From Punchdrunk to ROH2: Sarah Dowling on her New Dance Commission
Ahead of the premiere of her new work, the Associate Artist talks about her career to date and her inspirations.
What’s it like being one of the Royal Opera House’s Associate Artists and working with the dancers here?
It’s a window into a world that I had never stepped foot into. Before working here, I had only been to two operas, and never seen a ballet. The skill and excellence in the building puts you on a different level.
I first worked the dancers here on Ludd and Isis, creating duets for Mara Galezzi and Ryoichi Hirano and for Laura Morera and Bennet Gartside. It was an incredibly fruitful experience with my contemporary dance vocabulary meeting their classical technique and creating something fresh in between. Ballet dancers have an inherent theatricality; they want an emotive and personal vessel for all that technique. That’s something I understand as well.
Previously you’ve worked with the Royal Opera House’s resident choreographer Wayne McGregor, what was that experience like?
Working with Wayne McGregor was amazing. He opened up my mind to new possibilities of movement creation. His take on movement is quite abstract and I explored that quite rigorously.
I was invited into rehearsals where Wayne would have just 45 minutes with the dancers and was able to create a piece under this extreme time pressure. His clarity of purpose and the dedication with which he applied his choreographic skills was a massive revelation for me and very different to the contemporary dance world which might have a much more ad hoc approach.
He really enjoyed the work that I produced for him, and it was he who put me forward for the Associate Artist Scheme.
What about the work for 2012’s new dance commission?
I began working on it last summer as I had a second baby in October so needed to get it out of the way before my brain turned to mush! The pieces will be performed alongside works from the two other Associate choreographers, Laila Diallo and Freddie Opoku-Addaie and I’ll be returning to conduct rehearsals before. It was brilliant to work ahead like that, as it allowed the creative team to actually develop their work out of my choreography, which is quite unusual.
What’s was the inspiration for the new piece?
It’s a very sci-fi scenario. The dancers portray characters who’ve shut themselves off from the world, and don’t interact with any other people. All their behaviour comes from mimicking the TV. Television has been their mother, their teacher, their only company. The concept is quite dark and improbable, but it gave us the opportunity to create a very limited movement vocabulary and emotional vocabulary for each dancer.
The inspiration was watching my small child’s behaviour, out of his obsessive watching of television and what he learnt about the world around him from it. Each of the dancers has a real, operational television set that they interact and move around with. We’ve clad the TVs in perspex so you can see their inner mechanisms.
The piece certainly wasn’t conceived as a polemic against TV – I love rubbish telly! I’m fascinated by its power, its ability to manipulate the emotions, but also by people’s pleasure in that exploitation and their need for it, even. I cry my eyes out to shows like So you think you can dance. I know I’m being manipulated, but I still love it. Why? I think that there’s just a need for that physical emotional release. The cathartic element interests me and that’s what I’ve set out to explore in my piece.
New Dance Commissions run Thursday 29 March – Saturday 31 March