A preview of Swallowsfeet Festival

Posted: March 12th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Interview | Tags: , , | Comments Off on A preview of Swallowsfeet Festival

Swallowsfeet Festival, The Old Market, Hove, March 24-25

Swallowsfeet Festival promotional image (photo: Paul Seaby)

This article first appeared in the March edition of the magazine, Viva Brighton, who commissioned it. It appears here with the editor’s kind permission.

Billed as Brighton’s only platform for international contemporary dance in a city that hosts England’s largest arts festival, Swallowsfeet Festival embodies a culture of spirited resistance to the status quo. If one takes New York’s Judson Dance Theatre collective in the sixties as a point of departure, spirited resistance is what guides much of contemporary dance and since it uses the body as its primary instrument, its arguments are a form of physical discourse.

When Swallowsfeet Festival presents its program at the Old Market theatre on March 24 and 25, it will be celebrating its fifth outing. Some of the planned activities around the weekend have had to be put on hold following the failure of an Arts Council funding bid but the core program remains intact thanks to the pluck and conviction of the six-member Swallowsfeet Collective: Jessica Miller, Rosa Firbank, Jessica Léa Haener, Sivan Rubinstein, Gordon Raeburn and Harriet Parker-Beldeau.

They all met while studying contemporary dance at Laban Conservatory of Music and Dance in London but it was Miller who first grounded the performances of the collective in her native Brighton as an outlet for a group of Laban students to present their final works to an audience of friends and family. Just four years later the open callout for the 2017 festival has produced 280 proposals from 39 countries which the Collective has distilled to a program of nine works in the image of Brighton itself: edgy, diverse, challenging, and engaging.

Having narrowed down its 280 proposals, the Swallowsfeet Collective decided to include in the festival those that had, in the vocabulary of the physical, the possibility of the greatest impact on its audience, and the focus of these nine works coalesces around four predominantly physical themes: sexuality, gender, health and identity. At its best, contemporary dance picks up on issues of its time and transforms them through the body as voice.

Ironically, one of the works on the program, Joe Garbett’s No.Company, was conceived as a reaction to funding cuts for the arts. First shown at Emerge Festival in London, six choreographers in six different locations sent movement ideas, images and suggestions via text message to the two performers who then spent only two days in a borrowed space putting it all together. This is unheard of in the current funding matrix of rehearsal time and studio rental, but the result was fresh, immediate and magical. For Swallowsfeet Festival, Garbett is using a different score of text messages and is inviting two couples to interpret and perform two separate works from it; like musical improvisations, they will never be repeated. It might sound like a choreographic manifestation of a throwaway society, but the impression No.Company made when I first saw it was profound. It is this ability of contemporary dance to make the body speak, whisper and shout that has driven the Swallowsfeet Collective’s choice of all nine works on the program in March.

To book tickets for Swallowsfeet Festival and find out more about the events, go to

www.swallowsfeet.com/2017programme/


Do not go gentle, an interview with Debbie Lee-Anthony and Lauren Anthony

Posted: January 17th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Interview | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Do not go gentle, an interview with Debbie Lee-Anthony and Lauren Anthony

Do Not Go Gentle, an interview with Debbie Lee-Anthony and Lauren Anthony

Debbie Lee-Anthony and Lauren Anthony (photo: Bailey HYT)

Dylan Thomas’s poem Do not go gentle into that good night was addressed to the poet’s father, encouraging him to ‘fight against the dying of the light.’ It is a poem that focuses intimately on family but at the same time serves as an affirmation of life. When Debbie Lee-Anthony wanted to create a work to celebrate the life of her sister-in-law, Kath Posner, whom she had recently lost to cancer, she discovered her favourite poem had been Thomas’s famous villanelle. Debbie and her daughter, Lauren Anthony, decided to work together to weave a choreographic response to Thomas’s words. Adding to the work’s emotional complexity, the score is by Debbie’s brother, Hamilton Lee, who as Hamid Mantu of Transglobal Underground is a percussionist and composer in his own right. The first time he will see the work dedicated to his late wife will be at The Place on January 31st as part of Resolution 2017.

