Let’s Dance: a Q&A with Kate Coyne

07 October 2010 | By Isabel Dunstan

Oxana Panchenko and Clair Thomas. Photo Jake Walters
Oxana Panchenko and Clair Thomas. Photo Jake Walters
Simon Williams. Photo Jake Walters
Simon Williams. Photo Jake Walters
Melissa Hetherington.Photo Jake Walters
Melissa Hetherington.Photo Jake Walters

Tonight Kate Coyne will dance a challenging nine-minute solo wearing several oversize syringes sewn onto a flesh-coloured unitard. Michael Clark originally choreographed the solo Heroin – an agonizing dance of death about drug addiction – on himself some 21 years ago. In Come, Been and Gone, at Melbourne’s the Arts Centre, dancers perform several explosive numbers to the soundtrack of Michael Clark’s life: David Bowie, Iggy Pop and The Velvet Underground. We chatted to the classically trained Kate about carving her career and dancing for Michael Clark, the enfant terrible of ballet.

How long have you been performing Come, Been and Gone?
About 16 or 17 months. It’s always developing, though. That’s how Michael Clark works. There will be new bits in the Melbourne show which other people haven’t seen. The basic seed of the performance started a while ago and we’ve been building it ever since. It’s going to be quite a long show, I think

It’s interesting that Michael has allowed the work to evolve.
That’s one of the fascinating things about working with Michael. His works are never set. He’s constantly tweaking things to improve them, but also to keep everyone interested.

Is that challenging for you as a dancer?
Yeah, it can be – particularly if the instructions are given quite late. I think that’s partly to keep us on our toes, but also because he’s always striving for perfection. But, yes, it can be very challenging. You have to be able to adapt, rather than repeat the same movement.

Most of Michael’s works are closely connected to his personal story (in one of his works Michael’s mother is on stage enacting giving birth to him; Come, Been and Gone is set to music by artists he knows personally; and Heroin is inspired by his  battle with drug addiction). What is it like to channel his personal experiences?
You never get the sense that he’s exposing himself. You do as you’re told and he’s very clear about what he wants, but not in an authoritarian sort of way. It’s just a very physical process. You can be four or five steps removed from his personal idea. There are more obvious examples, like the solo of his which I’m performing called Heroin. It’s clearly a very personal story but we approach things very physically so you don’t get emotionally involved. You might let your emotional state define the movement, but we don’t bring personal emotions into the studio at all.

Can you tell me a little more about this solo?
We were working on it yesterday. Michael was saying that we can’t erase any movements that are dangerous. There are moments where you’re thinking, “If I push myself any further then I’m going fall into a heap on the floor” but then again that’s what he wants.

Both yourself and Michael have training in classical ballet, but you’ve dedicated your careers to modern dance. Has this been a conscious decision?
Ballet technique is hugely important to me. But I’m personally not all that interested in the restrictions of ‘roles’ or the hierarchy of classical ballet. In modern dance, it’s purely about the work – we’re all there for the work. It hasn’t been a personal ambition to break down the barriers of ballet, but I think there’s a little part of that in me – somewhere. It’s always noted that I’m very tall and broad and not your typical ballet dancer. But I’m still employed!

Is Michael a music-obsessed choreographer?
Oh, yes. He’s always listening to music and his taste in music is very broad. And in the studio he’s always tuning into a certain sound, and his dancers have to train themselves to listen to that particular sound. Music is always the driving force behind his works.

What is it about the music in Come, Been and Gone that makes it danceable?
You’ll recognise most of the tunes. There’s a lot of David Bowie, great beats and some fantastic rhythms. You really can’t help getting involved in the music. Then there’s Heroin which is quite a droner, but that has its own quality too.

Has David Bowie seen this show?
Well, as far as I know he doesn’t travel outside of New York because he’s afraid of flying. So, unless we take it to New York he’s not going to be there. But he does know about the show. Apparently he’s been interested in Michael’s combinations of music choice.

Come, Been and Gone plays at the Arts Centre as part of the Melbourne Festival 8 – 10 October

Image: Oxana Panchenko and Clair Thomas. Photography Jake Walters