Interview with Rhiannon Faith O'Brien
Published on Monday, 12 March 2012 13:28
Written by Emily Peckham
It's late on a Friday night and I'm sitting at a makeshift bar in an East London space, 4th Floor Studios, which has just seen an evening of Bohemian fun and frolics courtesy of Rhiannon Faith:Dancing Theatre. This up-and-coming company has performed two well-received works at The Place’s Resolution! in 2010 and 2011 with 'Love Kills' and 'Love my Bones', and now they have given us another fantastic piece to remember with 'Golden Bohemian'.
Rhiannon Faith O'Brien, Artistic Director talks to me about her dance background, being a De Montfort University graduate, what was behind the Golden Bohemian and much much more.
Tell me about your dance background.
It all started when I was 16, I was in a college which was full of experimentation and interdisciplinary work, and we were introduced to cool dance groups from the start. We met people like Franko B, and the physical theatre company Earthfall came to the college. To start with I didn't think of myself as dancer, I had done a bit of training but I guess I thought of myself an actor. Throughout the course my teacher was really encouraging and said that I really had natural ability as a dancer and it went from there. There was a lot of input and various creative companies were sharing our space. Then when I went to university it was the same ethos, the same kind of course and it helped carry that understanding of contemporary work. It was all very new, very experimental and it really allowed my imagination to go anywhere it wanted.
At University I had much the same experience. I had excellent dance and drama teachers who taught me about practitioners who I might not have otherwise seen. The course engaged me with different types of work, for example European dance theatre and the contemporary scene. Some of it I liked, some of it I didn't, and from there I formed opinions of what it was that I wanted to do myself as a practitioner. I always wanted to have the opportunity to create my own work and university helped me with that. I did my MA in contemporary dance theatre practice, and I was very lucky to have very inspirational people who guided me. I found who I was and it made me the best that I could possibly be.
Who are the practitioners that you’re interested in? Who or what are your inspirations?
During the last year of my degree I went to Belgium and I took part in some workshops. De Keersmaeker was a big inspiration, I loved the energy with the dancers, the gestural movement and the way she created the choreography.
I learned a lot about Pina Bausch in European Studies and we learned about emotive choreography, about the narratives, how the dancers can speak so much with their bodies. I love how they can have an impact on the emotions of an audience through storytelling. She's always been a very powerful person for me.
Where the idea for the piece come from?
In the last couple of years I’ve been working with dancers who are completely dedicated to everything that I have done, so the idea for this piece came from just working with all of my dancers. Whatever I have asked of them, they have given me 100% but they are also doing it for free. The reason they're with me is because we're like a family. We give each other so much, new ideas and encouragement, we are living through this scene at the moment where it is really hard for them, and it’s hard for me as a choreographer.
We put some work on at The Place and the reviews were really cool. You get lucky and you can get gigs where can put your work on, thats really great. Other times you’re asked to change your creative outlook to suit a certain environment and that’s not something I’m cool with. I want to do what I have the capacity to do and the dancers, they can do everything. Seeing how they were kind of fed up with society, how it was treating them, how hard it is for them just made me push into this idea that they are great. There are so many artists that are around here that are so good at what they do, visual artists, live musicians, actors, dancers. They live this life non-stop.
The dancers learn their skills but a lot of time don't have the opportunities to use them. We thought “fuck it, let’s make our own opportunity. Let’s make our own scene” and that’s where this piece came from.
We wanted a renaissance of art, a kind of revolution of thinking that gave people passion, love and happiness. We’ve been rehearsing since November, the dancers have worked really hard to get this together. I only see them once a week because thats all I could afford space-wise. The dancers should be doing this full time, I should be doing this full time and that’s what we are working towards. That’s the journey we are taking together. Let's make an uprising while we’re doing it.
Talk me though your choreographic process for the piece.
I know the dancers very well, I asked them to tell me about how they feel. It’s very autobiographical from the dancers point of view. In our rehearsals I create test space work, I do rep with them and we work with a narrative.
We've always worked with a theme in hand to bring ideas from. For this piece we chose to look at the transition from the golden age of the 1920s to where we are today, and explore the similarities. People in the next decade will look back and they could say “yeah, there was something really cool happening then”.
The narrative came from the characters that we started with in the first act. We worked with our knowledge of them and created movement there. The piece starts with a lot of very gestural and pedestrian movement then moves into something more as they progress through the piece. It's movement that really works to the music that was happening in the space. The live music and the dancers’ energy combine, and we looked at how that made them feel, particularly outside of rehearsals, and that was brought into the dance.
A lot of the creation of the movement came from that passion. It was really important for me during auditions to get people that we knew were into this idea of creating a bohemian scene. I wanted dancers and actors that really liked this type of music. I wanted the passion of the dance and music to come out in the piece when we worked with the live bands and I wanted the dancers and actors to transform. I felt like if they really liked the music it would make the whole process easier.
