Hi Charlie, thank you for chatting to us today!
Can you tell us about you as a performer, and what led you to becoming a dancer with Russell Maliphant Dance Company?
I began my professional training in the UK when I was sixteen before moving abroad to train in Austria. I started my career in a company in Portugal and then freelanced across Europe for quite a few years.
When I got into my career I also started teaching and rehearsal directing, which was how I met Russell. I was giving class to a company that I was rehearsal directing for and Russell saw one of my classes completely by chance and was quite interested in what I was sharing and the class that I was leading. He reached out to me and asked if I wanted to have a conversation with him, so we had a few Zoom sessions and talked about his practice and mine, and where they might interlink or challenge each other. Russell was keen to meet in person and was looking for an opportunity to get together and see what happened. I went in and worked with him for a day and we seemed to get along very well. I love the work and had a good instinct about it, so when he offered me the job, I snapped it up. It was really nice that the job arrived quite naturally and as a result of us getting on and being inspired by each other.
Can you tell us a bit about the process of learning a new work?
I have experience of working on two pieces with Russell. The first one, Silent Lines, was choreographed a few years ago and is the previous piece the company toured before the new creation that we’re currently working on. I was involved in the restaging of it, which we are imminently about to start performing again. It’s always interesting recreating a piece that’s already been made, because Russell’s work is very reactive to the people in the room. He’s great at getting the best from the people he works with and tends to utilise what’s unique about their dancing, so sometimes taking over a previous performers’ role can be quite challenging. In the same way that Russell is interested in the individuality of his artists in the making process, it’s also true in performance, so a lot of the roles are re-tailored and re-shaped around the people in the current cast so it’s been a really nice experience integrating into the work. It’s also brilliant to have the experience of dancing a different piece of the company’s repertoire and learn from our colleagues who are more experienced with it.
The new work, VORTEX, has been a creation so we haven’t really “learnt” anything, we’ve created everything from scratch, from start to finish. The process started with Russell doing some research development with different dancers from the company and his collaborators, which built up gradually as the work gained momentum, and then at the end of March we started back as a full company to begin the intense phase of the creation process. It’s been really exciting, Russell comes in with different departure points, images, aesthetics or physical ideas that he leads us through exploring physically and within the realms of light, scenography, staging, space, time, and so on. It’s always a challenging process, but an equally colourful one that Russell guides really expertly.
I’d say that Russell is a choreographer who is constantly refining and searching for depth in the work, so we’re constantly in a place of growth. It’s a multi-layered process, but it’s always a really engaging process, and an exciting one!
It sounds like there’s two very different ways of working there, depending on if it’s a restaging or a new piece.
Absolutely. With the restaging, something I find inspiring about Russell is his attention to the moment and his presence with the process and with the work. So even though we are restaging a piece, it does feel that he’s very keen to bring it into the present moment, and it’s a new cast so it’s really nice that he wants to see what it becomes in this new lease of life which is great. With VORTEX it’s always exciting to see where the work ends up, especially with Russell who is very attentive to “listening” to the work and always eager to explore compositional trailheads that we might not have expected.
What’s been your favourite part of learning VORTEX?
That’s a really good question. I’d say I’ve really enjoyed Russell’s approach in the studio. It’s an approach that I find really challenging but incredibly nurturing at the same time, and as a performer it’s very enriching because I feel challenged physically as well as performatively. Our daily practice as a company, which Russell leads, is very physical and geared towards understanding the way the body moves and how that movement is integrated and through that understanding, we work to open up new possibilities by either deepening or challenging those patterns. It’s very different to working in a company that has a very structured or codified approach because the practice we do reflects the work we’re making, and I really love that. I feel like I’ve learnt so much about my own practice through embodying the work and it’s just been a real pleasure to be in a process that feels like it’s had real depth to it.
Russell’s incredibly considered as a maker and that really shines through in the work, as the work matures and becomes that final piece that the audience will eventually see. I also love being part of a company which is really keen to do things because they have integrity and authenticity to what we’re trying to achieve, rather than replicating what dance has always been, so it feels quite a vibrant and exciting culture to be part of.
