Interview – Alexander Whitley, Choreographer and Director

Alexander Whitley.<br />© Daniel Jaems. (Click image for larger version)

Alexander Whitley.
© Daniel Jaems. (Click image for larger version)

Frames will premiere at Theatre Royal, Glasgow on Thursday 5th March before traveling to Eden Court, Inverness, Theatre Royal, Brighton and Sadler’s Wells, London as part of Rambert’s 2015 Spring Tour.
www.rambert.org.uk
www.alexanderwhitley.com
 

5 Questions to Alexander Whitley on his new work, Frames, for Rambert. It’s to be premiered in Glasgow on 5 March 2015…

 
Frames sounds very different in taking its inspiration from Fordist and Post Fordist ideas – what’s this all about?

It’s a piece which is broadly concerned with the notion of production, referring to the manufacturing of objects as well as the manufacturing of experiences in the context of the theatre. In this respect it’s drawn on theory relating to how people have organised such processes – Fordist and post-Fordist.

I’ve been interested for a long time in the connection between choreography and industrial manufacturing in terms of how people’s movements are coordinated and synchronised, and to a large extent habituated by repetitive processes. I was fascinated to learn, for example, that Rudolf Laban worked with industrialists in the mid-20th Century to try and improve efficiency in factories by applying his principles of movement from dance.
 

Alexander Whitley's Frames being created and rehearsed in Rambert's studios.© Alex Harvey-Brown. (Click image for larger version)

Alexander Whitley’s Frames being created and rehearsed in Rambert’s studios.
© Alex Harvey-Brown. (Click image for larger version)

In modern Western economies, where we don’t manufacture much of what we consume anymore, the talk is much more about how we produce ideas as opposed to objects and how this changes the nature of how our work is organised. There’s a lot to suggest that the arts industry has been a model, or the ante-chamber, for this type of work, which is becoming much more common across the economy. Again, I’m fascinated by the connection here between the industry I know and operate within and the world outside of it. Frames, then, attempts to explore some rather big ideas by using the theatre as a microcosm for these processes to unfold. The dancers are put to work in constructing metal structures of various forms and in doing so take you on a journey of theatricality, which provokes you to think about, and potentially see in a new light, the various elements that come together to form a dance production.
 

How did Frames all come together and who are your collaborators?

It’s grown out of a collaboration in 2013 with artists Revital Cohen and Tuur Van Balen called 75 Watt. They invited me to work with them on a project in which an object was manufactured in a factory in China whose only function was to create the choreography of its production.

We spent a long time taking apart conventional consumer goods such as hairdryers, vacuum cleaners and radios to look at the types of movements involved in putting them together and how the object itself dictated something about your movements in interacting with it. On the basis of this, Revital and Tuur designed an object that included many features of these consumer goods, but which was itself useless. I then had the task of choreographing how it was put together on the production line and we went to China to have it made!
 

Alexander Whitley's Frames being created and rehearsed in Rambert's studios.© Alex Harvey-Brown. (Click image for larger version)

Alexander Whitley’s Frames being created and rehearsed in Rambert’s studios.
© Alex Harvey-Brown. (Click image for larger version)

The project really changed the way I considered choreography and sparked a great conversation that I felt was necessary to continue to explore in my work. When the opportunity came up to make something with a large group of dancers I invited Revital and Tuur to think about how we could apply these themes to the context of the theatre.

The composer, Daniel Bjarnason, whose music I’ve choreographed to in the past has created an original score for the piece which moves beautifully between the rhythmic and the emotionally rousing. He’s been able to join me in the studio for some of the creation process and has developed the music alongside the piece as it’s unfolded.
 

How do you create your pieces – do you go into the studio with a firm idea of the movement you want? Or does it all just happen on the spot?

It varies. Sometimes I have a very particular movement idea and sometimes it’s a broader feeling for how a structure should work or a theme should be present. A lot happens in response to what I see unfolding in front of me as the movement itself often suggests the way forward. I enjoy collaborating with the dancers I work with as well – to set them tasks around the themes and ideas of the piece and see the various approaches that might be taken.
 

Alexander Whitley.© Daniel Jaems. (Click image for larger version)

Alexander Whitley.
© Daniel Jaems. (Click image for larger version)

You always seem very busy – what have you got coming up in the future that we should look out for?

I’m touring a double bill of The Measures Taken and The Grit in the Oyster with my company throughout April and May as well as starting work on a new piece, a duet, which we’ll premiere next year. With New Movement Collective I’m working on a project which will feature at the Barbican in July and I’m excited to be creating a piece for Candoco in the summer which will premiere in October. I’m hoping to get some holiday in amongst that!
 

What is your greatest dance wish?

To learn more about movement and how fundamental it is to our humanity, and to communicate and celebrate this through my work.
 

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