Northern Ballet is in London this week for a short residency at the ROH’s Linbury Theatre. Although the company is well known to London audiences for its performances of full-length narrative ballets – most recently The Great Gatsby, a sell-out success at Sadler’s Wells in 2013 – this inaugural visit to the Linbury will showcase a more diverse repertory in an intimate setting, with a mixed programme featuring works by established international and emerging choreographic talent alike. Audiences will get to experience Concertante by Hans van Manen, Lars Lubovitch’s Concerto Six Twenty-Two, and Luminous Junc·ture by principal dancer Kenneth Tindall.
Set to music by Max Richter, Ólafur Arnalds and Hans Zimmer, and with costumes by fashion designer Emma Guilfoyle, Luminous Junc·ture is Tindall’s second commission for Northern Ballet, having debuted in Leeds in 2013 to great acclaim. Ahead of its London premiere on Thursday, we caught up with Kenneth to ask him about the work, and his fledgling (but already award-winning) career as a choreographer.
TBB: How did your choreographic career begin?
KT: My very first choreography in any shape or form was at our first choreographic workshop in 2011, but I didn’t want to do it, if I’m honest… The workshop was a great opportunity for the dancers to experiment and for the company to build something, but we do 180 shows a year, and at that point in my career, I decided I was going to use that 2-3 week period for a rest. So when [Artistic Director] David Nixon came to me and said, “You should choreograph”, I initially declined. I had been with David over ten years, and we had created many roles together, so he knew I could do it. He let it go for a couple of days and then he came back and suggested I do something short: five or six minutes long with two or three dancers.
Over the years as a dancer you see choreography and you know what you like, so as long as you can articulate why you like it, you can start the process. Seeing different people who choreograph is also important. When Wayne McGregor came here, he had already done Chroma and it had a massive impact, which I got to see in the studio. That’s something that can happen when you take someone like Akram Khan and Russell Maliphant, who is not classically trained and you let them infuse into a classical situation. It’s great when you get the opportunity to see these collaborations, since it can spark your imagination and make you look at things in a different way.
After Project #1, I went on to do several things and I won an award and some competitions, and I got to see a lot of work, a lot of what you would call ‘underground work’. I did a piece in 2012 called The Ultimate Form, a collaboration with a visual artist, Linder Sterling, with music by Stuart McCallum from The Cinematic Orchestra and costumes by Pam Hogg and Richard Nicholl, who are fashion designers. I learned a lot about how visual artists work and I was more experimental. We did it in Paris and we found a new audience and it was a great experience. The Ultimate Form was built as a jigsaw so it could be put together anywhere it was presented. We performed with seven people when it premiered, and then with three people in David Lynch’s nightclub in Paris.
TBB: How about Luminous Junc·ture?
KT: The speed of life seems so quick now, there is so much going on all the time, and because I wanted to try to engage a new, younger audience here, I wanted the speed of the piece to be fast. Unless you are educated in the style, sometimes things can take a while to get going, and it can be hard to grab your imagination, especially if it is your first time at the ballet. So I thought about how I could go about this, maybe making it a little bit random, and maybe in a movie-style way, where they have lots of short clips with different scenes in different places, like in Almodóvar’s movies. You know, how he jumps around but the story is still there, like a split screen. I thought there could be segments on their own, junctures if you like, and how each juncture has its own thing going on, but there is something tying them together. So that was my idea for starting.
The next thing was lighting, which is one of the things I became aware of as I was given more budget and responsibility. If music creates atmosphere, lighting helps define it. Although we had no set or money for it, we could try to create our own set with this light. Hence, Luminous Junc·ture, because it came to be about lighting and about these short scenes in a way. This time, I was also well aware of Max Richter, and here I was in a classical world, having done classical ballet all my life, but really what I was producing was closer to contemporary dance – how bizarre! And then Max Richter takes Vivaldi and he injects himself into it, and it made it more human to me. I found five wonderful pieces of music that resonated with me, and you always know that it is the right music. You have to decide how you are going to tie it in, and it was becoming junctures before I even knew it, because the music was five different junctures. And I liked that it was busy and it was free, and in the first run-through when it premiered it grabbed the audience’s attention, which I was very happy about.
The costumes came from the idea that we are all running through life, but we are all different to start with. There are eight dancers and they all wear basic unitards, but they have their own design with outer piping, because we are all different. So this piping is in red, as if it is their own DNA. We are all going through life, and we are all walking our own paths as it were, to a different beat, but what happens when we unite at the end – that was what was going through my head, which is why I used Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator speech for the end. So, it was all about putting together these junctures, movements, music and lighting them. And then, this Charlie Chaplin speech came along. I was on the train and someone posted it on Facebook!
TBB: On that note, do you think that social media has been important to dance and dancers?
KT: Well, it created a platform that enables us to see more and be connected. Of course it comes with pros and cons, but it has helped put dance in the forefront. I think the more out there the better, because at least it is being seen and talked about, and getting more people interested in it. It is amazing, because there are so many brilliant forms of dance and it is great that classical ballet is infusing itself with many of them. I definitely think that dance in Britain is very exciting at the moment. There are lots of young choreographers that seem to have a lot to say in a new way, as well as being able to make a nod to their heritage and bring that forward as well.
TBB: Which choreographers do you admire the most?
KT: I admire Kylián, I think he is timeless. It’s something to do with flow of movement: I like the liquid quality of his work and also the fact that I never know where he is going to go with the movement. I also enjoy Mauro Bigonzetti and, for his humour if not so much for his vocabulary, Eric Gauthier. John Neumeier is a great choreographer. He mentored me while I was in Hamburg creating a piece for the junior company, and I have never seen someone so immersed in a world: he has the junior company, the company, the school and he runs lectures every Sunday. His knowledge of the history, and his hunger to come to the studio to create: there is no ego or worry. He was always giving corrections and encouragement. He believes in what he does so much that he wants to spread his word and push the art form forward, and he has given everything to that.
TBB: How about the London scene, what new works have you enjoyed recently?
I saw Akram Khan’s Dust and I have to say it was the best thing I have seen in a long time. It was amazing because it was so bloody simple, and it was the whole package as well: he created the atmosphere perfectly, and his lighting designer was incredible. I am so impressed with what Tamara Rojo is doing at ENB. I am sure it must be very hard for her, but the choices that she is making are very brave. Akram Khan coming to create for a classical company is a stroke of genius, and I am so glad that it worked out the way that it did. I also thought it was brilliant that they learned Russell Maliphant’s language. And Liam Scarlett is so talented: with his feel for musicality, you can see why he is working everywhere now.
TBB: How about plans for the future?
KT: In my own career it is getting to the point that I have to make a decision. I’ve had a great career, have been a principal for a long time and have done all the rep with Northern Ballet, but David has encouraged me all the way and he knows at some point things are going to change. I have some commissions in the pipeline. I am collaborating again with Richard Nicholl in October, in a project with another artist from NYC, Nick Mauss. At the moment we are still working on it, but Nijinska’s Les Biches is coming up a lot.
Northern Ballet performs Kenneth Tindall’s Luminous Junc•ture as part of its Mixed Programme at the Linbury Theatre, Royal Opera House 8-10 May 2014. For more information and booking, visit the Royal Opera House’s Website.