People: One Minute with Chantry Dance Company
In December last year, I had the privilege of taking a sneaky look behind the scenes of the Chantry Dance Company and one of the most talked about tours of 2014, OUT OF BOUNDS.
Can you tell me a little bit about the company and how it was set up?
Chantry Dance Company is a Theatrical Contemporary Ballet Company founded in May 2012 by co-Artistic Directors and co-choreographers Paul Chantry and Rae Piper. The company’s mission is to explore how dance can operate as a redemptive and inclusive art-form, and how participants might claim freedom through it. Chantry Dance Company is made up of a professional performance company, an education department and an outreach department - all three strands have equal weight in realising our mission.
Your latest project is the 'OUT OF BOUNDS' tour. Can you tell me a bit about how it started? In February 2013 we had a foggy plan, but a big passion to create a mixed bill to for a small-scale tour. After conceiving the pieces we wanted to create, we contacted some theatres, and to our delight were able to secure performances in four venues. For our company’s first tour and with only two of us working full time at it, this was enough to handle!
What was the rehearsal process like? OUT OF BOUNDS was in rehearsal for 13 weeks in total (about three months): four weeks on ‘All I Can Do is Be Me’, three weeks on ‘ad fidem’ (following a previous two weeks of research and development work earlier in the year), two weeks on ‘404-nt found’, one week on ‘Singing Day’, and another one week of full programme rehearsal. There were also countless hours of work outside the rehearsal process, including time spent devising the concepts, costuming the pieces, designing flyers and posters, and our wonderful composer Rob Logan creating music, and Owain Davies (our lighting designer) creating the light design.
What was your motivation for the creation of the tour? When we conceived OUT OF BOUNDS, we wanted to create a programme that would be both accessible and entertaining without compromising a high technical standard in the dance performance. By choosing diverse material such as a ballet set to Bob Dylan’s music, a comedy romantic duet about the internet, and a solo open to audience interpretation to Philip Glass’ music, we aimed to present a very varied programme, which had something for everyone in it.
This effort paid off when we analysed our audiences and found that they ranged in age from seven years to pensionable age, and also included a significant number of people who had never been to see dance in theatre of any kind – much less contemporary. We also received some wonderful feedback from audience members saying how much they liked the variety of material. We also heard how those people who had not seen contemporary before and came to the theatre expecting not to enjoy themselves, found completely the opposite and would certainly come again, and also go to watch more dance-based theatre (not just ours). This was all fantastic news, as it is part of our mission to broaden dance audiences in theatre.
Can you explain in a bit more detail about the ideas you explored in the piece 'ad fidem', and why you chose this? Both Paul and myself had spent a long time discussing the differences between creating choreography for your own company, and creating commissioned work. The point that we kept coming back to was that work you created for your own company could really focus on a topic that you were passionate about and was personal to you, therefore you started creating from a place of deep understanding and appreciation.
The topic most important to Paul was the concept of a ‘journey to faith’. We chose the title ‘ad fidem’ from the Latin meaning ‘towards faith/trust’. We felt that there was a lot in this topic which would be relevant to everyone, regardless of whether they had a religious faith or not. A ‘journey to faith’ can of course refer to many different types of faith – faith in oneself, faith in a relationship, faith in a better world etc. We discussed the concept of a ‘journey to faith’ at length with our dancers, and we found that whatever your understanding of the word ‘faith’, each person’s individual journey towards it followed a similar pathway. The pathway generally involved firstly a period of doubt and inner turmoil, followed by a period of acceptance (fragile at first, but then strengthening), and finally returning to the place in which you were and facing the same issues but being able to deal with them from a different perspective and with a greater strength. We felt this pathway was a difficult and sometimes violent one, almost as if one’s mind becomes a battlefield between faith and doubt. This lead us to decide to depict the pathway as a literal battlefield, with the dancers as soldiers. They fought firstly against internal problems, which was shown by the dancers fighting amongst themselves. Then after taking the leap of faith, they fought again, but this time in a unified manner against external problems.
Paul wrote three poems based on these three stages concerning his personal journey to a faith in God. He then gave the poems to Robert Logan, who composed a 20 minute piece in response to the poems. Paul then used the music to create the choreography. Paul did not let the dancers read the poems, since he wanted them to come to the piece with their own understanding of a journey to faith, and allow that individuality to colour the choreography.
A huge thankyou to Chantry Dance Company and Rae Piper for their time. Come and see the life changing, Chantry Dance Company perform in 2014. For more details visit chantrydancecompany.org or @chantrydance
- Image Credit: Mark Parvin