Debbie graduated from The London School of Contemporary Dance in 1982 and made a career as a freelance dancer and teacher. After becoming Senior Lecturer in Choreography and Dance at the University of Winchester she has recently returned to life as a freelance dance artist while teaching part-time at the University. Lauren graduated from Middlesex University two years ago with a first class degree in dance studies, and is currently a member of a hip hop dance company, The Rebirth Network. It was when she saw her mother perform Threshold at GoLive in 2015 that she saw the possibilities of performing with her. Do Not Go Gentle is the first time mother and daughter have performed together under the company name Mater-Filia.

Having created mainly solo works for the last five years, Debbie began by creating her own material to the poem which she then showed to her daughter. Lauren learned the material and sampled it with her acquired blend of hip hop and contemporary technique. They developed material as they went along, inciting each other with their different approaches and abilities and using the infrequent rehearsal time to catch up and comfort each other as much as to push the boundaries of the work. While Debbie was inspired by the words and the spaces between them, Lauren focused on the rhythms of the verse, but what constantly brought them together was the spirit of the piece. Both have collaborated closely with Mantu in his creation of the score which contains a sampling of the poem read by Anthony Hopkins; if Lauren wanted a little grunge beat in there for her solo, or if Debbie needed an additional softness or a slowness, Mantu was able to oblige. The project has thus grown organically around the celebration of life, for while Do not go gentle is dedicated to Kath Posner’s memory, it is not expressly about her; like the poem it is an ever-present rage against time.

If the creative circumstances of this work are not rich enough, there is another aspect that is integral to it. As an academic, Debbie has for many years written about ageing and the mature dancer. In retrospect, her publications such as Age, Agility and Anxiety (2007), and Conflict, Content and Context in the ageing body (2008) serve as a theoretical underpinning of her current experience in Do Not Go Gentle, and a paper she wrote on Sharing the dance through the lived body (2010) perfectly describes what she brings to the stage. Apart from managing the physical challenges, her greatest fear is not remembering, but because of that she goes over and over the material in between rehearsals. Now the work is finished she is feeling happier; the structure is secure and she and Lauren can use the remaining rehearsals to inhabit it fully, constantly challenging time until the stage lights die at the end of the performance.

For tickets and information: Resolution 2017 website


An Interview with Wang Ramirez

Posted: October 11th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Interview | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on An Interview with Wang Ramirez

An interview with Wang Ramirez

Wang Ramirez (photo: Filine Fink)

Honji Wang and Sébastien Ramirez (photo: Filine Fink)

Sadler’s Wells is continuing to expand its remit, for the first time co-producing an event at The Royal Albert Hall on November 2: musician Nitin Sawhney, an associate artist at Sadler’s Wells, is performing takes from his most recent album, Dystopian Dream accompanied by singer Joss Stone and other guests. Already known in dance circles for his compositions for Akram Khan (Vertical Road, Zero Degrees, ITMOi and Bahok), Sawhney’s event will feature dance by the Wang Ramirez duo in their first appearance at The Royal Albert Hall. Honji Wang has already danced with Khan — so many roads lead to and from Khan, another Sadler’s Wells associate artist — but in her partnership with Sébastien Ramirez she has performed with flamenco dancer Rocío Molina, in hip hop, and for the Rebel Heart Tour with Madonna for which Ramirez provided choreography.

Wang was born of Korean parents in Germany. She studied gymnastics, classical ballet and hip hop with a flavour of martial arts. Ramirez is a French b-boy of Spanish origin who shares with Wang a start in gymnastics and a love of martial arts, with further interests in capoeira, boxing and Brazilian jujitsu. His career was already under way when he met Wang in 2004 at a freestyle event in Berlin. With their cultural identities and complementary dance forms already intermixed, the duo has openly searched for ways to cross-fertilize with other styles and traditions. Performing to the music of Sawhney is a continuation of that path.

