Interview: Tara Pilbrow

Thursday 15 May 2014 by Lise Smith

Amir Giles & Vanessa Cook in Tara Pilbrow's '2+1'. Photo: Andreea Vaidean

Tara Pilbrow is a Hong-Kong born British dancer and choreographer who studied with leading companies in Asia including Beijing Modern Dance Company and Cloud Gate Theatre of Taiwan before working in Paris with companies including Cie Jacky Auvray, Cie Longuelouve, Prisme International, Cie Gilschamber, Cie Les Orpailleurs. Now living in the UK with her young daughter, Pilbrow’s latest dance production 2+1 looks at the joys and challenges of bringing a new baby into a relationship. She’s showing the work in progress at the Cockpit Theatre next Monday…

Tell us about the inspiration for 2+1
Often planned well in advance, the arrival of a new baby is still a cataclysmic shock to most of us. It is one of the most exhausting, exhilarating, and terrifying moments of our lives, but we invariably stumble through it in a state of dopiness that transforms the whole thing into a sort of blurry haze.

Now almost two years after the arrival of my first child, (and with a second on the way), I decided that it would be interesting to try to make a piece of dance theatre that explored the rollercoaster of emotions, and physical states that the start of parenthood involves. It felt like an ideal theme for a piece of theatre in that it is both personal and universal, so ‘everyday’ in many ways, and yet undeniably life-changing.

I’m working with dancers Amir Giles and Vanessa Cook, looking at how life changes for a young couple in the first few months of their child’s life. We’re coming to the end of a three week R&D period now, working with sound designer, Giles Thomas and theatre director, Lu Kemp and will be showing our work in progress at the Cockpit Theatre on Monday (tickets just £1!).

What are the challenges of combining parenthood with a career in the performing arts?
The most obvious challenge is money. Childcare in London is excruciatingly expensive, and I invariably end up earning less than I’m paying for childcare. Another great frustration is not being able to get to the performances and events that I would like to attend. Once you’ve asked all the babysitting favors you can just to get to work, you just can’t justify another night out to get to the theatre. I often feel like I’m getting out of touch, and that I’m loosing out on valuable networking opportunities.

You worked as a performer and choreographer in France for a decade before returning to the UK – what are the differences between France and the UK where dance and dance audiences are concerned?
One of the reasons I decided to go to live and work in France oh-so many years ago was because I sensed that they had a respect for dance as an art form that was lacking in the UK at the time. The stereotypical image of dance as purely sport/entertainment, and of dancers as intellectual underdogs didn’t seem to exist in France where dance was considered to be a valuable contemporary conceptual art form. I can’t deny that another major lure was the financial support that the French government provides to artists (the ‘intermittants’).

I think attitudes to dance in the UK have changed a great deal in the last 10 years. I also found that French dance can sometimes suffer from being taken to the opposite extremes. Occasionally I would find myself in theatres thinking, I’m sure this piece looked fantastic on paper, and that the arguments behind it were hugely intellectually challenging, but I, the audience member, am rapidly falling asleep!

I have found the process of seeking funding, and finding support as a young choreographer to be more fluid here in the UK than it appeared in France. Also there’s an incredible amount of support on offer from institutions such as The Place, and the Arts Council if you know where to look for it.

What have been some of your favourite moments as a performer?
Much as I love being on stage, and the feeling of being ‘in the moment’, especially in improvised performance, I think what I enjoy most is the creative process itself. Searching, asking questions, and pushing to see where the body might go. That said there is also something incredible about coming off stage and feeling that you have given your utmost, drained yourself physically and mentally, and that you have nothing left to give.

You work with both tango and contemporary dance. How does one form complement the other?
Obviously there are elements of tango technique which are beneficial in contemporary dance and vice-versa, but what I have found fulfilling about working with both is that they are such different art forms. Tango is a largely social dance, and as a ‘follower’, it is all about learning to follow, and to a certain extent about feeling feminine. Contemporary dance is a largely professional art-form in which gender difference is often minimized, and we may strive to appear strong and independent. Discovering tango helped me to rediscover my femininity, and to accept my need to be ‘appealing’ on stage.

What are your plans for the next year?
We’ve just finished the R&D period with the dancers and after Monday’s sharing I will be winding down in preparation for the birth of my second child, due in July. Experience has taught me to be reasonably flexible in terms of making plans for restarting work after childbirth, but my great hope is to get back to teaching and performing as quickly as possible, and to concentrate on getting funding for a final rehearsal period and tour for 2+1 in late 2104/early 2015.

See Tara Pilbrow’s 2+1 in progress at the Cockpit Theatre in Marylebone on Monday 19 May, 7pm. Tickets: £1

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