Rambert Dance Company in Rehearsal – Monolith

Monolith, Tim Rushton’s new piece for Rambert Dance Company, represents the first time the British choreographer has collaborated with a UK dance company. Tim is the Artistic Director of the award-winning Danish Dance Theatre. As a creator of modern dance, classical technique stands out as a big influence in Tim’s work, due to his ballet education at the Royal Ballet School and his dancing career in Europe with companies like the Royal Danish Ballet.

We had the opportunity to sit in at rehearsals earlier this month and our first impressions of Monolith are of a very musical work, combining moments of extreme physicality interspersed with lyrical passages (which make the most of PÄ“teris Vasks’s haunting score). Monolith looks like a great fit for the versatile Rambert dancers and we think it has the potential to appeal to a broad audience, from ballet lovers to dance newbies.

Ahead of the work’s premiere in Edinburgh this Wednesday we quote Tim, Rambert dancer Jonathan Goddard and AD Mark Baldwin on this new collaboration and other hot topics in dance:

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Tim Rushton, Choreographer

Background & Influences

At the time I was at the Royal Ballet School it was very much promoted that it was “the only place where you could study ballet in the world”. That was the sort of feeling, I remember, from 25 years ago. In my class were people like Bruce Samson, Leanne Benjamin, Jonathan Cope and I was the outsider struggling to deal with it. Leaving that was a huge eye-opener and of course you meet a lot of choreographers who challenge you. Speaking as an ex-dancer, I think that’s why many ballet dancers love to see the Dutch choreographers because they are using ballet technique in a little tiny different way, and they meant a lot to me when I left England as I thought their work was very cool.

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After that I think the biggest influences were some of the choreographers working in Germany. Germany at that time was very open and they had accepted many foreign choreographers. People like Forsythe, Rui Horta… they were very diverse and that made my brain explode. I just didn’t know you were “allowed” to do that!

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Choreographing as a career

I didn’t think being a choreographer was an option to be completely honest, I had missed all that upsurge of modern choreographers so I thought I was a dancer, and that was it. I wanted to start a workshop with some colleagues just to get some juices flowing because I wasn’t being creative enough in the ballet company. That was the start of my whole choreographic career but I didn’t plan it. A lot of young choreographers today, they make one piece or they go to school and say “I’m a choreographer”. That’s it. One piece and, there, “I’m a choreographer!” I think I had done 20 pieces before I thought I should start calling myself a choreographer. Truly living, getting your daily wage from the wish that other people want your choreography is a huge step, it’s a huge different mental place to be in.

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The piece is called Monolith and the set design has five huge monoliths; huge towers that look like slate or stone. Designer Charlotte Østergaard, who is also in charge of the costumes, is working with a textile structure for the monoliths. They are going to be lit from the side,  placed at the back of the stage in a zigzag pattern and they are going to look very dramatic.

I wanted to do something passionate and with strength. Since I was coming to the UK, I also wanted to do something that I would really like, not something that I thought only critics would like or to please somebody.  What I focused on was the passion, the strife and beauty of the people who were trying to make something monumental. A little bit like Stonehenge and all these places in Northern Europe; very medieval or even ancient openings in nature where people have made structures or statues of different things around and the enormous amount of physicality and passion that was used to build these places, to leave something, a mark of ancient man. I wanted it to be very rough and earthly but at the same time, very lyrical and beautiful. These are the two combinations I was working with.

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Very often I take a piece of music and choreograph to it. In the case of Monolith, I already knew PÄ“teris’s piece; he is not well known in England but he has written a lot. In fact, Peter Martins has also choreographed to him; I think he has done a few ballets. This particular piece has very long romantic phrases but also lots of contrast which, I think, lends itself very much to a visual art form.

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Jonathan [Goddard] runs in and starts the piece. In reality all the dancers are working or doing whatever it is that they are doing, rejoicing or a ritual, and the day becomes brighter and brighter and towards the end, when they all sit down it is the evening, when the sun goes down and it becomes orange again; they all sit and wait. So it is a day. The piece is very simple and I do believe in simple thematic for dance. Personally I think if it gets towards a story, then it moves over to the ballet world. I think ballet is better at telling stories.

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The Rambert dancers are fantastic. This is a repertory modern company and there are very few of them. Ballet companies are different because they still have a set vocabulary, but a repertory modern company… they had Gaga this morning, an Israelian training technique developed by Ohad Naharin, from the Batsheva Dance Company; they use extremely diverse techniques and a ballet company is much more streamlined, so I think that being a repertory company they are very good at copying and adapting to the aesthetic that they are trying to use. They are very adaptable.

