Interview: Marc Brew - on stripping back the layers

Saturday 5 March 2016 by Carmel Smith

Marc Brew. Photo: Andy Ross

Marc Brew brings the second part of a trilogy of solos to the Lilian Baylis Studio, Sadler’s Wells this week (10 & 11 March). He has been working in dance for 18 years, with the Australian Ballet Company, the State Theatre Ballet Company of South Africa, Infinity Dance Theatre in New York, Candoco Dance Company in London and in 2009 became Associate Director with Scottish Dance Theatre. He has also worked with his own company, formed in 2001. Marc’s life and work took a new direction after an accident in 1998 – the subject of his latest work…

For Now, I am focusses on the life-changing car accident you had nearly 20 years ago. You’ve had a long and successful career in dance since, but this is the first time you’ve directly addressed the effects of that accident it in your work. Why did you decide to look at it now?
It’s been 19 years since my car accident and it has taken me this long to make this piece because I feel it’s only now that I have come to a place where I am comfortable and have accepted my body as it is. For a long time after the accident, I was always hiding behind my clothes and trying to let people know I wasn’t always disabled but for me now, this is how I am and this is beautiful. Of course it wasn’t the easiest process to go through but in some ways it was very therapeutic to go back and look at these moments in my life after waking up in hospital and discovering that I couldn’t move, that I was paralysed from the chest down. How do I start to rediscover my body in it’s new form and how does it evolve to gain strength but it’s a continual process learning and I feel that now is the moment I feel comfortable to strip back all those layers and all those clothes and share with the audience who I am now and how far I have come.

Did your understanding of dance and its possibilities broaden after the accident?
Before my accident I was a professional classical ballet dancer and was also trained in contemporary dance as well as other styles of dance. I wanted to get classical ballet out of my system first and while I was at the Australian Ballet School I would ‘extra’ with the Australian Ballet Company. My first job was with PACT Ballet, South Africa’s leading classical ballet company and as a traditionally trained dancer in the classical field, my perception was very limited of what a dancer was. I was told and was striving to be the perfect dancer, being on two legs and having beautiful feet, trying to be as flexible and strong as I could, so after acquiring my disability, the first thing I had to do was to get rid of all those preconceptions of what a dancer was and feel it from within. My body was my instrument, it now moved in a different way so I stopped looking in the mirror and started to explore what dance meant for me now. Internally it was about expressing dance through movement and I could still move, just in a different way so I had to keep that curiosity and interest and this has definitely taken my choreography down the route of continuing to look at new possibilities and finding solutions to restrictions.

For Now I Am is the second part of a trilogy, which started in 2008. What was Remember When about? Did you know then that it would be part of a series?
I didn’t know Remember When would be part of a trilogy. When I started making For Now, I am…, I realised that these two solos were milestones in my life, they are both autobiographical and sharing these moments with an audience is the best way I can tell my story, through movement and performance, so it naturally felt it was part of a collective and the milestones would continue. I don’t want to do a new solo ever year and don’t just do solo work, I like to see my work transcend beyond just me physically and definitely feel that there will be another milestone that I want to share but that will be later in my career.

And do you know yet what the final part of the trilogy will be about?
I have ideas but as it is going to be a milestone in my life I want to respond to that moment in time and where I am then so we will see what happens and what evolves through the next eight to ten years of my life – stay tuned!

How did you meet percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie, who is part of the ‘dialogue’ part of the evening?
Evelyn and I first started working on Fusional Fragments, which was funded by the Unlimited Commissions for the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad, in 2011. This commission was about thinking big, I have always been an admirer of Evelyn’s work as an artist and enjoyed visually watching her as a performer and music and dance are passions of mine so I wanted to bring these together. I just emailed her company and told them about the project, the idea that I had, looking at the fusion between dance and music, also my career as a classical and contemporary dancer as well as bringing together disabled and non disabled performers, how could these fuse together or do they remain separate fragments. Evelyn was really excited about the opportunity to collaborate, I was working with five non disabled dancers and we all collectively worked together on Fusional Fragments which premiered to a sold out house at Queen Elizabeth Hall, then toured around the UK and internationally. We all enjoyed the process and Evelyn was integrated into the work, the way the dancers and Evelyn worked together was very important to me, they all reactive and responded to each other. Even though at times it was definitely out of Evelyn’s comfort zone the wonderful thing was that she was up for the challenge and the dancers were all very supportive. We have been talking about collaborating again on new work which is very exciting. We have also been talking to another musician, Hugo Ticciati and the three of us are brewing up a new collaboration.

You’ve been working in the UK and internationally for the past 18 years. Would you say this experience has shaped your work?
Working internationally and in the UK and all the people I have met, worked with and collaborated with all influence my work. I respond to the environment we live in, to interactions with other people and conversations and relationships we have so that all influences my work and my process. I always try to keep my work honest, at times I like to go to awkward and uncomfortable places within my performance, challenging my dancers and also I like to be challenged as a choreographer. The last year and for the next couple of years I am doing a lot more international collaborations. I am collaborating with Brazilian artists on a new work call MayBe, which will be premiered this year in Brazil and will then be brought back to the UK. I am also doing a collaboration with Korean artists, this will start it’s second phase this November when I will be going back to Seoul to start collaborating with the artists, choreographer and performers. I will also be going to work in Japan, Australia and USA amongst others so I am excited about those conversations and developing work together.

You’re currently based in Glasgow. What do you like about the city and what keeps you there?
I had never intended to move to Scotland but I moved there to work with* Scottish Dance Theatre* as their Associate Director for two years. There, I directed a piece called NQR with Janet Smith and Caroline Bowditch. I just fell in love with the country, the people and their generosity and the opportunity to engage with people within the dance and arts sector. I was able to build a relationship people at Creative Scotland who are a national funding body really working and supporting diversity and quality as well as disabled artists. This has helped me feel it’s a place where I belong and am supported for my work so I’m really grateful I have the opportunity to be based there, creating my work and to tour around Scotland. Last year I was able to tour my solo work to more remote places, the Western Isles of Lewis, Harris and North & South Uist. It was great to be supported by Creative Scotland to go to these remote communities and perform in their town halls and have post show discussions. The audience all stayed for a cup of tea and to talk about the work. It’s very important to me to engage with communities and people who wouldn’t usually have the chance to go to this type of performance. The feedback has always been really positive, they all see beyond the disability and see the art and performance for what it is and feel.

Marc Brew Company
For Now I Am…
Lilian Baylis Studio, Sadler’s Wells, 10 & 11 March

Each evening also includes Dialogue:
10 March: Percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie and Marc Brew compare creating, performing, and collaborating in their respective art forms.
11 March: Alistair Spalding, Sadler’s Wells’ Chief Executive and Artistic Director will be in conversation with Marc Brew on creating dance which reflects life experience.

Photo: Andy Ross

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