So what’s next?
I would love for this to become quite a regular thing. Looking at different spaces, working with different bands. Although for me it's really about the dance, it’s also recognising that a lot of the artists here are from very different genres of performance. We’re completely merging into this scene, it's not just dance, it's the art, it's the live bands, it's the actors. The uprising can't happen in a night, and what is the uprising?
It’s about people and artists getting together and saying “yeah, we can do this and we want people to join us and to be with us”. So maybe the future is to have similar nights, working with different narratives, a different theme each time we do it. Then I can start a different journey with the dancers. I just want to put it around as much as we can in London and get people to join us. This is our first event and it has gone pretty well. It was also completely self-funded, so funding is something we would look into for the future. With funding we could look into different spaces, bigger spaces, bigger audiences and add more detail. We have to learn from what has happened in the space tonight and make it even better and bigger. It’s happening.
Interview with Scarlett Perdereau
Published on Thursday, 10 November 2011 11:39
Written by Celia Moran
Scarlett Perdereau’s entry into dance was in no way out of the ordinary, or much different to millions of little girls the world over. As a young girl who also regularly “put on little shows for my parents”and donned a pink crossover cardigan for ballet class, I can confirm that this is very much standard procedure for wannabe Darcey Bussells. However, it would seem that the various twists and turns experienced by French-born Perdereau have been the making of her so far extraordinary dance career………
What was your pathway in to dance?
My pathway into a professional career in dance was quite meandering and not straightforward at all, but my pathway into dance was there from the moment I could move! The story is pretty classical from the beginning: starting dance from the age of barely four with ballet of course, a lot of ballet. Then moving onto what is called “modern jazz” in France, a combination of modern dance and jazz.
That was my whole childhood and my whole adolescence, just going to classes as much as I could outside of school and performing in little shows, and thinking about wanting to work in dance/be a dancer. However, I was also bought up believing that it’s important to study, and nourish the mind as well as the body.
Yes, I have seen that you did not follow the traditional ‘dance school route’.
Because I was interested in literature, I went to University in France and studied English. I still went to my dance classes as often as I could on the side, but I was also trying to secure my future. Through literature, I got into theatre and drama, which brought me to London to start working on a Masters which I didn’t finish because by then, I had decided to audition for acting schools. I was drawn to the Central School of Speech and Drama, as it seemed a bit experimental, but also very well-established. I did a degree there training to be an actor, but the course also had a very strong movement component. We did a lot of things ranging from martial arts to Laban analysis, but obviously relating it to the work of actors. Of course, I also enjoyed the work on text and voice but nevertheless, I still kept going to dance classes. It was really hard work, but I dragged myself to classes, especially at The Place.
After graduating, I got involved, almost naturally, in physical theatre kind of work, as well as international stuff. Being French and fitting in an international context worked well for me, and the sort of companies that do international theatre work was where I fitted in at the time. I also got into butoh.I think gradually, I realised that the less I talked, the happier I was. I felt better in scenes where I expressed myself through the body, even in stillness. That got me questioning whether I should face the fact that I should go back to my first love, which had never left me actually. Recognising that, I made the deliberate decision to retrain myself independently. It was about me building up technique, experience and a CV in dance. Little by little, the things I auditioned for were less and less text- and theatre-based, and more and more dance.
When I saw your education history, I did wonder what drew you back to dance, but obviously, it was just a natural progression.
Yes, well there is always more than one side to a person. It’s funny because I have a lot of dancers as friends, and you see it a lot in the profession: people who train as dancers and then through their mid-twenties/early thirties perhaps, they realise that they want to go into acting. The way I see it, your twenties are there to experiment and to realise that what you’re meant to do isn’t necessarily what you studied, however it still feeds you.
So, what made you want to dance?
I would have to bring it back to a very primitive, childlike pleasure, and a sheer joy for just expressing myself. Not even expressing something deep or meaningful, just using my body. And for me, actually the pleasure of making dances actually came hand in hand with the pleasure of dancing itself very early on.
Looking through your portfolio of work, it’s very varied. Is there ever a common thread to your inspiration or the way you work?
That’s a question I’m still in the process of asking myself. Part of doing my Masters at The Place was me trying to find answers in a context that would support me. As a performer, I’ve done a lot of different stuff, which is great, as I think you learn so much from all the different styles. As a choreographer, I’m still in the process of defining the type of pieces I like to make, and that’s why it’s varied because I’m still experimenting. At the moment, I would say I’m not into dramatic storytelling as a choreographer at all. If I’m going to tell a story, I’d rather actually work on a play with someone, or a film. For me, dance has got the advantage or limitation (depending on what you want to do with it) of being able to physicalise metaphors. So, you can work on a very poetical, abstract level that you can’t with words necessarily. That’s what I like to explore in dance. The kind of work I like to make is to use the body to reveal things that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to reveal.I like to keep stories at a very ambiguous and poetical level to let the audience do a bit of work. They are spoonfed too much in other types of work. Working with film has opened up a lot of possibilities and I’d definitely like to explore that further.