“We are always experimenting with our way of dancing, moving, and creating together,” says Ramirez in conversation. “What it means to do certain moves with a certain intention, how this will be seen and understood by the audience…So we constantly search to develop the techniques we have mastered into a new growth that becomes our own form. It’s a life of exploring and it keeps us constantly moving…”

Wang uses an imaginative image to describe her approach to artists working in different styles: “I’m extremely nosy to experience their cocoon; I want to enter like a little mouse and see what they see.” Perhaps it is this willingness to see through the eyes of others that makes Wang Ramirez collaborations so seamless. When I saw her dance with Khan last year Wang remained faithful to her own dance but complemented Khan in her power and fluidity.

When she first heard Sawhney’s song, Homelands, Wang remembers, “I loved that sound, but for me he was an artist who was far away from where I was; I was just 16 and didn’t know what the hell was going to happen with my life. Later on when I heard his music again in performances of Akram Khan I was always thinking the music is such a great mix of something ethnic with massive beats and rhythms. So when we got a call from Sadler’s Wells to ask if the collaboration with Nitin would interest us, we thought, yes, of course.”

Ramirez describes the process of creation: “We always want to get as close as possible to strong emotions by using body movement, dance, visuals, and technology…having met Nitin in his studio and after listening to the music, we enjoyed exchanging ideas and concepts right away; it came very naturally and a it’s project we are excited to work on. The way we will prepare is a spontaneous process between each of us around lots of discussion and emotional statements that we will relate to our choreography and graphics.”

Whatever the outcome on November 2, Wang Ramirez will not simply accompany Sawhney’s music; they are catalysts who will transform it through their own alchemy while letting the music transform them. That’s after all the true nature of an artistic collaboration.

Wednesday 2 November 2016 at 7.30pm
Royal Albert Hall, SW7
Tickets: £25 – £60
Ticket Office: 020 7589 8212 or www.royalalberthall.com / 020 7863 8000 or www.sadlerswells.com


An interview with Marc Brew

Posted: March 4th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Interview | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on An interview with Marc Brew

An interview with Marc Brew

Marc Brew (photo: Andy Ross)

Marc Brew (photo: Andy Ross)

How does a dancer in the formative stages of his performing career deal with an accident that leaves him paralysed from the chest down? Marc Brew had trained at Victorian College of the Arts Secondary School in Melbourne, then at the Australian Ballet School where he performed as an extra in Australian Ballet productions. His first professional engagement at the age of 18 was with P.A.C.T. Ballet in South Africa but it was there that he was involved in a car accident in which three of his friends were killed. Waking up in hospital with a white sheet over his body he learned that his spinal chord injury at C6/C7 meant he would never again have the use of his legs. “At first I was in denial. I thought, just get me back to Australia and into the gym again and I will be fine,” he laughs. Initially he was not able to move his hands but a lot of muscle strength came back to his shoulders and arms. Rehabilitation proved to be a whole identity shift. “I had to reassess what a dancer was. For me a dancer had to be on his legs, turned out in the hips. I had to stop looking in the mirror.” Brew had a lot of friends who wanted to get him back into a studio. In class one day a couple of dancers in New York came across a young woman who rolled into the studio in her wheelchair. “They jumped on her,” laughs Brew, “and told her all about me.” This was Kitty Lunn, whose career had been similarly interrupted after breaking her back in a fall. As she later wrote, “What I learned was that the dancer inside me didn’t know or care that I was using a wheelchair, she just wanted to keep dancing.” This was the kind of encouragement Brew needed and he travelled to New York to work with her and the company she founded, Infinity Dance. “I had to find a way to translate and adapt my former technique to my present body,” he recalls. “A year after the accident I was still thinking what my legs and feet would be doing.” However, the chair work, floor work and contact improvisation he worked on led him down the path of contemporary dance. Since then Brew has been dancing, choreographing, teaching and speaking around the world.

