Interview: Marc Brew

Friday 24 August 2012 by Sarah Golding

Left to right Philip Sheppard, Dame Evelyn Glennie, Marc Brew. Photo: Irven Lewis

Artistic Director and choreographer Marc Brew has created two pieces for the Southbank Centre’s Unlimited Season. Running in parallel with the London 2012 Paralympic Games, the programme of 29 major commissions celebrates arts and culture by disabled and deaf artists. Marc was a natural choice for the commissions – in 2008 he was a guest performer, collaborator and media spokesperson at the Beijing Olympic and Paralympic Games Closing Ceremony when the games were passed on to London. We caught up with him to find out more…

One of the aims of the Unlimited Commissions was to invite deaf and disabled artists to excel themselves – in the same way as Olympic and Paralympic athletes are doing. You’ve had two Unlimited Commissions – has it been a particularly challenging year for you?
It has been a very exciting and creative year which began in 2011 with the creation of Parallel Lines (Candoco Unlimited commission) that was followed by making Fusional Fragments with Dame Evelyn Glennie for my own company. Both projects were very different but having a supportive environment and working with a great team of collaborators enabled me to explore new ideas and push myself creatively beyond my own expectations.

How did the collaboration with Dame Evelyn Glennie and composer Philip Sheppard come about?
At the first Unlimited Commission briefing we were informed that the commissions were an opportunity for us to think big. So I did! The one person I have long wanted to collaborate with was Evelyn Glennie after seeing her film Touch the Sound , so I found her office number on the internet and called…

I first spoke to Evelyn’s manager then sent them a treatment of my idea so they could forward on to her. Luckily she liked the idea and actually suggested she wanted to co-compose with Philip Sheppard with whom I had worked with on the London Handover Ceremony in Beijing. It was a great coincidental connection that I was happy to explore further. Because of Evelyn’s busy performance schedule the collaboration between Evelyn, Philip and me was initially done via the internet (skype, email and video). I sent Evelyn and Philip tasks and ideas of what I wanted to explore with the dancers; they then took my notes into the recording studio then spent time doing what Evelyn does so well, which is improvising and playing a whole series of wonderful and interesting instruments from around the world and even household objects that make fantastic sounds.

We subsequently had hours worth of amazing music which Philip put together onto different sample tracks. We were then able to use the tracks in the rehearsal studio to put the music and the dance together.

It was during this process and after our informal sharing of the work of Fusional Fragments with the recorded track that we realised it would be great to have Evelyn perform the work live with us in London. And that’s what we’re doing on August 31st at the QEH – premiering Fusional Fragments with Marc Brew Company and Evelyn Glennie live on stage…I think it’s going to be a really exciting evening!

The publicity says the work draws contrasts between contemporary dance and ballet. You have a background in both – how do you see the relationship between the two forms ?
My training was grounded with a strong classical ballet and contemporary dance at The Victorian College of the Arts Secondary School and the Australian Ballet School. After acquiring a disability and becoming a wheelchair user I was unsure of how I fitted into these styles of dance. I have since explored ways to challenge these molds of dance styles and find new and interesting ways to explore movement potential using my training and professional experience as a dancer with and without a disability.

One reviewer said recently “The distinct movement vocabulary of Marc Brew is hypnotizing” – do you think you have developed a particular, unique dance language through being a dancer who is also a wheelchair user?
I feel I have gone full circle as a choreographer having begun choreographing as a student using only my own movement and teaching it to others to then exploring task-based work and working in collaboration with dancers and directing. I now use all these elements and have explored my own movement language as a disabled dancer and choreographer to discover if it is interesting

Are you performing in Fusional Fragments as well?
No, with Fusional Fragments I purposely did not put myself in the work as I wanted my choreography to speak for itself.

You’ve also made Parallel Lines - a piece for Candoco Dance Company, which you were a member of for several years. Has is it been good to return to the company again?
It was fabulous and a big welcoming home for me. Since joining the company in 2003 under the direction of Celeste Dandeker I had wanted to choreograph a work for the company so I was thrilled that Stine [Nilsen] and Pedro [Machado], current co-artistic directors of the company, invited me to created Parallel Lines. Once again I thought big…but this time I worked with the amazing set designer Sam Collins to create an evolving visual design in the space for the dancers to explore and use.

Tell us about the work…
Working with the Unlimited brief of bringing dancers from past present and future hosting Olympic countries (China, UK and Brazil) made me think of how we connect and I began connecting the dots from one country to the other. This conjured up the idea of a visual design of never ending lines crossing the space creating like a web on stage.

I felt very privileged to be part of such a rich working environment; to see cultural exchange and problem solving happen right before my eyes was amazing. As dancers I feel we can be very adaptable, so it was just about us working together to ensure we were all on the same page and if at any time we were not that was when interesting and unexpected moments would happen – it was all part of a fantastic and extremely enjoyable experience.

What first inspired you to get in to dance?
I use to watch Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly movies when I was young which inspired me and made me think “I could do that!”

And other significant influences?
Having male role models in dance was a big influence and when I started my ballet training the likes of Nijinsky, Nureyev and Baryshnikov. Choreographically I was influence by works from Jirí Kylián, Meryl Tankard, Natalie Weir, Wim Vandekeybus and Pina Bausch, and many more…..

What’s happening for the Marc Brew Company after these performances?
Marc Brew Company will be touring over the autumn a Triple Bill of work that includes: Remember When, Nocturne and Fusional Fragments. As part of our autumn tour schedule we have also been invited to Skånes Dansteater in Malmö.

We’ll be presenting Nocturne and Remember When as part of the Gala Performances for the Dansfunk festival on 28 and 29 September 2012. The company will also be delivering a masterclass and participating in the Dansfunk Conference while we are there.

You can find more information about the performances at the Skånes Dansteater site.

Marc Brew Dance Company perform Fusional Fragments at the Southbank Centre’s Queen Elizabeth Hall on 31 August
Online booking

Candoco Dance Company perform Marc Brew’s Parallel Lines at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on 6 September
Online booking

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