Interview: Hubert Essakow Q&A

Tuesday 5 February 2013

Hubert  Essakow, with Simone Muller Lotz. Photo: Zadoc Nava

Hubert Essakow danced with the Royal Ballet for ten years, before leaving to explore more contemporary dance forms. He danced with the Balletboyz and Rambert Dance Company – where he started to make his own work and subsequently developed a career as a freelance choreographer, working with, amongst others, English National Ballet’s Education team and Transitions Dance Company. Hubert is Associate Artist at The Print Room, a flourishing new arts space in Notting Hill where he’s presenting a new collaborative work – FLOW … (to 23 Feb)

Tell us about The Print Room…
It’s a boutique size space in the heart of Notting Hill Gate. For FLOW it can seat 68 people. It was founded three years ago and presents a variety of disciplines including a new dance piece every year. Essentially it’s a space for creativity and culture, and no two visits will be the same. So whether you’re seeing a photographic or art exhibition, live music concert, dance or drama, it’s an unusual experience from the minute you walk through the gates.

You’re an Associate Artist there now – is it an exciting place to make dance?
Its a great space in that the audience are very close to the action , almost part of the performance – and I think this allows the performers to have a great connection with the audience and vice versa. I’ve noticed this has an amazing effect on the performers, whether they actors or dancers , it creates something very intense and the audiences love it too. It also means that great care and attention needs to be paid to detail . Every trip to The Print Room is different , the space is always transformed and re-invented , with the help of very clever designers and production teams. I’m always inspired by the plays I see here, so to me it feels very much like dance theatre and I think that influences me. Creating movement in this space needs to be adapted as well to suit this intimacy and for FLOW there are five dancers, so that’s been a challenge as well.

What was the starting point for FLOW ?
Originally it was Anda Winters’ [Artistic Director, The Print Room] idea to create a piece based on water and she introduced me to Tom Dixon, [designer and Head of Design at Habitat for ten years] who suggested, amongst other things, the water cycle and exploring its different environments of Ice , Liquid and Gas. So I started to do some research and a whole world of possibilities opened up . It’s a topic we can all relate to – it’s everywhere and such a essential part of life and in some cases death . In fact there are almost too many possibilities. But essentially it a dance piece so we very much used this cycle as a basis for FLOW.

Is this Tom Dixon’s first foray into dance/theatre?
No, I think he might have done an opera and a dance piece many years ago , but he is not a theatre designer . Obviously we can’t have a complicated set design, or anything that might take up too much space so he had the idea to in create the design from using light, sound and projection. It’s quite minimal but very effective.

The music has been specially composed for FLOW – did it come before the movement, or in response to it?
I was very lucky to work on a project with the cellist /composer Peter Gregson and I heard music that he had composed on Spotify, which I loved, so I approached him about writing music for a 50 minute piece, which he accepted. I guess the response for the music came from the idea and structure of the piece that I had been working on with dramaturg Dan Ayling. So by the time we started, the music had to be recorded and engineered and the movement came from the music and the idea.

You have a great team of collaborators – what are the challenges/pleasures of working with partners from different disciplines?
The greatest pleasure is when they add a layer or dimension to the piece that enhances it, that I as the choreographer wouldn’t have thought of. This is a dance theatre piece and some ideas Tom suggested are very simple but effective and work. Sometimes the dance can be overpowered by ideas and then it doesn’t work. It was very, very helpful to have a dramaturg. To have another eye – and not necessarily a dance trained eye – is useful because it helps you to question and make sense of decisions, or not. Then again it can be frustrating when he says we don’t need that movement! Peter was great because he understood that to have space in the music really helps and he captures the qualities of these different water states. So overall it’s been very positive.

And tell us about your dancers – are they are a team that you’ve worked with before, or individuals who have come together for this project?
They have come together for this project from different backgrounds. I’m very lucky to have a fantastic group of dancers including Thomasin Gulgec who was at Rambert with me. He was in the very first piece I created and he’s a choreographer’s dream and a real inspiration. Daniel Hay Gordon and Sonya Cullingford were both involved in our production Jealousy at The Print Room last year and it’s a pleasure to have them on board again. And Kieran Stoneley and Simone Muller are newcomers to the space.

It sounds worlds away from classical ballet. Does it feel like that, or does ballet still inform your work?
Yes the scale of it is a different world from the Royal Opera House.What doesn’t change is that it’s still about our desire to communicate something meaningful through movement with the audience . I have gone on quite a journey from my days as a classical ballet dancer and the piece I’m creating here is certainly not ballet, but ones training and background always influences what you make and how you move. But in this instance the biggest influence is the space.

FLOW is at The Print Room from 6 – 23 February 2013

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