Brew had always been encouraged to choreograph since his school days. Within two years of his accident he was back in a studio creating and teaching and he hasn’t stopped. “I feel I have come full circle in regard to my practice. Before my accident I set work from my own body but after it my work was more task based. Now I am going back to generating my own material. I teach it to dancers and see what they do with it; then I direct it to bring it all together…My disability has helped inform the way I work…It was strange to work recently with Scottish Ballet. Instead of giving directions for the legs, I would give them upper body directions and let them sort out what they would have to do with their feet… All my ballet training is still there. It’s in my arms. Line, placement and shapes are still there. I just have to find new ways of exploring movement.”

In 2008 Brew created Remember When, the first work of a planned trilogy and at Sadler’s Wells in March he will present the second part, For Now, I Am. Introducing the personal pronoun into the latter title suggests a change in his attitude towards his disability. “I have reached a point of acceptance, which for me means being whole. I love my body as it is now. This is the first time in 18 years that I am showing my body, allowing people to explore it as if it were being examined on the hospital table. I am giving permission to everyone to explore.” Brew started the creative process wanting to explore the notion of being broken. He analysed his body by looking once again in the mirror, coming to terms with being both broken and becoming whole. Through Jamie Wardrop’s video projections, Andy Hamer’s lighting design and Claire McCue’s musical score he uses the analogy of water as an element of ritual cleansing. He also uses X-rays and scans to map his accident, finding a new freedom in working through those painful memories. “With rehearsal director Ruth Mills, I am able to talk about it now. I feel I am moving through it, like a chrysalis being born…Acquiring a disability is different from being born with a disability. Before the accident I was Marc and I still am. I am comfortable with having a disability; I claim ownership over it… Disability creates different possibilities. I hope other people see it in the same way. That’s what I find difficult, how other people view disability…It’s great that Sadler’s Wells is supporting my work and finding ways of communicating the human condition to the audience.”

What about the third part of the trilogy? Brew smiles. “I have some ideas. Maybe the last performance will be my funeral.” More laughs. “You’ve got to have a sense of humour.”

For Now, I Am is at Lilian Baylis Studio at Sadler’s Wells on Thursday 10 and Friday 11 March before embarking on a national tour. The evening is a dual presentation of movement and words, illuminating distinctive artistic practice, entitled Dance & Dialogue. On Thursday 10 March, renowned percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie and Marc Brew compare creating, performing, and collaborating in their respective art forms. On Friday 11 March, Alistair Spalding, Sadler’s Wells’ Artistic Director and Chief Executive, will be in conversation with Marc Brew on creating dance that reflects life experience.


Subathra Subramaniam

Posted: October 8th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Interview | Tags: | Comments Off on Subathra Subramaniam
Subathra Subramaniam   photo: Simon Richardson

Subathra Subramaniam photo: Simon Richardson

This interview, commissioned by Pulse Magazine, was published in its September edition. It is reprinted here with the editor’s kind permission. 

Like two tributaries that feed into a great river, Subathra Subramaniam’s paths of science and dance feed into the work she has been creating since she started Sadhana Dance in 2009. She has danced since the age of seven when she was still living in Malaysia and later found her guru – Prakash Yadagudde – in 1988 at the Bhavan Centre after her family had moved to London. Dance in the classical form of bharatanatyam was always her passion but she never considered dance as a career. Subramaniam wanted to be a doctor.

While studying medical biochemistry at King’s College, London, she continued to dance with Shri Prakash and it was there she met Mayuri Boonham with whom she was to form Angika Dance in 1997. Following her degree, she spent two years dancing with various companies but the current of science flowed continuously and in the early years of Angika she studied for a PGCE to become a science teacher and taught science in secondary schools for five years. When Angika became successful, however, something had to give and it was the teaching. The company continued until it was folded in 2008 but the work Subramaniam co-created in that decade – deeply rooted in the bharatanatyam form but based on a desire to push its boundaries from within its own aesthetic tradition – honed the formal basis of her dance style.

