10 August 2011 at 5.15pm | Comment on this article
Age 18, choreographer Freya Thomas has just left college, but her pas de deux has already been performed by Royal Ballet dancers
On 10 July Royal Ballet dancers Nathalie Harrison and Ryoichi Hirano performed a new pas de deux on the main stage at the Royal Opera House’s Covent Garden home. With music by Nico Muhly and lighting design by Lucy Carter, Umbra was a dark piece loosely based on the movement of shadows. The piece was choreographed by Freya Thomas – who is just 18 years old.
The opportunity arose last year when Thomas was one of five budding choreographers invited to spend a day at the Royal Opera House, as part of an ongoing partnership with Youth Dance England’s national Young Creatives programme. As well as discussing their work with resident choreographer Wayne McGregor and artistic director Monica Mason, the teens worked with several dancers, developing a phrase of choreography. Thomas was then chosen to develop a full piece, to be performed as part of the company’s Dance Futures education programme. ‘It was quite surreal,’ says Thomas,who took her inspiration for the work from a rather surprising source. ‘I watched the film Inception, and I really liked the soundtrack which is quite dark and sinister. I started to follow the idea of shadows and how they merge across different objects.’
The bulk of the performance was developed with a week of intensive rehearsals in May. ‘I collaborated with the dancers and told them my ideas about the piece,’ she says. ‘I gave them shapes which I wanted to create, going on to make a larger phrase. They picked up the material so quickly, and they’re very focused on what I want to create.’
How to work productively with the dancers formed an important part of McGregor’s mentoring of Thomas. ‘I’ve been able to ask him advice about the structuring of the piece, and how I should go about choosing music’, she explains. ‘He taught me to try and use the dancers’ strength to the best of their ability;he showed me how to use that amazing strength as much as possible rather than trying to get them to do things that might not suit their bodies.’ Thomas began dancing when she was just 10, going on to pursue dance at college. Her background has been mainly in street dance and hip-hop; which she credits for her particular interest in Hofesh Shechter’s work. In the near future, Thomas wants to focus on contemporary dance. ‘I want to perform first, and gain as much experience as I can as a dancer,’ she says. ‘I want to take choreography further in the future, and possibly have my own company.’
By Claire Wiley, originally published in Gig Magazine, 20 July 2011