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[ENG] Transcript - Full Interview with Wayne McGregor


Photo by Cheung Chi Wai

Date: 15 Oct 2015

TB: Tom Brown @dance journal

WMcG: Wayne McGregor

TB You’ve directed and choreographed for your own company, Random Dance since 1992 and in 2006 you were the first modern dance choreographer to be appointed as Resident Choreographer of the Royal Ballet. Could you talk about the highlights and challenges, similarities and differences of your work with both companies?

WMcG I started my company young, just because I felt a need to do it, it felt like a bit of youthful arrogance in a way because now I realize all of the people I would have wanted to work with and subsequently met, people like Merce (Cunningham) whom I would have loved to work with. In those days in the early 1990s, the UK was really supporting young artists to make their own work, which was really quite rare. So, they were finding funding structures to be able to support young choreographers to form their own companies and have their own vision. So it was part context and part a desire that married up, now it’s much harder for young companies in the UK. That was a highlight itself that the structure of UK arts to championed these young artists in making and I think it is part of the aspiration here (in Hong Kong).

That was a real highlight, the beginning of that (Random Dance). Then I became the first residential choreographer of The Place, which is an experimental theatre in London, who hadn’t trained there, who hadn’t come from the London Contemporary Dance School. So I’ve always been an outsider in these organizations – I’ve kind of had a career in that.

I never imagined making ballets. It wasn’t on my list of things to do, and it was only because I started to work with some ballet dancers who had seen my work and wanted to try it. So one of the first ballerinas I worked with was an Italy, an amazing dancer, Viviana Durante, who was one of our greatest ballerinas [Principal Dancer of the Royal Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, Teatro all Scala, K-Ballet (Japan)]. I made a piece for her and that started to generate traction in ballet. And it just worked. There was something interesting about [the] synergy that the Royal Ballet liked and the audiences liked. And already, next year we’re having my 10th anniversary and we’re doing a big celebration around my first 10 years with the opera house.

TB There is a difference between the Random dance work and the Ballet work, could you talk about that.

WMcG I think they are different because the bodies have been trained differently. What I’m always interested in is what is the history of a body. So one of the reasons I have such a multi-cultural company is because I’m interested in what their physical histories are because their physical histories can’t help but imprint themselves on the things you make. The way in which they think imprints themselves on what you make and I think [if] you have an amazing diversity in the group; you’ve got an amazing chance for diversity in the work. That for me leads to more innovative practice. I think you can’t stereotype ballet companies as a thing. I think we tend to say the Maryinsky, the Bolshoi, the Paris Opera, the Royal Ballet; these are all companies I’ve worked in. But all of those large organizations are made up of individuals. Some of these individuals are more curious than others. Some of them have a feeling for the work, some of them don’t. Some of them have more of a feeling for Balanchine than they do for Forsythe. Some of them have a feeling for both. Some of them are super-versatile. All of these ballet companies, the Royal Ballet included, are very multi-cultural.

The Royal Ballet has dancers from 14 nationalities. It’s got people from all over the world. It’s not got a system in which only the people from the Royal Ballet School go into the company and so again you get innovative and open practice. But the difference is that you are working with different people. So even if I were working with Shobana Jeyasingh and doing a bharatanatyam inspired work, you’re working always with individuals, and what’s important about that choreography is the energy transfer between people, and that’s what actually makes the work. Now because I’ve been at the Royal Ballet for a while, I’ve worked with some dancers who have done a lot of my work. Actually, Edward Watson, who’s a dancer of the Royal Ballet has done more of my works than anyone else’s, which is interesting, an interesting conversion point. But the difference is, with your own company it’s more like an experimental lab where you can do a lot of improvisation, a lot of co-authoring, a lot of stuff where you’re making the thing together. Whereas, with a ballet company, partly because how time is structured, you’re doing more of the making. You’re literally either making a thing, showing or doing, or working with bodies and objects to think with. But you’ve got an hour to do something really incredible with Natalia Osipova before she goes off to do Giselle. You don’t have time to prime it with improvisation, you really don’t.

TB To stage a work on the Royal Ballet, how much time are you given?

WMcG It depends; it’s usually about five weeks for about three hours a day. But then, you wouldn’t get Natalia Osipova for three hours a day. So it depends, there’s a whole kind of practical and logistical issue around making work. We’re trying to change though, right.

TB Well, we are too.

WMcG We’re working hard at it. I’m about to go to make a new piece [Alea Sands, for eight dancers] at the Paris Opera with Pierre Boulez, who’s going to be 90 and Haroon Mirza. There, I’ve got a group of dancers, and this is common in Paris, where you get the dancers the whole time. So I can work for, in this case it’s for five weeks, it’s a half-hour piece, but I have all of the dancers, all of the time. So if I wanted them for 6 hours at a time, I could get them for 6 hours at a time. And they don’t do anything else [during the rehearsal period]. It’s an interesting model; it’s just a different model. The San Francisco Ballet, for example, you get your group of dancers, all of them, for the whole three hours, the whole time you’re there, but you get not more time, that’s the time you get. So, in a way it’s a logistical balance with a creative balance. But that’s interesting because it’s a constraint, and constraints are important. Otherwise you just have that really fat structure where people are indulged in having as much time as they like. I like the discipline of it.

TB It was actually one of my questions that the choreographers here don’t feel that they have enough time to make the kind of work that they want to.

WMcG Well we never have enough time. Aaron Copland said this brilliant thing around, you don’t finish a piece, you abandon it. I partly think that. W