Interview: Alexander Whitley Q&A

Thursday 31 March 2016 by Carmel Smith

Alexander Whitley & Natalie Allen in 'Pattern Recognition'. Photo: Hugo Glendinning

London based choreographer Alexander Whitley is a New Wave Associate artist at Sadler’s Wells, an associate artist at DanceEast and his company, Alexander Whitley Dance Company (AWDC) which launched in 2014, is an associate of Rambert. He trained at the Royal Ballet School and danced with Birmingham Royal Ballet, where he became more interested in contemporary choreography than classical ballet. He danced with Rambert, Michael Clark Company, Sydney Dance Company and Wayne McGregor | Random Dance. During this time he was twice nominated for Outstanding Performance in the Critics’ Circle National Dance Awards. Alexander has made work for Candoco, Rambert and the Balletboyz – and his The Grit in the Oyster which was part of Sadler’s Wells’ Thomas Adès See the Music Hear the Dance programme, was recently re-staged at New York’s Lincoln Centre for the White Light Festival. His interest in new technology is ongoing and at the centre of a new full length duet, Pattern Recognition, to be premiered at the Platform Theatre (7 -9 April)…

Tell us about your collaboration with Digital Artist Memo Akten – how did it come about? You’ve worked together before – what did that involve – and is Pattern Recognition a development from that project?
Memo and I have been working together in various ways since 2009 and this is the second full-scale collaboration of ours involving interactive digital technology. We first explored this in The Measures Taken, a collaboration with digital arts studio Marshmallow Laser Feast with whom he was working at the time. Pattern Recognition is in many ways a progression from that piece, developing the technology and the ideas of how the moving body can interact with a motion-responsive digital system.

You are performing in, as well as making, your new full length duet Pattern Recognition – how do you cope with the challenge of standing back and seeing the work from a wider perspective?
I’ve been fortunate to have some other male dancers working with me on the project who I’ve been able to develop the choreography with before learning it myself. It’s been essential for me to be on the outside whilst creating as so much of the piece is about the relationship between the movement of the dancers (I’m dancing with Natalie Allen) and the eight moving lights that accompany on us on stage. It is a challenge to have been jumping in and out but it would be very difficult to have done it any other way.

In the production you use lights which respond to the dancer’s movements; does this happen in real time, so every performance will be very slightly different?
Yes, we have eight moving lights that accompany us on stage and respond in real time to our movements in various ways through a motion tracking system. There are three Microsoft Kinects – a motion tracking device developed for games consoles – which recognise the shape of our bodies when we stand in front of them and can follow our movements around the stage. The lights are then triggered to move only by our bodily actions and nothing is pre-programmed. This means that there is quite a large amount of variability as to how things run as the system never responds in exactly the same way, which can be both challenging and exciting!

Do you see dance which uses new technology – Digital Dance if you like – emerging as a distinct art form?
I think it’s only inevitable that more people will come to work with technology in the arts as it becomes more prevalent in our day to day lives. While I think the theatre is in many respects a safe-haven from this, offering a place in which we’re not staring at a screen and engaging more directly with people, I also believe that it should be a place in which questions about the contemporary world should be asked. And in this respect I think questions about what new technologies do and how they affect our lives should be raised in the theatre. Whether it emerges as a distinct form remains to be seen but I think there are new fields of relationships in movement that are opened up through interactive technology that can take dance and choreography to uncharted places.

What are you working on next?
My next project is with New Movement Collective this summer. We’re creating a new site-responsive work in collaboration with architectural laser scanning group Scan Lab and composer Oliver Coates.

Alexander Whitley Dance Company
Pattern Recognition
Platform Theatre, 7 – 9 April

Photo Alexander Whitley & Natalie Allen in Pattern Recognition by Hugo Glendinning

Leave a comment

You must be signed in to post comments.

Sign in now

What’s On