'Artists' Choice' - Interviews with the Artists
Artists from the Forward Motion programme 'Artists' Choice' speak about their favourite works
Wendy Houstoun introduces her choice: 'boy', a film by Rosemary Lee and Peter Anderson.
Wendy Houstoun: One of the important things, I think, about the film is that you see a child. There’s a kind of dignity to me about it, and it’s quite alone. It feels very contrasting to now, it feels a world away from electronic games and a sort of urban-ness. There’s almost a, yes, a dignity to it for me, and somehow that sense of seeing someone very young do something that committed feels that there’s a benchmark for me, even for adult performances. If I think of that kind of commitment in action on screen as a performer, because I think I tend to respond probably more to performances than I do to constructs of films. So for me it’s something about how his performance is a bit of a gauntlet to throw down for other performers: 'can you match that?' in terms of your performance, but also as a construct. I think for me it still sits as a challenge: 'can you make a dance film that isn’t trying to tell you something?' In its narrative it isn’t missing out words, because I don’t feel at any point that there should be words in it.
Shobana Jeyasingh introduces her choice: 'Tattoo', by director/choreographer Miranda Pennell.
Shobana Jeyasingh: 'Tattoo', I think, is a really interesting short dance film. Some people might not recognise it as a dance film, because in conventional terms it doesn’t involve any dancers. But I think it’s a film which obviously is done with a very keen choreographic eye behind the camera and that choreographic sensibility is brought to bear on a group of soldiers who are basically going through their drill on Salisbury Plain. And I think in that meeting of these two quite unexpected elements, a choreographer and a group of soldiers, on Salisbury Plain, I think a really intriguing film has happened. The opening shot of the film is just of Salisbury Plain, you have no idea that it's going to lead to soldiers, that’s the last thing on your mind. You think maybe it’s a David Attenborough film, that’s the way it sets up expectations; you hear the wind, you see the grass rustling and you see this owl. I really don’t know how she found an owl in the morning, but there it is, head shot of a lovely white owl. So you see these soldiers marching. They are very much in the background when you first discover them, and they look like toy soldiers really, in terms of scale. There’s a very interesting story that is told about the comparative scale of the human body and nature which is around it. So it sets up very surprising expectations, and that’s a very emotional thing. And then, interestingly enough, she allows close-ups of the face at the very end. So the beginning, you realise that they are very, very young men being very, very earnest and incredibly concentrated; doing, actually I think for young men, quite astoundingly wonderful things. So I think it is a very emotional piece because actually you, when you see the close-up of that young man after discovering him almost as part of a machine, then you realise that inside the machine there’s this very youthful man. And also with the Iraq war and Afghanistan in the background, you have to understand that this young man probably at one point is preparing to go into the theatre of war and be part of a completely different kind of choreography. So yes, I think it is a very emotional piece.
The Tales of Hoffmann (extract)
Michael Clark introduces his choice: 'The Tales of Hoffmann', directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, with choreography by Frederick Ashton.
Michael Clark: I’ve chosen an excerpt from 'The Tales of Hoffmann' by Michael Powell and Pressburger. I think it was actually released in cinemas in 1951 after 'The Red Shoes'. I can’t imagine what sort of audience they thought was going to go to see opera, ballet? I mean there’s no dialogue, no script, as such, it’s all sung. The section that I have chosen, most of the people involved are dancers, trained dancers, and had to learn the libretto in order to lip-sync. You can actually see them; some of them turn away when they don’t know what the words are! I personally find, with the video you can choose to have subtitles on or off, I find it’s quite useful to have them on to hear exactly what they’re saying. I personally, probably, read things into it that are not really intended The actual tale that I’ve chosen, there’s a doll involved but somebody makes these magical spectacles that make the doll seem real. The spectacles get broken and he finds out at the end, as the doll is torn apart by the person who makes the spectacles and the person who makes the doll, that it is a doll. But in my mind I’d turned it into something about objectifying the body and that eventual that will be, that idea will be torn apart. The particular part that I’ve chosen is, for me, the kind of climax of the whole thing because it’s so brutal. And what I love about the section I’ve chosen is that it couldn’t be done in any other medium; it’s dance and film but it couldn’t be done any other way. I think I’ve probably tried to do some of the things in there, I mean the breaking up of the doll and then the person in parts for example, the head obviously through a hole in the floor, I love all of that. I love Frederick Ashton with the dolls hand, caressing it still, but I also have to say there’s so many things about it for me that are interesting. To see Massine and Ashton together in anything, to see two choreographers together, is unusual. It is so rich with layers that you keep finding new things that you could engage with or not, things like the detail. I think the eyes, the feathers, all around the eyes, all that stuff; I think there’s so much going on it’s very rich, visually.
