making form right in front of you. So I find that interesting, I find it bloody extraordinary.
Article19: Do you think younger people can relate to your work considering the overload of visual and audio imagery present in today’s entertainment, are you asking them to be too patient?
Would that be the same when I was young? I might not have had quite as much overkill but I think it’s partly your job as a young person to look at older peoples art work and go ‘I’m gonna challenge that’ and that’s not a problem. I don’t mind asking people to be patient and maybe I will suffer the [consequences] of asking people to be patient but I don’t think I mind putting that on the table to have that discussion with.
I don’t know whether [or not] we are in one state all the time. I have children of 18 and 20 and I don’t find them necessarily predictable in their intake of what they like or dislike. Sometimes they are more flexible than the obvious.
I think you’re turning round and saying what use can I be? What use is this art form? Any art form has to have various generations attached to it. We have now for the first time reached a group of artists who have matured as well as a group of artists who are coming up right now. All of the expectations of our work are much larger than they were in the beginning and that’s how it should be and each art form needs to have a range of artists that work in the various parts of it and it needs all of those people to work in it.
It needs all of that input. It doesn’t all belong to one place. So as an art form it needs to be able to mature as well as be able to generate massive excitement. If it doesn’t have this ability then the people who are starting out now; what are they going to fight with? What are they going to climb on? What are they going to argue with?
Article19: If the decisions were down to you how would you shape dance over the next 25 years to move it forward?
I really don’t think I can answer that. We need to make sure as many of us are working together as possible. I don’t think we are particularly divisive but I think we can work better together and I think that is partly because most of the individuals are working incredibly hard to keep their heads above water so that’s what takes up their time.
I think we need to work together more, raise the profile of what we all do and make quite sure that if that profile is raised there are more ways of bringing money to it so there are more ways of working within it.