What can we expect from watching VORTEX?
Quite a lot, the show’s got so much in it. You can expect a real journey aesthetically and energetically, there’s moments of the piece which are really intimate and very beautiful, and there are moments of the piece which are explosive and very physical.
There’s a lot of striking imagery and you see the performers in an environment that is really in flux. You have landscapes which are emerging and dissolving in a really beautiful way, so I imagine you feel like you’re flowing through different places. It’s dynamic and varied and a lot of interaction between the performers and the environment they exist in. You can expect lots of dancing from the five performers as well as a big mechanical structure, amazing lighting, beautiful music and a few surprises.
You also practise as a Clinical Sports Therapist and specialise in the assessment, treatment and rehabilitation of dancers and movement practitioners. It would be great to find out more about what this involves and the importance of looking after, and treating, injuries.
I was able to use being injured myself many years ago as an opportunity to broaden my skill set beyond what you might consider to be traditional in dance. I trained in anatomy, physiology and as a sports therapist and then did a whole host of other qualifications in things like acupuncture, myofascial release, biomechanics, sports rehab, integrative health and emergency and pre-hospital care. I really caught the bug for understanding how the body and mind work, and what possibilities not just for healing, but enhancing performance or finding new movement might be available to dancers beyond what traditional techniques might teach us.
A real passion of mine is to help people get to where they want to be, or perhaps where they need to be, and I’d like to think that comes through in my artistic practice, as well as in my practice in healthcare. In my time off from the company I still practice as a therapist, seeing and rehabilitating clients, and now more and more as a teacher of that. I teach different health care professionals and practitioners within that area, but also specifically about dance and dance health, as well as teaching on a lot of vocational dance programs to try and help promote an approach to dancing that’s sustainable and has a sense of longevity. Something I always try to hammer home to people is the idea that all the things that are going to help you heal from an injury are the things that are also going to help you be the best performer you can possibly be. As a dancer myself, I feel my toolkit is massively expanded from having other perspectives of the body.
You have recently returned back following an injury. Could you talk about how RMDC supported you through the recovery process and the return to learning a piece of work?
Being injured is always incredibly difficult for dancers. There’s only so much that any company can do to really help you through that trauma; emotionally, physically, financially and so on. Russell Maliphant Dance Company has been fantastic. There was a brief moment of worry and uncertainty as I went down at a really inopportune time just as we were about to stage a performance. We had a show coming up pretty imminently and so it was an intense moment for everyone, and actually the company really rallied together – the show went up and went brilliantly. A couple of our apprentices stepped in and learnt my role which was a fantastic opportunity for them, and also brilliant for the company to be able to progress the show.
Once we had a bit more time to properly think it through and consider what the implications might be, the company were really supportive. Once we had more information on where I was and what this injury meant for the work, the decision was made that I would stay in the company. I went to a reduced workload where I was coming in to assist Russell and work alongside the company to support them at the end of the creation of VORTEX. I was also resting as much as I needed to and prioritising time for rehabilitation and treatment. The company also supported me by giving me financial support towards my treatment and rehabilitation which was a huge help because even in a very established company it’s not always possible to get all the help you need outside of that as there are often barriers beyond their remit – so that support was really welcomed.
My colleagues have been fantastic, I couldn’t have asked more of them. Russell has been particularly brilliant at helping to guide me and giving me some of his amazing wisdom. He’s been incredibly helpful at navigating me through the process, as well as supporting me in my return to dance. This week, Russell and I are back in the studio doing a lead in before the full company return next week, so I’ve had the opportunity to come in early and revisit the show, revisit my body, work alongside Russell, and prepare in a really wholesome way so that when the company return, it’s not a massive shock to my body.
Movement can be medicine really, and access to efficient and structurally sound movement is just great for dancers, whether they’re injured or not. It’s about looking towards pre-habilitation rather than just re-habilitation and how we can get dancers to work optimally and at their best, hopefully avoiding injury, rather than just being reactive when it happens. I’m passionate about using the information I have to help facilitate dancer’s growth in their own practice and to be at their best physically and mentally, rather than just when they’ve sustained an injury or illness.