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Jonathan Goddard, Rambert Dancer

Working with Tim:

We didn’t know much about Tim before. With some choreographers you have a preconception of what they are like; I had some friends who had worked with Tim, but none of us really knew. So there’s always a period before where you try to figure out what the choreographer is like, especially when Tim works as he does: he would make some material and then change it. You then have to try to submit material to the choreographer and quickly learn what they like.

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The first day he just taught a phrase and that was just him turning up to his blind date, so we learned his material and he watched us doing it, and that’s how it works. I think Mark [Baldwin] might say “I’d be interested if you put that person or these people who are good in certain things” so Tim has some ideas and he doesn’t turn up completely blind. He picks people from the first day, but the first week you don’t know what the cast is, then you find out!

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Tim works very fast, everything just came together in about three and a half weeks, which is incredibly fast but we were working exclusively with him. He comes from a more abstract place, from the movement, he uses movement words like “big”, etc. Sometimes he will physically demonstrate something as well, because he is in track bottoms and can still move as a dancer. He lets you know exactly how he wants it to be.

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Mark Baldwin – Artistic Director

Collaborating with Tim

I had been to Denmark to see his company [Danish Dance Theatre] and I know that his movement and vocabulary would suit our dancers and you need to bring things that will show them off. Tim’s piece is very modern; I think they will do it absolutely beautifully and musically, because he is all about driving the movement from the torso, and our lot completely understand it. I thought it would be a wonderful contrast, physically.

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Before that, my friend Val Bourne had also seen Tim’s company in China and I trust her. Val ran Dance Umbrella for 25 years and she said “I’ve seen something very interesting, you ought to take notice of it”. The other thing about Tim is that he is British and I’m also investigating another British choreographer, who has also been running a major institution for the last ten years… “She” is coming and, although I cannot reveal more, at the moment all the balls are up in the air and I quite like that!

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Dance on the Internet

I think it is great because it extends the range of people we reach and there’s that buzz word at the moment which is “reach”. There are people who pay and come to the theatre for that kind of experience and every time I’m on TV, radio, talk to people, do a newspaper interview, it is for a whole different audience and that’s why it’s called “engagement”, because there are new kinds of audiences through Facebook and Twitter. But I also have to be careful with what I say these days because it is all connected to the company. I have to self-regulate in a way that I’ve never done before!

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Right now we are getting involved in a scheme where one of our performances will be broadcast like the National Theatre’s: internationally and to all of the places where we can’t be, physically, because of theatre size constraints.

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Tim Rushton:

The Future of Dance

I think that everything will be different. Historically ballet has had the power, it has been the centre of the apple, it has been the turning edge and I think things are changing and will change even more.

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I don’t think ballet will ever die but I do think it will become a cultural experience and maybe not an art experience. A cultural experience can be fantastic and there’s nothing wrong with it, but I think major art experiences will happen outside ballet.

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Take Misha [Baryshnikov] and Sylvie [Guillem] for instance: they are searching…and maybe it comes with age, but this is not enough. You can keep it on the limits of ballet but there are big constraints and you need people that are clever and intelligent. There are few people with great vision in history; very few are able to renew a full genre!

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My first taste of dance was The Nutcracker. I fell in love with it and I could see it over and over again and when I got to sixteen I was watching Tetley and I thought it was fantastic and then you keep developing. I know people who like to stay with Bournonville, in that realm and that’s what they like… but people have to be open and not close themselves down.

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I think twenty years down, it will be a very different ball game and big classical institutions will be on par with modern ones, like the Tate and the Tate Modern: both are important and serve distinct roles. That’s why it is important for institutions to survive.

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I want to communicate relatively broadly and I don’t want to communicate to a specific refined dance public. I would like to speak broadly to culturally interested people. There are lots of dance works “you shouldn’t take your brother to”, as maybe they are too refined, or you have to have some prior knowledge of what you are going to see.

Photo Credits: Simon Weir, Mark Baldwin and Chris Nash.

Rambert Dance Company premieres Monolith at Festival Theatre, Edinburgh this Wednesday 16 February.

More Information:

Monolith tour dates

  • Festival Theatre, Edinburgh – 16 – 18 Feb 2011
  • Royal & Derngate, Northampton – 2 – 3 Mar 2011
  • Theatre Royal, Nottingham – 6 – 8 Apr 2011
  • Theatre Severn, Shrewsbury – 12 – 15 Apr 2011
  • Sadler’s Wells, London – 24 – 28 May 2011

Rambert Dance Company

Tim Rushton’s Danish Dance Theatre

We started The Ballet Bag in April 2009 with the mission to prove that ballet is not stuffy, old fashioned and inaccessible; that it is quite the opposite: relevant, fresh and topical. With the aim to Give Ballet a New Spin we try to show it under a different light. When writing our capsule biographies, ballet fact cards, review roundups and commentary on social media, we cross it over with other art forms and cultural references (pop culture, cinema, rock music – ie. other things we love!).