So, you were Arthur Pita’s assistant for The Metamorphosis, how did this opportunity arise?
A bit out of the blue! Or you could say, in retrospect, maybe it wasn’t so random. He had just choreographed me and the group I was studying with at The Place. He choreographed a piece onto us for the graduation show, so I danced in this. The piece was devised with and for us, so he knew me through this rehearsal process and my input, as well as everybody’s input as dancers. He said that he enjoyed working with me and that he enjoyed how I responded physically as a dancer to the propositions he made and the material I contributed. But, he also knew I was interested in choreography from my background and the studies I did. He’d been planning The Metamorphosis for ages, unaware that he had budget for an assistant until the Linbury Studio team informed him that there was money available for one. He had never used an assistant before, so this was very new for him and quite last-minute. So he phoned me and asked me to join him because he knew he could use me as a dancer to understudy several parts, and also to contribute to the movement material.
What do you think you learnt from this? Was there anything you learnt that you don’t think you could have learned through choreographing by yourself?
It was such a different role. Being an assistant is so different to being a dancer, and to being a choreographer. I learnt a lot of things just from shadowing Arthur, he‘s really wonderful to work with. You can be under a lot of pressure as a choreographer, and of course, the higher the stakes, the more pressure there is. And this was quite a big deal of a show. I think he was rewarded with the success that he deserved because he worked hard at it and it meant a lot to him, of course. But even though there was all that pressure, and you’re working with people from so many different backgrounds: there were Royal Ballet dancers, someone from Candoco who has done a lot of contemporary dance, and others who had worked with Matthew Bourne. To be able to keep everybody curious and wanting to keep working hard is a difficult task. Yet Arthur never fails to be polite and fun, because choreographers can become quite on edge and snappy as you get closer to the performance time. I’ve never seen him lose his cool. That’s a great lesson to learn, you know. You get the best out of people if you’re nice to them, it’s as simple as that as a choreographer. In his case, it was not just a case of getting the best out of the dancers, but out of a huge stage management team, and producers. It’s really important to keep a good relationship with everybody.
What did the role entail?
It was not as much responsibility on my shoulders as I previously thought, but it left me in a very privileged position to observe. It was a very open role, but, for the most part, you’re liaising between the dancers and the choreographer. You’re in a very crucial,but sometimes, an awkward position. Sort of a buffer zone. With Arthur it was a pleasure and I’d do it again, no question but, it can be an unrewarding or tough job in other circumstances, I’m sure!
Is there anything you wished you knew before you started out in the dance industry?
It’s hard to say, because now I’m in a position where it all seems so obvious. But the discipline which I got from ballet and demanding academic studies, for example, is something you have to have yourself otherwise you’ll never manage to achieve anything. I mean the discipline of the body of course, but also a mental discipline. I’ve always been very driven. Even when I was studying other things, I always made myself get up early or go home late so that I could go to those dance classes. So really, that discipline imposed itself because I was so driven. You have the responsibility to keep your body and your creative juices fit and ready to go. But, I felt that very early on and I understood that.
Some advice I could give would be to keep yourself busy during times of unemployment. Do classes and workshops etc so it doesn’t feel like a waiting game. Keep yourself active in between jobs so you never feel that you’re at the mercy of the audition calls out there. You have to cultivate your sense of self, your personality and your sense of values. Find out who you are as a person, as that’s what makes you stand out at auditions, as well as your ability to adapt. Live, travel, do other stuff that’s not dance! That will see you through those weird periods of not working and make you an interesting person to work with.
Finally, what are your goals and plans for 2012?
I’m doing a short project with Jonathan Burrows and Matteo Fargion at Siobhan Davies Studios in December with a sharing at the end. Alongside that, I’m doing my yoga teacher training. Yoga is a secret in my life, it’s my ‘me time.’So, I’ll be doing that throughout 2012 on the side of dance work. One of my long-term plans starting in 2012 is a project with my sister who is an actress in Paris. We’ve always talked about doing something together. So, I’m working on a dance theatre piece which would involve some text, either recorded or performed live, quite a lot of movement and possibly a film. Hopefully this will be something that can grow between London and Paris if we can get funding on both sides of the channel. 2012 is definitely the R & D and funding-hunting year!
That sounds great, thank you, Scarlett.