Interview: James Cousins – 'I draw on the people I'm working with, on their movement vocabulary but also on their emotional history and personal narratives.'
Choreographer James Cousins talks about taking part in Scottish Ballet's Digital Season, and creating a brand new work live in front of a global audience.
credit: Camilla Greenwell
Award-winning choreographer James Cousins is about to lay his creative process bare for all to see, when cameras enter the Scottish Ballet rehearsal studio to deliver a live stream of him working. 'Creation of a Work in a Week' is one of the most notable events that comprise SB's digital season, Under the Skin, and in the lead-up we spoke to Cousins about his hopes and fears for the project
The rehearsal studio is a place where you can try things out and make mistakes, before putting your work out there for public consumption. Only this time, viewers will be watching all the way – how does that feel?
I always have quite an open door policy in my rehearsals, and quite like having people in because it helps me see the work from a different perspective, and with fresh eyes.
However with this, there won't be people physically there, it will just be the camera, so I don't know how that will feel. It will definitely be interesting, but I'll try not to think about it too much, and not get too self-conscious.
You've created two works for Scottish Ballet before, Still it Remains and Jealousy – did that make it easier to say yes to this project?
Yes, and I've been told I can work with some of the same dancers again, which is really nice, to have that familiarity.
But even so, it would still be different if it was with my own company and dancers, which I'd feel much more comfortable with. So there's definitely still an element of pressure here.
Also, it's a very short amount of time. Normally I would start with a period of research and development before we even get to the creative process – whereas with this, it's just straight in, which is a bit scary.
The way I've tackled that is to give myself very strict parameters, and I'm going in with a very clear concept.
Well we wanted it to be accessible to a wide audience, so we're using a Sigur Rós track, which already brings a lot of emotion and a rich texture with it. And I'm coming in with a very simple physical concept, which is to create a duet where neither of the dancers touch the floor. So there'll be an ensemble of about 14 dancers underneath them who become their floor.
It's not an easy thing to achieve, especially in such a short space of time, but it's a very clear physical rule, because there's just not time for me to try out lots of ideas and then make a decision.
But in terms of the actual movement vocabulary, I'll explore that together with the dancers and that will be part of the process.
Scottish Ballet's artistic director, Christopher Hampson said he chose you for this project because he finds the way you choreograph very interesting – how would you describe the way you work?
It's very much in collaboration with the dancers. I draw on the people I'm working with, on their movement vocabulary but also on their emotional history and personal narratives as well.
I like a dialogue with the dancers, for me it's really important that they don't just keep their mouths shut and do what I tell them – I like them to give suggestions. And especially with the concept I've got for this piece, it's going to rely very much on them doing that.
Some people may be surprised to learn how much time it takes to choreograph a very short amount of movement. How long will your piece be, and how much time will you spend creating it?
The Sigur Rós track is roughly five minutes long, so we'll see if we get there. If I had all day for five days, it would probably be possible but I think I've only got an hour and a half to two hours a day to work with the dancers.
Sometimes you can generate two minutes' choreography in a really short space of time, and other times that two minutes can take two days to create. And sometimes, it's not that interesting because you get stuck on something and you just have to keep going with it – so who knows what we're going to get with this, but I'll try to keep it moving! And I know a lot of people get very excited about this part of the process, so I'm pleased we can open it up to everyone.
Creation of a Work in a Week will be broadcast on scottishballet.co.uk from Mon 24–Fri 28 Apr.