Interview: Martin Lawrance

Wednesday 22 February 2012 by Carmel Smith

Martin Lawrance (right) in rehearsal.

2012 is a big year for choreographer Martin Lawrance. He’s making a work for Scottish Ballet as part of the Cultural Olympiad project Dance GB (a collaboration between the three national dance companies) and this week London sees performances of two of his works – by Richard Alston at Sadler’s Wells and by Ballet Black in the premiere of Captured at the Linbury Studio, Royal Opera House – the first work he’s made for dancers en pointe…

What first sparked your interest in dance?
I was always keen on gymnastics and drama as a child and I decided to take a B-TEC course at Coventry Centre for the Perfoming Arts. At first, I was more interested in theatre but it was whilst on the course that I was introduced to contemporary dance. I grabbed it and ran with it! The first dance dance performance I vividly remember (whilst at CCPA) was London Contemporary Dance Theatre at Warwick Arts Centre. White Heat by Dan Wagoner was in the programme. I was stunned. The choreography, the dancers ( Paul Liburd, Aletta Collins, Kate Coyne, Isabel Tamen, Isabel Mortimer, David Hughes ), the music ( Bartok’s 4th String Quartet ) just blew me away completely. I still think of this piece when I choreograph!

You gave up dancing [on stage anyway] in 2007. Do you miss it?
I really do not miss it now but I thought I would at the time. I have had a couple of outings since 2007 ( Richard Alston’s 60th birthday at Sadler’s Wells in 2008 and The Place’s 40th birthday in 2010) both times performing different solos that Richard made for me. I enjoy teaching and choreographing so I get to do the dancing I like, which is not on stage. Towards the end of my dancing career I enjoyed the studio experience more than the stage experience.

You’ve made several works for Richard Alston Dance Company – which usually dances work made by Richard Alston. Are you aware of working in the company style – or do you consciously push to do things differently?
I danced for Richard’s company for twelve and half years so I obviously have an innate style which is compatible with the company. I think that’s related to the musicality that his work requires from a dancer. I, like Richard, take inspiration from music. Over the years that I have been making work for the company, I have developed a way of working that uses the dancers in a different way to Richard. Lie of the Land has been a turning point in this process because I worked with many different pieces of music to create the individual duets and solos before arranging and sculpting them to Ned Rorem’s 4th String Quartet . Richard has been a great mentor to me and provides a fantastic support and sounding board for me to bounce my ideas off.

Pendulum , the duet you made for Ballet Black in 2009 was very well reviewed. How did that collaboration come about?
I was approached by Cassa Pancho [Ballet Black founder & Artistic Director] after she saw a piece that I had made for RADC.
Did it feel like a big leap then – to make work for a ballet company?
I remember being very nervous at the first rehearsal! But then I was amazed at how responsive they were to me. I work in a technical way so I way able to draw on their own technique yet ‘Martin-ize’ it! The piece grew individually with each couple. I had three casts and I was happy for them to interpret it in different ways. The idea was the same but each couple had their own way of phrasing. There were no counts (with the Steve Reich score) so they had the freedom to play with timing. They knew the music would stop at 8mins 30secs so the challenge was to finish before it!

Tell us a bit about Captured the new work for Ballet Black…
I have made a quartet which is about 20 minutes in length set to Shostakovich’s 11th String Quartet in F minor . The Quartets are all quite short, almost fragmented. Each one, for me, has its own emotion, structure and story, apart from the last one, which is a combination of the previous movements. There are real moments of restriction and tension within the dance and music which tug the four dancers through the space.
I hear the dancers are en pointe…
Yes this is the first pointe piece I have made. It took a bit of time on the first couple of days finding out how quickly a dancer can go on and off pointe. The speed in which you can turn and promenade is much faster than in flat shoes so I was very excited about this as quite a few of the movements in the string quartet are very fast.

Did you have a ballet training along the way?
I trained for 3 years at London Contemporary Dance School and had ballet every day, so am comfortable with the language and pas de deux.

Have you started working with Scottish Ballet yet on your piece for Dance GB?
No, I start on March 5th for a week of R&D and then go back for 4 weeks sometime in May and June.

How will the collaboration with Turner Prize winner Martin Boyce work?
We had a great meeting yesterday looking at the design and how we can make this work in a theatre and also in a tent which is where we will be performing in London.

It’s part of the Cultural Olympiad – how are you feeling about it?
It will be the largest production I have worked on and I’m really excited and looking forward to getting into the studio and working with the dancers. I will have a live orchestra in Glasgow and Cardiff so that will be awesome!!

What/how have been the greatest influences on your development in dance?
Richard Alston !!!

Desert Island style – your Favourite film?
Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion.
Music? Elgar’s Cello Concerto
Book? – can I choose two? Maybe the Moon by Armistead Maupin and Perfume by Patrick Süskind

If you didn’t work in dance, what might you have done instead?
I was really into mathematics at school so maybe something in that field…

Richard Alston Dance Company, Sadler’s Wells, 29 Feb & 1 Mar
Ballet Black, Linbury Studio Theatre, Royal Opera House, 29 Feb – 7 Mar
Dance GB

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