5 Questions to Kenneth Tindall on The Architect, about to receive its London premiere at the Royal Opera House, and also talking about his decision to stop dancing and become a freelance choreographer
The Architect is an ambitious work on an unusual subject – the story of Adam and Eve. What are you trying to say and how literal is the telling?
From a dance perspective I think human connection is really interesting; it intrigues me to watch it, pulls me in and makes me want to be part of it. Relationships, the human condition and how we look at each other everyday. What’s the beginning of that? Why do we act like we do? Why do we sin? Are we designed with this flaw from the beginning; is it set in DNA? If Adam and Eve were the original sinners and were seduced by temptation, does it mean it is inevitable for the rest of us? Is it a cycle that is forever looping, or do we just start again and see if the next test subject does the same?
This was the beginning of the thought process for The Architect. I began with these thoughts and questions and the structure of the Adam and Eve story as it is in the Bible. I looked at how these two characters were represented in all other religions and also took what we have learned from science. This started to let my imagination paint its own picture and start to build my own visual world of how the ballet might look. I wanted to explore how Adam could be conceived on stage, with a mix of science and an almost test tube birth and a movement vocabulary that was more suggestive of the ‘created from dust’ text from the bible. So I would say the telling is definitely not literal but rather a mix of sources on a theme, serving my imagination to produce an engaging stylistic piece of theatre.
The designs of The Architect are really striking – how did you and Christopher Giles come up with the look and what does the set represent? It’s not a place of this world?
Once I was settled on a structure that I was happy with (which is always tweaked as you go along) the rest of the creative team then joined the process and I began conversations with Chris Giles, my set and costume designer, and Alastair West my lighting designer. I was very keen on having a set and a set that would be interactive. A set that lived and breathed and could be manipulated just like steps. I wanted to be able to change the architecture of the stage to make it part of the fabric of the piece.
Chris joked ‘not much then’! From there we started to look at materials that could be manipulated but would return to their original state. I knew I wanted to explore Adam’s birth and so gave Chris references of the birth in the film ‘Matrix’ and a particular photo that I found in an art magazine that was sort of like a giant hanging sack. From there, with a lot of work and imagination and photoshop, believe it or not, the 3 columns were born, representative of a place Adam could be conceived and born. These columns would also later double up as tree legs from the Garden of Eden or an object that is representative of man. Next was creating our version of the tree which would fit in with the now futuristic tubes or columns and would be representative of woman in its structure and perhaps a gateway to the final fall of man. We loved the idea of the Adams being numbered so we knew that this was not the first attempt by The Architect in trying to create Adam and Eve and that maybe we were just watching another test. We also tattooed the men’s spines (not a real tattoo) with a double helix which in Kundaini yoga represents male and female. Chris designed a wonderful DNA pattern for the women’s and men’s lycra and then detailed the costumes with black piping. On the women’s costumes it was mainly around the ribs in reference to Eve being constructed from Adams rib. The design of the hair and make up was to make them look almost like cyborgs or test subjects. We wanted the men to look almost identical other than their numbers, as Adam was created in God’s image.
When you go into the studio to create, do you know what you are going to do – the steps?
By the time I stepped into the studio to begin creating The Architect I had all the set, costumes and a lot of the lighting design already in place and had a very clear understanding of the world and visual I was trying to create. The process in the studio is very organic and everyone in the room contributes to the work. I am not looking for dancers that can just execute steps but dancers who bring their whole essence with them into the studio. I like thinking artists who question and probe and give all of themselves in the creation process; it is this generosity that creates exciting work. Some days I know exactly where I want to go and exactly what vocabulary I want to use but then someone will surprise me and the step shifts, evolves and moves on and we go with it. For The Architect we had a wonderful exploratory workshop with the passing of Apples to one another by all manner of body parts! (one day I will release the footage); there was a lot of laughter!
You’ve been spending time in Europe creating works – do tell more.
I guess it all started after I won an award at the 26th International Choreographic Competition, Hanover and I was then invited to create a work for John Neumeier’s Bundesjugendballett, the junior company to Hamburg Ballet. It was an amazing experience and a great opportunity to be mentored by John. I have also created in Malta and my piece The Ultimate Form premiered in Paris and then went on to be performed in the UK. I have two up-coming shows in Berlin and Kiel in the next two months to look forward to and was also nominated for Best young choreographer at the Taglioni European Ballet Awards.
You’ve just left Northern Ballet after 14 years dancing and rising to the top – what’s the plan now?
I have had an incredible time at Northern Ballet and I am very grateful for all that I have learned and achieved there. I am especially happy that I was able to close this chapter of my life gracefully. I look to the future full of wonder and excitement and perhaps a healthy dose of terror too as I step forward into a new world. I have exciting things in the pipeline both in the ballet, art and commercial world and maybe even a first full-length, but I don’t want to jinx anything so hopefully see you all in the next chapter!