Siobhan Davies on choreography

Siobhan Davies on choreography

By Becky Brewis 23/05/14

With our Next Choreography brief currently open, we speak to cross-disciplinary artist and choreographer Siobhan Davies, who shares tips for young artists looking to develop their choreography skills…

How can artists from other disciplines incorporate elements of dance into their practice?

For me, it helps when I work with somebody but we retain our distinctions. I did a project called ROTOR in which I asked very different artists to come and watch me and four other dancers work – and see if there was something in those working methods that would allow them to create their own work. Their responses were exciting.

The poet Alice Oswald heard a very particular rhythm in the work that we were creating – in the movement. The work was about walking and running, and she dwelt on idea of walking and running through a never-ending landscape. She found a myth about a young man who ran backwards through his life and married this with the rhythm of what she had heard. So she kept her complete discipline as a poet, and yet she’d used our discipline to infect hers.

Can you talk me through how you go about planning a cross-disciplinary project, with reference to a particular collaborative piece you’ve made? 

I made a film, All This Can Happen, with film director David Hinton. The first thing we did was sit down and talk. He showed me loads of different films. At the time I was interested in simple movement, so I tried to show him why that mattered to me. We then spoke about works of ours that had failed, why we felt they’d failed and what we had learned from them.

We spoke about ourselves and eventually we found a beginning seed that made sense to us both. We found that the earliest photography was often about how people moved, because they were trying to look at the science of movement and break it down. The French scientist Étienne-Jules Marey was a photographer in the 1870s who would take still images showing the progression of a movement, which later were used by others to create film footage. We started to capture these flickers of movement from a previous century.

David wanted to introduce a narrative, which I had never worked with before. l looked into ideas of narrative and found that choreographically the way that I could present each of the images – many of them on a single frame – meant that by juxtaposing one image against another I was creating a narrative. We didn’t have a final film in mind when we started: it unfolded as we moved through it. 



Are there organisations or schemes you’d recommend for young choreographers? 

It’s worth looking out for your local dance organisation, but some suggestions for both young independent artists and emerging choreographers are: 

The Making Labs, a choreographic residency we offer to colleges, schools or dance organisations. It provides a deeper understanding of choreographic processes and offers students tools to develop a new dance work. 

Youth Dance England run a national programme called Young Creatives, which aims to enhance young people’s skills and knowledge of choreography and gives them the opportunity to present their own work.  

Artsadmin are offering Make Space Summer Project, a free four-week course for 18-24 year olds, designed for young artists who wish to expand and explore themselves and their creative abilities through Live Art and contemporary performance-making.

The Live Art Development Agency run Talking Shop, open free advice sessionsfor recent graduates and early career artists (up to three years making work), working in the areas of Live Art and interdisciplinary performance practices. 

South East Dance and Pavilion Dance South West run something called ChoreoLAB. They give British South Asian dance artists the opportunity to experiment with ideas, test possibilities with a collaborator, receive feedback from mentors and creative producers and devise a tailored program of activity for themselves with South East Dance and Pavilion Dance South West. 

What are you looking for in the 14 to 21-year-olds applying to be part of the Next Choreography programme?

Curiosity. And a real interest in what dance and choreography can be – not necessarily what they’ve been given in their study, but what they would bring to it and how they would twist it. I’d be looking for their courage with their ideas. 

I would like them to develop the idea that there is something in the room with them already. Don’t always look for what you don’t have. Look at yourself, and the skills that you have, look at the other people in the room and other talents apart from the obvious ones. You’ve got a room full of ingredients you can pick out and develop. 


Like to take part in a year-long programme with Siobhan Davies Dance? Apply for our brief.


For more articles, jobs and opportunities, visit our Performing Arts hub.

Image by Felix Clay.

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