The Bodytorque season pairs emerging choreographers with our dancers to make fresh new works. Our Corps de Ballet member Richard House will be choreographing a piece for the upcoming Bodytorque.Technique season called Finding the Calm. He talks to us about first beginnings, inspirations, and dancing on trains.
You were choreographing right from when you were a student, which is quite unusual – how did that come about?
I went to the Victorian College of the Arts Secondary School, where you do the same amount of contemporary technique classes and composition classes in a week as you do ballet. That’s probably where I discovered my passion for it. When I was in Year 10 I developed a bond with a teacher called Brett Daffy [a founding member of Chunky Move] and he did very different movement to what I’d seen in the past. I thought, “Hang on, contemporary can be really edgy.” When I was in Year 11, just before I was leaving to go to The Australian Ballet School, I was asked to choreograph a piece for my class – there was about 10 of us – for the creative production at the end of the year at Grant St, and the staff loved it so much they brought it back the following year for their main season at the school. So that was really cool as well, to also have the staff appreciating what I was creating. My main thought behind it was, I just want the dancers to have fun, and I think the more fun and coordinated the movement feels to the dancers on stage, it really is read well by the audience, so I think that’s why it was so successful. They’re still doing it to this day.
When I went to The Australian Ballet School I still pushed myself to create new things after school. I created a pas de deux that I entered in a choreography competition down in Geelong, and the staff at The Australian Ballet School really liked it, so they got me to perform it at their Open Day.
What appeals to you about choreographing?
I just love creating movement. I love that you can find new movement in dancing that has been around for so many years.
What kind of things do you do before you get into a studio, and how do you work with the dancers?
I try to listen to the music as much as I can. For me, successful dancing and successful composition is when the music and the dancing and all the elements fit together so well it’s like they were meant to be: like Jiří Kylián’s work. You see Petite Mort and the quirky little accents the dancers do – it’s there in Mozart’s music. I catch the train a lot, and I tend to sit there, listening to music, and trying to envision what movement I can see, then I might just start playing around with my hands and doing little patterns with my arms so you have a structure for what you want the arms to do – then I might get into the studio the next day and see what might be good for [incorporating] the legs into it; for instance, if the arms are going out to the side, you’re going over into a lunge.
But I also love getting the dancers in the studio and just giving them a starting position and going “Okay, where do you feel like your body weight is going, where does it feel natural for you to go now?” And then you see something maybe and say “Okay, so how about from there you go up into there,” and you just help it along. It’s all about adding on those little bits and seeing where the choreography can take you. I like to keep it as creative as possible and unplaced almost, so it’s all fluid movement.
Which dancers will you be using for this piece?
Natasha Kusen – she’s amazing at this sort of stuff – Jake Mangakahia, Ingrid Gow and Jarryd Madden. I’m very lucky! These dancers are all on the same wavelength as me. The main thing for me is to pick dancers who are interested in creating the movement as much as I am, who don’t just want me to come in there and teach them steps. I try to suit the choreography as well as I can to the dancer I’ve got in front of me, because I think if they’re comfortable and coordinated, they’re going to feel so much more confident, and so much more connected with the piece. I just want everybody, the audience, the dancers, myself, to enjoy this process and the movement that is happening: that’s the main thing in dance.
Choreographer-wise, who’s your hero, who inspires you the most?
I’ve got lots of choreographer heroes. Jiří Kylián is one. With Bella Figura, when I found out that he also created the set design and had a big part in the costume designs – for somebody to have that picture in their head of what they want is just incredible. He’s amazing, there’ll never be anybody like him in this industry, or not for a long time. Also Wayne McGregor, I really like what he’s doing with ballet technique at the moment; he’s modernising it, he’s bringing it into the 21st century.
So your upcoming work Finding the Calm is about the constant, endless search for euphoria?
I definitely picked a hard thing to create a piece about! But I wanted to pick something that, for me, is almost my explanation of why I dance. I feel that ultimate euphoria when I’m dancing, whether it’s on stage or in class or even when you’re watching another dancer. I also also want the audience to really connect with the piece, almost to go on a journey of self-reflection.
Bodytorque.Technique will be playing five shows only in Sydney from 31 October – 3 November. Get your tickets here.