Interview: Russell Maliphant Q&A

Wednesday 22 September 2010

!! AfterLight is the new full-evening work by the Russell Maliphant Company, which premieres at Sadler’s Wells on Tuesday, 28 September before being toured through the autumn, including performances in the Fall for Dance Festival in New York.

Graham Watts caught up with Russell Maliphant at Sadler’s Wells as he was putting the final touches to the work.

!! AfterLight has grown out of the solo you made for the ‘In the Spirit of Diaghilev’ last year. This was inspired by Nijinsky, although – as I understand it – not in any narrative or biographical sense. Can you elaborate on that? **When Alistair Spalding (Artistic Director, Sadler’s Wells) asked me to do something in the Spirit of Diaghilev I didn’t have to think about it. My immediate reaction was to go back to images of Nijinsky that I first saw as a student at the Royal Ballet School.

Some of Nijinsky’s figurative drawings have a great sense of flow with big, spiralling arcs of movement and one of the ways in which Michael Hulls (Maliphant’s regular lighting designer) and I can create is a way of seeing arcs of movement in light; and so my idea for this piece was to create something about Nijinsky and flow that linked to our work with light and flow. The seed for the work was inspired by one particular drawing of a woman dancing that I remembered vividly from my student days.

Michael and I are interested in figurative sculpture and so we also used photographs of Nijinsky as a body of information to inspire the movement in *AfterLight*. Looking at photographs of Nijinsky in *Spectre de la Rose* andas the Siamese Dancer in *Les Orientales*, you can see these spirals through his body leading into sculptural angles at the elbow and wrist.

So, both Nijinsky’s images and images of Nijinsky have informed us all the way through the creation of AfterLight. We would leave 12 or 15 books open in the studio on particular photographs and we’d change them at certain points during the day. We didn’t really copy the images but we worked on the spirals, angles, flow and energy that the photographs inspired. These are themes that have always informed the body of my work and so I felt I could relate to these sculptural images of Nijinsky as a way into capturing that spirit.

Russell Maliphant Company 'AfterLight' 2010. Sadler's Wells. Photo: Hugo Glendinning Like Diaghilev, you have a long and successful history of creating works in collaboration, especially with lighting designer Michael Hulls. Can you expand on the importance of the light in this piece?
AfterLight expands upon themes we had developed in *Two*, where the dancer performs within a square bordered by thin strips of light; and then *Transmission* where we had small 3 inch squares of light which produced little flashes of movement as an arm passes through.
I needed to have lighting that would inspire me and I thought that I could develop the ideas from Transmission by multiplying the two or three matchbox-sized squares we had used then into something more like a shower of lights to catch the body as it spins through. However, it was impossible to achieve the effect with conventional lighting, without using 160 lights. Instead we used a projector from above, opening up a wealth of exciting possibilities for gaining texture, movement and choreographic use of space by creating this dappled shower of light – and so we achieved the painted effect of the light that I was seeking without needing 160 downlights!

The piece started off in three parts for three dancers but was reduced into a solo for In the Spirit of Diaghilev. Has it reverted to a triptych? **It is in three parts, with the solo as the opening segment. The solo is largely unchanged from its performance in October 2009, although I’ve probably tinkered with it. I originally started to work with myself, Dana Fouras and Daniel Proietto to develop trio material and then as the work with the projector came to be more influential it was easier to focus on the relationship between one figure (Daniel) and the projected light and so it seemed to make sense to develop that first. We have now added two dancers (both female) to bring back some of the original ideas in an extended work that stretches from the original 15 minute solo to almost an hour.

Although collaboration is so important to the you, this time you have used pre-existing music by Eric Satie in the solo. How did that come about? **It was one of those coincidences that seemed to make sense. I was working with Andy Cowton (Maliphant’s regular composer) on developing music for the solo and then one night I was sitting on the sofa editing the work on my computer while my wife was looking at a clip on Facebook which used one of the *Gnossiennes* by Satie. We realised that the music and the movement just sat perfectly side by side. Not only did the Gnossiennes suit the choreography but Satie had worked for Ballets Russes and we were doing something for Diaghilev and so it just seemed to fall into place. I loved Andy’s music but it didn’t seem to work so well for one person and yet it is perfect for parts two and three and sits very well alongside the Satie compositions.

!! Where and when will AfterLight be performed? **We have two nights at Sadler’s Wells (28 & 29 September) and then it tours before Christmas and we pick it up again in the spring to run through 2011.

The next piece that I premiere with the company will probably be in 2012 and we are planning that now. I have an idea, which will continue the thematic of working with pictorial images that wash over us in the studio – we all really loved that choreographic process and I’m keen to use it as another beginning.

Following the success of Eonnagata (a work with Sylvie Guillem and Robert Lepage about the Chevalier d’Eon) have you any plans to work on other new projects outside of the company? **I’m working on something with Sylvie and Nicholas Le Riche to premiere at Sadler’s Wells in July 2011. We have done a fortnight’s work on it but we don’t meet again until March 2011. The basic ideas are embedded and Michael and I are now discussing them and I’ve tried some things with the music, which has changed what we think about the lighting that might juxtapose it

*Would you agree that the seamless relationship between choreography and light in your work is due to an intuitive understanding between yourself and Michael? * **We have made so much work together that we have a mutual, instinctive understanding about how things should be – we were just making changes to AfterLight and I’d think “this should be a second and a half” and he had already thought it before I said it. We’re on exactly the same wavelength with an aesthetic that crosses over. Actually, when it doesn’t cross over it is even more exciting because we look at things in a different way that can be refreshing and will inform the process. Whichever of us envisages it differently, it often provides the path of transition to the next set of ideas.

Michael’s light sculpts the body as much as I sculpt the body with movement. We both enjoy finding where the points of lighting and movement meet and – in a way – that’s our language. I’m not a choreographer in a traditional sense; I’m somewhere between choreography and sculpture in my way of thinking about the process – and the same could be said of Michael. He’s adding dimensions in the sculptural approach to space. I’m really lucky to have found him at the point we did and we have grown together.

See Afterlight at Sadler’s Wells, 28 & 29 September 2010
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