Interview: Lizzi Kew Ross Q&A

Tuesday 10 January 2012 by Carmel Smith

Lizzi Kew Ross. Photo: Peter Anderson

Lizzi Kew Ross has been a performer and choreographer for over 30 years – as well as teaching at venues across London including Trinity Laban, The Evening School at The Place, Birkbeck College, Arts Ed and the Guildhall. Last year she made Without Warning for Laban Theatre – inspired by Brian Keenan’s book An Evil Cradling about his experience as a hostage in Beirut in the 1980s. It’s just about to start a short run in the atmospheric new setting of The Old Vic Tunnels. (31 Jan – 11 Feb)

What was it that inspired you in Brian Keenan’s book – An Evil Cradling ?
I read the book when it first came out in 1993 and its deep humanity and compassion moved me and the images stayed with me over the years. I was collaborating with dancers and musicians at Trinity Laban and it seemed a good idea to bring another art form into the discussion. I asked them to read the book, and it began as responses to a shared understanding and a way of starting a conversation and devising a piece together. When an opportunity came to rework this with professionals, I knew I wanted to take these ideas further.

Has Brian Keenan been involved in the making of the piece?
No – only through his authorial voice. I set about trying to meet him as I felt I didn’t want to embark on working with the images in the book without asking him for a kind of permission. I went on to meet Brian several times to talk about the piece and his feelings about it. He subsequently decided to join us at the Old Vic Tunnels to give readings from his new book on Saturday 4 at noon and Sunday 5 February at 11.30am and 3.15pm.

Do you make a lot of work collaboratively? What do you enjoy about the process?
I have been a ‘ jobbing’ choreographer for years, working in lots of different situations – a cabaret for Hilton Hotel, working for theatre companies – but I have always really enjoyed collaborative conversations. It’s such a rich and rewarding way of being creative and when it works it seems to bring the best out of everyone. When I taught Graham technique I always felt that a good musician/accompanist was an equal and deeply essential part of the class. As I began to choreograph more, I began to take more opportunities to work with musicians. In Without Warning , I wanted the light, the sound and the movement to have moments that moved – literally – the promenade audience so that the work is a visual and aural experience.

You made Without Warning for Laban Theatre – how does it feel to be resetting it in the atmospheric Old Vic Tunnels?
The space is the fourth character in the collaborative conversation and really has dictated to us as a creative team where we should set the scenes in the work. It is hugely exciting to work like this and a sense of necessity becomes very important.

Tell us about the work you did with Dance United recently..
Dance United work with marginalised young people and they commissioned me to work with a small group to create Speak But One Word To Me, a response to the William Morris exhibition at the new exhibition space Two Temple Place [ run by The Bulldog Trust ].
I do believe in theatre, art, movement and music as an agent for change, as the theatre director and teacher Augusto Boal said. I have witnessed moments where people look different and therefore become different when performing and being present and themselves in a piece. I n Taiwan I talked to a lady who runs dance workshops with sex-trafficked girls in India and she felt that using the body to be expressive through dance was the key to healing; as the body had received an act of trauma so the healing must take place there in the body. The sense of identity and self-worth is visible as these young people perform and working as we have, amongst the William Morris exhibition, has been such a creative environment to be in, and they become fellow artists in that space.

Earlier in your career you choreographed several musicals – is musical theatre still something that you enjoy/will work in further? I so enjoy the energy and tunes in musicals. I love the word play in Gilbert and Sullivan and Sondheim musicals and would love to do more and work in opera also.

Who/what have been influences on your creative life? My brother is a poet and I have read poetry throughout my life and I have been drawn to poetic images for as long as I remember. RS Thomas is a favourite. Also, Andrei Tarkovsky’s films have had a profound effect on me. His film Nostalgia has influenced how I have thought about framing Without Warning .

What’s next?
I am hoping to do a graveyard project in the City of London this summer – Please visit the graveyards . Also I would like to find a producer for Without Warning and to tour it to unusual spaces over the next few years.

Without Warning is at The Old Vic Tunnels
from Tue 31 Jan – Sat 11 February

Darkroom by Peter Anderson, an exhibition of black and white photographs of the Without Warning cast in rehearsals is also on show at The Old Vic Tunnels to coincide with performances. A staff photographer for NME in the 1980s, Peter is known for his striking portraits of musical icons – including Madonna and Mick Jagger.

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