Interview: Darren Johnston Q&A

Wednesday 13 May 2009

Darren Johnston Darren Johnston is a choreographer, performer and sound/video artist whose distinctive productions have won awards and recognition across Europe and beyond. He graduated from Laban with the outstanding Choreographic Achievement Award in 2001 and has gone on to work with a wide range of artists including Squarepusher, Jamie Lidell and Cristian Vogel. In 2005 he choreographed the stage show for the one-off Aphex Twin/Chris Cunningham show in Turin and opened for the Warp Moves show at Brighton Dome. His full-scale installation Ren-sa, which began with a magical, mystery bus tour, was given a Herald Angel Award at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2005.

Formerly an associate artist at The Place and Southbank Centre, his current creative home is the Roundhouse, where his next production – the large scale Underdrome – runs from 22 – 24 May. It promises to be ‘a thrilling 360 degree assault on the senses’…

Tell us about Underdrome. is it dance, music, film, a combination of the above or something altogether different?
Underdrome is a unique project that’s hard to categorize or verbalize in a way. I see it as an event. A theatrical happening that marries multiple art-forms to form a complete work.

Is it a new direction for you – or an extension of previous projects?
I think it’s an extension of previous directions and at the same time huge development for me. I think there is a kind of emotive thread that carries on through each piece but I’m always keen to diversify aesthetically. It also follows this ongoing relationship with Warp Records and electronic music collaboration whilst bringing new live elements into the picture such as *London Contemporary Orchestra.

30 dancers, 100 singers, an orchestra, set designers, a visual artist -it sounds like a lot to co-ordinate. Are you enjoying the process and the numbers of collaborators?
I love the process of assembling apparent chaos into some tangible order. On paper it seems like an impossible task, and maybe it is, but there is always a solution to be found if you stay open to creativity. I am enjoying it. It’s a huge challenge and takes me out of my comfort zone which can only ever be a good thing for an artist.

Darren Johnston's UnderdromePhoto: Michael England

Darren Johnston's UnderdromePhoto: Michael England

Is dance still at the centre of your work, or do other art forms excite you more now?
Movement is my passion and that transcends all elements of my work. I am a choreographer in the sense that I direct movement, whether that be the movement of a body, the movement of a camera or the rhythmic progression of a music score. First comes the idea, then I choose the best form to express that. I once got accused of spreading myself too thin, but I see the ability to diversify as a blessing and means I’ll continue to grow and find new direction throughout my career.

What do you look for in your dancers?
An ability to create from the heart and put every ounce of themselves into that role/ project. You can’t train a dancer to feel or dance from the soul. It’s a rare quality. I can go to an audition hoping to find something specific and come out with something I never expected to find – meaning that person has inspired and moved me.

You are Artist in Residence at the Roundhouse. What does that involve? Do you feel at home there?
Right now for me it involves creating an amazing project in one of the most amazing spaces in London. It’s been a loose and fluid relationship leading to an amazing opportunity. I think it’s the perfect space for my work to exist. They are totally open to how it is staged which gives me creative freedom to experiment beyond the black box confines. I feel lucky to have such support and belief behind me.

What’s next for you?
After making a piece the scale of Underdrome I think we are ready for the opening for the Olympics maybe? Ha ha!

Immediate plans involve a big commission for a music artist. I’m currently looking to get the security/ infustructure we need to meet the increasing international demands for the work. I feel I have secured a great creative team including dancers so would love to continue to grow with them. We’ve been touring many music and cross arts festivals flying the flag for this new form of performance and the response has been amazing so definitely more of that.

I have some film ideas up my sleeves including trying to direct a music video so lots of things to think about.

Darren Johnston's UnderdromePhoto: Michael England

Underdrome is at the Roundhouse from 22 – 24 May
Tickets: £20

More details/online booking

Read an archive interview with Darren Johnston

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