We wrap up our Cloud Interview series with Lîla Dance, a young company with roots in West Sussex. Abi Mortimer and Carrie Whitaker share the credits for the solo they presented at the Cloud Dance Festival, Here, Still Here, Still, and while Carrie was preparing for the performance, Abi kindly discussed the absent presence at the heart of the work, the company’s community projects, and their recent collaboration with outside choreographers. Interview conducted by Laura Cappelle of Bella Figura.


Can you tell me about your background and Lîla Dance?
It goes back to school – I did GCSE and A-Levels in Dance. I then decided to do a degree, so I went to the University of Chichester, and also completed a Master’s in Choreography. On the back of the Master’s, we formed Lîla Dance – I felt that we had started something in our research, a language, that we hadn’t quite got to grips with yet. Lîla is a Sanskrit word which means “play for no reason”, just for the sake of play. Four of us set up the company, and two of us are now left, as things go in the dance world! Both Carrie [Whitaker] and I work at the University of Chichester, and we’re also an associate company of The Point, a theatre in Eastleigh. They just opened a new creation centre, and we have a “Home from Home” contract with them.

I have personally made four works on Lîla. Well, I direct the works, but the collaboration is between Carrie, me and the dancers – they take care of their movement material, they are very much thinking dancers, as understanding of the language as I am.

What was the thinking behind Here, still here, still?
If I’m honest, it came from losing a dancer. We had to quickly make a quartet into a trio, and we found something quite interesting – that there was a sort of presence of absence left, the feeling that someone who should have been there wasn’t there, a sense that he was still present. That was the beginning seed, although we didn’t think about it until afterwards. It became apparent when we started to make this solo, and we gave Carrie different dance partners, to see what was left when you took the partner away. It was about undergoing a process, we didn’t know before starting what we wanted the solo to look like.

A theatricality came out of it, she often didn’t feel alone – we have moments in it where she says, this is where Abi is. She feels accompanied in her solo. It has a narrative texture, and it’s become for me about a woman who has had a history and now finds herself reflecting on it. We didn’t quite realise how emotional it would be. I think Doug Evans, our composer, really found a distance in the score – and he also came up with words at the end, a line that we felt was right.

What’s next for you after the festival?
At the moment we are in residence for three weeks, working with an Italian choreographer, Simona Bertozzi. This is the first time we have invited choreographers, and we will also have Yael Flexer, formerly from Bedlam Dance, until June. In March we premiere both the piece choreographed by Simona Bertozzi and a re-worked version of Tracker, which we performed at the last Cloud Dance Festival. We will then tour both in our first full-length show. Getting funding for this project was a turning point; we’ve got support from West Sussex County Council, South East Dance, and of course The Point and the University of Chichester. We have been very lucky, and it has made it all possible.

What are your inspirations?
We’ve been very lucky to have had the mentorship of Hofesh Shechter for two years as part of our contract with The Point, and he has been an influence. Siobhan Davies also – I love her treatment of material, her use of narrative without trying to say a story. But for me, it’s the way we work in the studio that has created an identity for our company. It’s interesting now that we’re exploring that with other choreographers and don’t have a complete say, because we do have our way of moving and understanding, and sometimes you want them out of the room! More seriously, I think it will shape and change what we’ve done, and I think we have chosen the right people to let in.

Francis Bacon’s work is another inspiration, because of the way he captures feeling. But mainly my inspirations have come from dance, from play – I think we’re primarily improvisers who shape material into a kind of technique, which always comes from play.

How would you describe your style?
It is not unlike contact improvisation – it features a really dropped use of the pelvis. We also like tu use the floor, to play with the efficiency of going in and out of the floor. But the solo we are doing for the festival is stiller than previous works – we wanted to show more sculpture. Our style is also muscular, athlectic, and very human. It talks about the human condition, in a non-narrative sense.

Any Christmas wishes for your company?
More money, bigger platforms, and apprentices – we have a couple of them and we would love to have the ressources and the money to develop them. Because of the language we use, it’s hard to teach dancers everything we need on a small budget. Apprentices will be an important step forward – we are lucky that we teach 200 people a week between us, we see a lot of young people, a lot of talent. We have a main Lîla’s Youth Company, the MayaKaras, and we create a work with them once a year. There is also a scheme at the Chichester University, where we audition and work with talented people to develop a company. It has become an important feeder for us. And on top of that I am the choreographer for the GCSE’s set study – we are very much involved in the community.

Lîla Dance is a creative associate of The Point, Eastleigh, UK.
Many thanks to Chantal Guevara for making these interviews possible.