Dance Debate: The Art of Collaboration

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“You don’t have to have all the solutions. You don’t have to have all the answers. The more you ask, the better choreographer you are” - Tamara Rojo, Artistic Director of English National Ballet, on what she believes is at the heart of a successful collaboration.

Tamara Rojo continues to push the boundaries and invigorate English National Ballet’s image with Lest We Forget. The quadruple bill includes the creations of four very different choreographers weaved into a strong narrative marking the centenary of the First World War.  Themes such as death, sacrifice, the role of women in the war and loss are explored throughout the pieces with respect and sensitivity, made accessible for a contemporary audience.

For Dance Debate; English National Ballet’s pre-performance insight event, The Pit Theatre at the Barbican fills up with an excited clamour of people desperate to get an insight into the latest triumph on the dance scene. Author and dance critic Luke Jennings, who is quick to garner opinions from panel members on their creative processes, successes and challenges, leads the debate.  The discussions do not waiver in momentum under Jennings’ direction and as a result the debate seems to pass by in a flash not leaving much room for questions at the end.

Jon Bauser, designer for Liam Scarlett’s piece No Man’s Land, states that he works “very dramaturgically” – that he wants to clearly tell the audience who “are not given anything in terms of verbal information; the story of what they’re seeing”. He suggests that in this collaborative process he was trying to understand the root of the narrative by working with all members of the creative team.

Akram Khan, choreographer of Dust, explains the challenges he faced in having to train a large group of classical ballet dancers, who are used to performing incredibly uniformed movements, compared to that of contemporary dancers who are “trained not to be trained”. He states one of his biggest aims: “…to affect the dancers internally, as I knew they were affecting me physically”.

Khan wanted the dancers to find their own voice and embrace their own unique style in the same way that they were naturally informing some of his movements due to their ‘regimented’ training and technique. The panel agreed on the importance of compromise but ultimately, as noted by Khan, a “duality exists” where there is simultaneously a democratic and an autocratic atmosphere; an agreement to respect and be open to one another’s’ voices but that inevitably one artist will have the final say to avoid “complete chaos”.

Carys Staton, assistant for Russell Maliphant’s piece Second Breath, explains how the desire for cutting down a piece of music in length can be met with dispute – and that respect is key in resolving these issues:
“Frustrating as it is in that position you have to respect it if that’s the way that musician works… you wouldn’t expect (them) to turn around and say ‘Would you make that duet a bit longer so that it fits with my track?’” She explains that “Respect is key when it comes to that level of collaboration, to be able to fine tune what you’ve made to knit together”.

Jocelyn Pook, composer for Khan’s piece, suggests that “trust is crucial” in any successful collaboration to which all members of the panel nod sagely. Rojo adds that she did not expect people to trust her decisions as a director straight away as she felt that she had not yet earned that right. “I’m just starting, I’m only learning myself. I wasn’t in a position where anyone could trust me, that’s the truth. I haven’t proved anything. It was unrealistic for me to expect that they would follow my lead…”

It seems to me that Rojo has proved a lot in her first year as Artistic Director, through her fearless and bold attitude in enhancing ENB’s image. Lest We Forget is a perfect example of this.

The debate illuminated three key elements to a successful collaboration: compromise, respect, and trust. However, without the added vision and willingness to step out of one’s comfort zone, it seems that greatness cannot be achieved. It is these added elements that will set the collaborations in Lest We Forget apart.

Go to set Lest We Forget

  • Tamara Rojo and Esteban Berlanga in Liam Scarlett's No Man's Land as part of Lest We Forget. © Photography by ASH.

  • Alina Cojocaru and Junor Souza in Russell Maliphant's Second Breath as part of Lest We Forget. © Photography by ASH

  • Tamara Rojo and Akram Khan in Akram Khan's Dust as part of Lest We Forget. © Photography by ASH.

  • Tamara Rojo and Akram Khan in Akram Khan's Dust as part of Lest We Forget. © Photography by ASH.

  • The Company in Akram Khan's Dust as part of Lest We Forget. © Photography by ASH.

  • Stina Quagebeur, Grant Rae and Shevelle Dynott in Russell Maliphant's Second Breath as part of Lest We Forget. © Photography by ASH.

  • Tamara Rojo and Esteban Berlanga in Liam Scarlett's No Man's Land as part of Lest We Forget. © Photography by ASH.

  • Tamara Rojo and Akram Khan in Akram Khan's Dust as part of Lest We Forget. © Photography by ASH.

  • Akram Khan's Dust as part of Lest We Forget. © Photography by ASH.

  • Nancy Osbaldeston, Barry Drummond and Juan Rodríguez in George Williamson's Firebird as part of Lest We Forget. © Photography by ASH.

  • The Company in Liam Scarlett's No Man's Land as part of Lest We Forget. © Photography by ASH.

 

By Alison Jackson