Feature Film (extract)
Rosemary Butcher introduces her choice, 'Feature Film', by Douglas Gordon.
Rosemary Butcher: I think it’s tied up with my approach to film in general, with dance. I think it’s difficult to say that I immediately respond to it because of any one specific thing, but I had been working very hard on trying to find a connection between movement and film. And there were very few times that I had felt that I had actually witnessed something that I could respond to and this was very clear when I saw Douglas Gordon’s 'Feature Film' in his retrospective in Edinburgh two years ago. That this was something that allowed me as a viewer to participate in a piece of work that was full of images that were moving, but there was nothing actually contained within it that gave the whole picture away. It was made up of images and film of a conductor. There were three cameras, one was on the face others were on parts of the body. It was a collage of images that were connected to the sound of the orchestra and the music, but you couldn’t see the orchestra. So you were watching the film and connecting what you thought were the players; the actors were not visible. And I felt that the hidden energy of these images sang out to me as totally choreographic, and connected very much to the way that I saw my own work going and being able to be filmed; because it was not filming dance as I had previously understood dance films would be.
Only You (Portishead)
Russell Maliphant introduces his choice: Portishead’s 'Only You', directed by Chris Cunningham.
Russell Maliphant: When time shifts and it goes into a different experience of time, there’s something real but surreal about it and I think that video really goes into that world. So, for me, it’s a surreal world but it’s also real. I’ve experienced things like that and it’s like wow, and that speaks to me: whether it’s a dream language or a surreal reality. So there’s many layers of relating to a video like that, I think. Think just in term of phrasing, of rhythm, and if you’re creating movement, generally your thinking about a phrasing: ok it starts here, it goes ‘one and a two’, and you want to have a phrasing to the movement. I think that he really strongly has that, you can see it in that. The use of technology to rise above what it does, putting all of those layers together to create a poetry that is not just a video, it’s not just the music, it’s not just the editing, but its all of those things together to create another poetry. I think that you know that’s a real contribution to screen dance.
The Cost of Living
Akram Khan introduces his choice: 'The Cost of Living' by director/choreographer Lloyd Newson of DV8.
Akram Khan: One of the most powerful things I find about Lloyd Newson’s work, especially on film is his ability to connect real situations, whether it’s in politics, whether it has cultural reference, whether it has religious reference but what his ability and talent is, is to lift it into art. So in a way you have a really interesting and talented way of how he takes something very, a subject that is very real to us and be able to take that into a place where we start questioning and asking questions and it provokes us also as human beings, as artists when we watch it. Also, for me, his use of characters is very special because I don’t feel as an audience as an observer when I’m watching that’s its far away…. you know whenever I see a character in his work I feel like I know this guy or I know someone like him, or I know this women or I know someone like her. And so in a way he keeps it very real, there’s something very……kind of, you know, the characters are based on, I think, real experiences he has. For me he has this strong quality that Pina Bausch has and also artists like Simon McBurney and Robert Lepage and that is the power of observation. And that is the greatest, for me, the most important tool to have. He has this ability to observe and this power of observation that he has, he draws it into his own work. And then he creates it, whether it be in a train station, whether it’s in a bus stop, whether it’s in a restaurant, in a hotel, he watches and so you see that that there’s a lot of research going into the film or into the characters.