Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Exclusive interview with Alexander Whitley nominated for the Times Breakthrough Award, South Bank Sky Arts Awards



Watch out for this amazing new talent! Alexander Whitley, is Affiliate Choreographer of The Royal Ballet and Associate Artist of Sadler's Wells Theatre. He has just been nominated for The Times Breakthrough Award 2014 as part of the prestigious South Bank Sky Arts Awards 2014. 

Described by The Observer's dance critic, Luke Jennings as, 'A choreographer of quiet distinction,' Alexander is one of the UK's most exciting young choreographers. His new dance company, which will launch in 2014 has recently been invited to be an Associate Company of Rambert's new home on the Southbank and next Spring sees the premiere of his first full-length evening of work at The Royal Opera House's Linbury Theatre (15th/16th May 2014). Other commissions for 2014 include those for Ballet Boyz, Birmingham Royal Ballet and The Royal Ballet School. Alex is also currently working on a short film for Channel 4. In 2015 he will choreograph a new work for Rambert as part of their spring programme.

Art is Alive catches up with him on his nomination, his upcoming projects and his inspiration. 

Congratulations for the nomination, does it come as a surprise?
Yes, absolutely. It’s always a pleasant surprise to be nominated for an award but this one is especially nice because of the profile of the South Bank awards and the recognition within the field of dance.

Can you tell us more about your new dance company please: when exactly will it launch, how many dancers will be part of it?
I’ve been setting the foundations of my company over the last year with a couple of short projects and 2014 will see the premiere of my first full length work, The Measures Taken, commissioned by the Royal Opera House as well as a shorter work commissioned by Sadler’s Wells. I’ve brought together five very talented dancers to work with and although it’s still early days I have high hopes for the company to be an experimental platform for me to collaborate with artists and thinkers from a wide range of disciplines to explore dance and the human form in innovative ways. 




Are you working on a show at the moment and what is it about?
I’ve been developing a piece called The Measures Taken over the last year and will finish the creation of this in the spring of 2014 with the world premiere in Paris in April. The piece is a collaboration with digital arts studio Marshmallow Laser Feast with music by  Dutch electronic composer Rutger Zuydervelt exploring the role of technology in society and our interdependent relationship with it. It’s an ambitious piece that incorporates cutting edge motion tracking technology so that projected images can be generated in real-time by the dancers movements.

What is the Rambert show about and is the architecture of the new building impacting the choreography?
My commission for Rambert will be made at the beginning of 2015. I’m still in the relatively early stages of planning for this but am excited about the collaborative team I’m assembling for it. I’m hoping to work with Icelandic composer Daniel Bjarnason and design artists Revital Cohen and Tuur Van Balen to explore something of the relationship between the body and designed objects. Although the architecture of Rambert’s new building isn’t inspiration for the piece, there’s inevitably some impact it will have on it as I think the particular architecture of a space has an affect on how people move and operate within it, however unconscious or subtle this may be. The question of the body, it’s form and the potential extension or adaptation of this through design is in some ways related to an architectural perspective on human movement I think.

Who are you most inspired by?
There are several choreographers who have been an inspiration to me and have mentored me over the years. Jonathan Burrows has been a fantastic influence in broadening my understanding of what choreography is and what kind of questions to ask of it. Wayne McGregor has also had a strong impact on how I conceive of the body, movement and its relation to thought processes, as has William Forsythe who’s work I have admired for a long time. I’m also inspired by people outside of dance in philosophy and other areas of thinking. I've found that looking outside of of a field I am so familiar with brings fresh perspectives and keeps my interest in it invigorated and increasing curious.



How do you feel about today's British contemporary choreography?
I think it’s an exciting time for British choreography despite the obvious concerns about funding cuts. Dance seems to be more popular than ever with theatre-going audiences and there’s lots of good work being produced. There’s been quite a strong legacy of the New York modern dance scene here in the UK with the style of choreographers such as Merce Cunningham being very influential, but this seems to be changing with new influential styles emerging. I’m most excited by how dance in the UK is increasingly integrating with other art forms and schools of thought as traditional boundaries are broken down and methodologies and creative processes are opened up. I think this is helping people better engage with and understand dance, most notably the choreographers themselves. For too long choreography has been a process shrouded in mystery and the more that is done to develop a serious discourse around the subject, for example in Wayne McGregor’s research with cognitive scientists, the more it can be understood and taken seriously. Britain, fortunately, seems to be at the forefront of this trend.

Tell us about the Channel 4 show
The Channel 4 film is a three minute dance film for the Random Acts series, commissioned by the Ballet Boyz. I’ve made it in collaboration with DuckEye films, with whom I’ve worked on other short films in the past. The film is a duet for a dancer from my company - Marina Hernandez and a dancer from the Ballet Boyz - Leon Poulton. It was shot with a remote control quadcopter flying around and above the dancers so should offer some interesting perspectives on the choreography! It will be aired sometime in 2014.

Is contemporary art an inspiration and which artists do you like?
I enjoy contemporary art a lot but couldn’t say I’ve ever been inspired by a particular art work to make a piece of dance, as other choreographers may have been. I’ve been drawn to the work of modernists such as Josef Albers because of the geometric abstraction that has clear parallels with choreography. Something of the distortion of the human form in Francis Bacon’s work is also appealing. It’s hard to say which artists in particular I like as I’m generally curious about and sometimes overwhelmed by the range and variety in contemporary art, but the conceptual basis of much of it is inspiring to me in suggesting different motivations and processes for making work.  


The Measures Taken premieres at The Royal Opera House (Linbury Theatre) on 15/16th May 2014. www.roh.org.uk/productions/the-measures-taken-by-alexander-whitley

Thank you Alex and Nouska.

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