by Leili Sreberny-Mohammadi
Siobhan Davies is undoubtedly one of the most influential figures in contemporary British dance. Her career spans over 30 years and has seen her win numerous awards for her innovative choreography. I spoke to her in March to find out what is next for her and the company.
A year on how does it feel being in your new building? Is it everything you wanted it to be a performance space, a rehearsal place, a place for professional development?
It is working well. I am certainly not going to sit back and go oh its working well now I will just eat grapes! It is working well which gives you the roots to make it work better. It does mean it is a recognisable place for professional development, it is a recognisable place, through events like Parallel Voices, that we are welcoming to anybody interested in what dance or theatre does or doesn’t do.
What is it Jerome Bell said in one of the first talks.. ‘We need to not only make our territory larger but we need people to recognize a larger territory of what dance or performance does’. So it means making quite sure everything we do is available on the web or other methods. It means trying to become clearer every single time you do something and making quite sure it is known about.
How do you feel Parrallel Voices and the sort of events that are interactive and are attracting different crowds to the venue have been going?
Parallel voices has been doing exactly what I wanted it to do. It’s a sort of marker that I will use as an image in how to go forward because I would like the building to be animated in such a way that anybody who wants to ask questions about dance or movement or performance should in some ways be able to do it in this building without it referring to me, if you see what I mean? Although the building, to some extent, is obviously an offspring of mine it has to be much more than that.
And those kind of enquiries or talks or discussions which don’t necessarily lead to a quick answer, but the kinds of things that you start talking about and you suddenly realize by talking that you are on to a subject that may have been at the hind part of your mind but you realize now that you may be more capable to bring your intelligence to, so it comes to the fore. Then it’s in the open a little bit more, then you have the energy to carry on. And that has to be about far more than my own enquiry.
So has it been successful in attracting non-dance practitioners. I know it was important for you to make it a place for local people as well?
Yes, to be honest, anybody was welcome to come to Parallel Voices. Certainly people interested in theatre and movement would have recognized those names. If you are talking about somebody immediately local in Southwark then they would be extremely welcome but they might need to recognize those names in a particular way or with a particular interest.
So another part of our thought process is, well, how do we make a situation in which as deep a strand of people as possible feel ok, I can go to that building to learn about that.
Obviously it has to be done in distinct ways, so at the moment we are at the beginnings of devising a course for the primary school next door, so over a period of two years we will try to find a way to encourage primary school children to move without necessarily learning steps but how are we going to give them their own particular reasons to move.
Because if they have particular reasons to move then maybe they can direct themselves to the kind of movement they eventually want to be able to do. Or they will know it has more possibility than necessarily doing what your next door neighbour does or what your sister does, but that you can make a decision of how you might want to move. I think that would be tremendous to try and put into place.
It is the 20th anniversary of your company next year isn’t it?
I haven’t got a clue! I hadn’t even gone down there.
I doubt anything is planned then…
No, I mean I am thrilled I’ve done it, but there is an awful lot that I haven’t done. So it is another goal to making quite sure I keep reapplying myself, and that I can’t reapply myself in the way I could in the first year because not only have I grown but so have all of dance and movement related ideas grown. So not only must I deal with my own development and maturity but I have to deal and enjoy dealing with the development and hopeful maturity of dance related work as it is now. So Anniversaries... well they’re a bit clock ticking aren’t they. I am just curious about the next bit.
So what is the ‘next bit'. Working collaboratively is a big part of what you do exploring other elements and bringing other people to the movement is that something you will continue to pursue?
Definitely. I guess it goes back to Jerome Bell’s idea of territory. I mean even last year I met up with people who weren’t involved in dance but spoke about their experience of watching rehearsals and they saw it as a different invention to the way I saw it, complimentary, but different.
I always want to be beyond the shutters. It is odd how one creates shutters on ones own experience and you don’t have to. You have to dismantle them. Someone else comes in and looks at that work in a completely different way and that is information and energy at the same time.
We are in the process of negotiating with the Victoria Miro art gallery that work of both her artists and my artists are seen in both places at the same time, at some point next year. We are still at the crunch point, but that is what we would like to do. Again, maybe looking at the word choreography because it turns up in the other art forms, choreography turns up in all sorts of different places.
It is very enjoyable to recognize it as a set of structures and ideas in other places. I would like to celebrate choreography as much as possible as well as dancing. I just think they are distinct art forms, obviously they work together, but they are in fact distinct. I find that is a very potent next form of inquiry
Collaboration between artists, dancers and musicians seems more and more common. Do you feel that that is here to stay within contemporary dance, as well as within your own work?
Well, it is quite a complex world so imagining how you work alongside other people both in the collaborative sense but also in the challenging sense, I think it is something we have all probably always been curious about but right now I think there is a curiosity about that because it is in part to test yourself.
It is a mixture to test yourself, but not to muddy the waters, which we all have to be careful of in terms of collaboration, but to clear the mind and to be honest and energetic about what you produce and about what the person next door to you produces.
I supposed it is about opening up new things?
Yes, but the dilemma is you don’t open it up so much you vanish down the plug-hole. That you open up enough and that everybody else is doing that while enjoying the distinctness not only of your own work but the person you are working with.
So it is adding more to the mix, but also trying to define the thing that you are adding to the mix. So that’s where it is testing you. That’s what makes or breaks it.
I understand you are creating an archive of your work. Can you explain what this involves?
Coventry University has managed to draw down some money to make an archive of my work, which is extraordinary. It is a digital archive- there are digital archives out there- but it is a reasonably new event. There is a tremendous amount to work out about new technologies, that you are not using them for new technologies sake, but that you are using new technology so that it genuinely brings new audiences and new researchers to the work, so that what you do digitally is genuinely useful and not just attractive.
The rules of the game are worked out very well so nobody feels hard done by, by suddenly having there work in a web situation. Every month or 6 months that we work on this, it is going to take a couple of years, I mean new technology is bounding on every second so how do we keep ahead of ourselves. It is absolutely fascinating, and I am very new to this.
The other thing in terms of collaboration is that I am working with people at the front of new technologies, so how can we make it that the work is not just planted out there, but how can we get inside this new work so that the experience is not going to be bland. Why I say I will know more in 2 years is because I couldn’t known any less now! The collaboration in this sense is with people who are incredibly well informed about this and ahead of the game and I found that very exciting.
And what is the time scale for this project?
About two years, and then we have to find a way of making it on-going, and not static. Then it will be online and available, what we have to be careful of is that it is available for everybody but in some form we can guard it, and that is the element I don’t understand yet. What is guardianship and ownership, all of those things.
I love asking these questions but I don’t know [what] the answers are and I am sure they are much more interesting than what I can imagine. So I am genuinely moving forward into something I don’t know very much about.
Images courtesy of Siobhan Davies Dance Company