After the break, Subramaniam knew that she still wanted to work within the form, but to make dance that was fundamentally important to her, something that would answer the essential question: why do I make dance? It was at this point that the two streams of her life fused: she began to make work that reflected the way the world works based on scientific concepts that asked questions to make us think.

Sadhana derives from the Sanskrit word for the pursuit of a spiritual goal, combining perfection of execution with study and reflection. Subramaniam’s methodology has evolved accordingly, employing rigorous research, immersing her dancers in the subject and finding new ways to generate appropriate movement material. Her first work, The Shiver, was born out of her experiences on five expeditions to the Arctic with Cape Farewell, an organization that parallels Subramaniam’s goals in bringing scientists and artists together to look at the environmental impact of human activity. Her first expedition was in 2003 and she subsequently undertook the role of co-director of educational activities for the organization. When she later met Lemn Sissay, who had made a radio documentary called The Shiver — and whom she subsequently commissioned to write the text for her piece — she discovered he, too, had been on a Cape Farewell expedition. She spent a year as artist-in-residence at the Environment Institute at University College, London, and a period of time observing the activities of the NGO, WaterAid, in India before creating Elixir, and her latest work, Under My Skin, entailed months of research working with surgeon Roger Kneebone both in the studio and on simulations of surgical operations, and spending two days in the operating theatre observing not only the actions of the surgical team but the relationship of trust between the surgeon, the anaesthetist, the scrub nurse, the assistants and the patient. ‘I am capturing their movements in dance, not simply describing what happens in an operating theatre… I feel I am starting to find a movement language that engages with subjects like surgery without being too literal and without being so abstract as to distill down the concept to a point where it is unrecognizable. Under My Skin is a way in to the subject, not the subject itself.’

She insists she is not trying to teach: ‘I don’t want dance to be educational; I want to create good work, interesting work, work that people can enjoy aesthetically’, though she insists that ‘dance has a role to play in the public engagement of science’. To prove the point, Under My Skin was the first dance performance presented at the Cheltenham Science Festival and she presented Elixir in Sofia, Bulgaria, to a sold-out audience that was interested primarily in the science.

Subramaniam surrounds herself with a team of collaborators with whom she has built up a relationship of trust over the last three productions: Kathy Hinde and Matthew Olden on music and projections, Kate Rigby on costumes and Aideen Malone on lighting design. She feels fortunate as not only do they all understand her aims, but, as she says, ‘good art comes from good collaborations’. Another part of her team with whom Subramaniam shares a special relationship is Quentin Cooper, her husband, whose interests closely correspond to her own. He is best known as the presenter of Radio 4’s former science program, The Material World, but was at one time a film critic and a reviewer of dance and puppetry for The Stage before he produced Kaleidoscope, the BBC Radio 4 program for arts and science. He and Subramaniam met at the launch of a Cape Farewell voyage at the Royal Society for the promotion of Arts. Cooper often chairs the post-show talk – called appropriately a Café Scientifique – at Sadhana Dance performances, stimulating discussion of both dance and science with characteristic enthusiasm.

Subramaniam is currently working on the early stages of a new piece as part of The Place’s Choreodrome project. Her research will involve spending an extended period of time working with psychiatrists, neuroscientists, therapists and patients at the Child and Adolescent Unit at the Maudsley Hospital in London. She was recently in the studio at The Place exploring the bharatanatyam form ‘to see if it has another way into tackling the subject in terms of its abhinaya, or expressive element’. This parallel way of creating dance allows her to channel all her experience into each work. ‘If you just want to come and see the dance, that’s what I am passionate about: making dance and making dance work. But I am equally passionate about making dance on science-related subjects.’

Under My Skin will be performed at The Hat Factory on October 15 at 7:30pm, and at The Place on Friday 18 and Saturday 19 October at 8pm with a Café Scientifique and a series of events around the theme of surgery and the arts. Under My Skin is also touring in the spring of 2014. For more details visit Sadhana Dance.