Interview: Tom Dale

Wednesday 17 April 2013 by Carmel Smith

Tom Dale

Based at Nottingham’s Dance4, Tom Dale and his company are fast gaining a reputation for creating innovative dance productions which combine digital technology, original music and contemporary movement. The spring tour of his latest production – the intriguingly titled Refugees of the Septic Heart, touches down in London, with two performances at Laban Theatre this week (Fri 19 & Sat 20 April)…

Tell us about the title of this work…
It comes from Shackleton who created the music along with Vengeance Tenfold. I think you can interpret it in a number of ways – the piece in general talks about everything: about where humans have come from, the stories we create to make sense of the world, and where we’re going. I think the ‘Septic Heart’ would represent the world of greed, corruption, exploitation and manipulation. ‘The Refugees’ are the people who have no part in that world; they have left that ideology behind. Or you could see it another way – if it is the ‘Septic Heart’ that ultimately causes a great change or apocalypse, then we will all be the Refugees of that Septic Heart. Either way, I like it, it makes you think.

How did you the collaboration with composer/producer Shackleton come about?
We worked together on a piece called Roam three or four years ago – we actually got into the studio and just started making music together. Then Shackleton began to turn that music into this project (Refugees) but I was still working on Roam and realised that Refugees would be an epic project and I would need more time to get a team together. I met dancer Hugh [Stainer] when I was doing a commissioned project for 2Faced Dance Company and thought he’d be fantastic for this piece; then I met digital artist Barret Hodgson when I was working at Nottingham’s Lakeside Arts Centre on I InfiniteShona Powell, the Artistic Director there introduced us knowing we’d get along. I was doing a projection test through haze in a gallery just next to the Lakeside and I needed someone to throw up some simple lines in the space so Barret came long and helped out – we also love the same kind of music so that was great too!

Were the digital projections created before the movement?
Barret, dramaturg Rick Holland and I started working on ideas behind the work about a year ago, just immersing ourselves in the music, talking and sharing ideas about what it meant to us and how we might interpret it in a visual sense. The digital work creates the environment for the performance to inhabit, sometimes working as a visual backdrop and at other times working as an integrated dynamic light source with the choreography. Creating both elements of movement and animation is a process of sharing work when you have it. It’s difficult, but with continuous open lines of communication it’s possible so that you can then adapt what you’ve done so that all the elements can work together. Both the projections and the movement were made at the same time, often remotely but sometimes together in the rehearsal space.

Are there particular challenges for the dancers in working with the projections?
It’s very hard for the dancers! At times they’re grasping for static visual references to gain their balance whilst negotiating a sweeping movement with five other bodies flying towards them. It’s risky but they are doing an amazing job.

Are the possibilities offered by digital technology at the centre of your choreographic work now?
Yes, they are because I am interested in creating different environments for the choreography to inhabit but more than that I want all of it to be created together in the same rehearsal space rather than work remotely. The advance of digital technology presents some really exciting challenges and it’s something I’m very keen on advancing and integrating into my work.

What’s next for you?
Touring to Cuba with I Infinite in late May and June – I went to Cuba in November last year teaching an eight day workshop for professional dancers from all over the country. I thought it was the most interesting place, depressing at times, but an amazing experience – I think there are going to be a lot of changes in Cuba over the next few years.

Then we’re performing at Edinburgh’s Dance Base this summer with Refugees – and we’re researching a new piece for children based on creating interactive music and visuals. I’ll be working with Barret and musician/software programmer Noel Murphy who’s also based in Nottingham; we’ll be looking at what we can do with technology, movement and sound.

And we’ll be touring Refugees again in 2014, I want as many people as possible to see it.

Tom Dale Company Refugees of the Septic Heart, Laban Theatre, 19 & 20 April 2013
More details & booking:

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