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.

Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch, “…como el musguito en la piedra…”

Posted: February 17th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch, “…como el musguito en la piedra…”

Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch, “…como el musguito…”, Sadler’s Wells, February 13

Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch in "...como el musguito..." (photo: Laurent Philippe)

Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch in “…como el musguito…” (photo: Laurent Philippe)

To judge…como el musguito en la pedra, ay, si, si, si… as the last work of Pina Bausch would be to take advantage of history. Bausch was not aware this was going to be her last work; she died on June 30, 2009, five days after being diagnosed with cancer and just 18 days after its première. “…como el musguito…” is a continuation of a series of works Bausch made in response to the culture of a particular city or country to which she and her company had been invited; this one is based on a visit to Chile. It is a happy, smiling work that touches on a joie de vivre that is lighter in tone than many of Bausch’s previous works. Peter Pabst’s conception of the stage as a large expanse of white floor curtained in black provides a vast, uncluttered space of light in which the vibrant colours of Marion Cito’s costumes for the women create a joyous vitality. The memories of Chile and its music seem to have suggested more tanz than theater; each of the sixteen members of the cast reveals him or herself through a solo though there are similarities between them, hints of gesture in boneless arms wrapping enigmatically around a liquid torso. The women’s long hair is integral to their dance, blurring and extending body lines in unimaginably sensual ways; Ditta Miranda Jasfi is the consummate example and her ebullience pops up undiminished throughout the work. This brightness and play is offset by symbolic reminders of the darker elements of Chile’s political past, through men chasing each other across the stage or hurtling around it, by the use of ropes for aerial escape as well as for restraint, and a rape scene where a women in white is passed roughly between seven men. But the underlying menace has an aesthetic overlay that plays shock on a minor scale. The result is a work that has all the visual elements of Bausch that run together a little too easily. I have never subscribed to the notion of a Bausch work being too long or needing editing; each is rich in detail that has been distilled within her imagination from a multitude of impressions and connections and extracted through the bodies and minds of her dancers. That is not a formula for conciseness and it is not the problem with “…como el musguito…”. The problem is a gradual but inevitable dilution of the work because that extraordinary imagination is no longer present.

Bausch famously stated in an interview with Jochen Schmidt that she was not interested in how people move but in what moves them. The unique reputation of her company rests not only on her choreographic and theatrical imagination but on the quality of the artists she has trained. She built up the stature of her dancers from the inside out so they could convey even the smallest gestures with the exaggerated clarity of thought and feeling. This is her legacy as much as the choreography she or her dancers produced, but it is a legacy that, unlike the steps, cannot be maintained in its entirety without her alchemic presence and guidance. This is both the strength and the weakness of Tanztheater Wuppertal: the genius who produced such great work also produced a company of artists dependent on her genius.

This evening’s cast of “…como el musguito…” is, with one exception, the original, so the dilution I sense in the work is not a question of new artists taking over others’ roles, though this is what is happening in the company for older productions in the repertoire. One of the strengths of the company — and what has allowed it to continue performing Bausch’s works — is that many dancers who worked closely with Bausch (there was evidently no other way to work) have remained in the company either as performers or as rehearsal directors. But however experienced, they are interpreters rather than the inspiration and interpreters need the constant probing and the gaze of the creator for their artistry to evolve.

Inevitably Bausch’s works will suffer further from the impossibility of maintaining their former brilliance and balance despite the fact that audiences will still want to see them and tours will remain financially viable. In a Financial Times podcast in 2012, at the time of the landmark Ten Cities project, Sadler’s Wells artistic director, Alistair Spalding, thought the company could survive in its present form ‘another 5 or 10 years’. Tanztheater Wuppertal has evidently been thinking along the same timeline. Next year, eight years after Bausch’s death, a new ‘intendant’ appointed from the outside, Adolphe Binder, will take over the reins of the company. Her unenviable but vital task will be to safeguard the integrity of Bausch’s performance legacy and to engage this extraordinary artist-led collaborative in new repertoire.