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Choreographer Robert Binet on the power of immersive performance

The Canadian choreographer shares how he brought The Dreamers Ever Leave You to a former print works, where audiences can experience ballet close up.

By Will Richmond (Lead for Engagement Content)

12 October 2017 at 4.56pm | 12 Comments

‘New spaces really rev my brain up’, says Robert Binet, the Canadian choreographer bringing his immersive ballet The Dreamers Ever Leave You to Printworks, London, this week. ‘It’s a huge and really cool space. You really feel the history of the printing press – you can see the tracks the newspapers used to fly through and all the loading bays for the trucks. It’s got this amazing historical texture but it’s also a blank canvas – there’s something stunning about wide open spaces, in the natural world especially, but also man-made ones like this’.

Binet’s inspiration for the ballet, which was first performed at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto in 2016, was the paintings of Canadian artist Lawren Harris. Harris’s landscape paintings reduce experiences of the natural world – especially his sparse, arctic scenes – to their core elements, highlighting the spiritual power and magnitude of the landscapes.

‘Harris is an artist I’ve always loved’, says Binet. ‘He was painting these images before we had much photography or film, so he kind of created Canada’s image of the North. I wanted to humanize the energy Harris captures and try to make it more accessible – I think ideas are always more relatable when they are explored through humanity’.

The piece is performed to new music by Canadian composer and pianist Lubomyr Melnyk, who set two world records in 1985 as the fastest piano player in the world – he can play more than 19 notes per second on each hand. His technique of ‘continuous music’ (a combination of classical and minimalist piano styles) with its rich, layered and cascading texture, conjures a mystical atmosphere of what the Canada Globe and Mail in 2016 described as ‘a powerful feeling of incomprehensible forces, of spiritual beauty and underlying risk’.

‘I was thrilled when Lubomyr agreed to make new music for this ballet’, says Binet. ‘He’s created about 14 movements but for each movement there’s a theme that he improvizes. The dancers know the themes really well but the order of the movements will often change or will be played a little differently. I’ve asked the dancers to let the changing music and light infuse their bodies so their performances vary every time too.’

The audience also have the power to control their experience of the performance by moving around the venue's large open space. As Binet explains, this certainly has its advantages and opportunities for innovation: ‘You have to approach every element afresh, which makes it more conducive to creativity,’ he says. ‘Sometimes it’s easier than more traditional venues because, while the choreography needs to look good from every angle, it doesn’t need to look its best from just one angle.

A post shared by Robert Binet (@rbinet) on

‘When you’re creating for a theatre the audience shows up, sits down and we lift the curtain. With this piece we’ve had to take a more holistic approach: I’m choreographing the audience’s experience as much as the dancers. I’ve worked hard to ensure the focus pulls from one side of the room to the other; in Toronto, where it was first performed, some people would scurry around after their favourite dancer while others would stand in the back corner and take it in from a distance. I hope giving people a flexible experience like this raises the odds of them connecting with ballet and dance.’

Share your photos of The Dreamers Ever Leave You, which is performed at Printworks London on 12 and 13 October, with #DreamersInLondon

This interview is adapted from a conversation which took place between Gerard Davis and Robert Binet, which is available in the performance programme.

By Will Richmond (Lead for Engagement Content)

12 October 2017 at 4.56pm

This article has been categorised Ballet and tagged Ballet, by Robert Binet, immersive, Lubomyr Melnyk, National Ballet of Canada, Printworks, Social Media, The Dreamers Ever Leave You

This article has 12 comments

  1. Nick responded on 12 October 2017 at 11:19pm Reply

    Sounds fantastic, and I can't wait to see the final performance - and see who's dancing.

  2. Emma responded on 12 October 2017 at 11:54pm Reply

    This was one of the most amazing and privileged experiences that I have ever had at the ballet. To see such incredible dancers so close up and to be able to move around them and take in the performance in so many different ways was utterly unique and felt so special. I couldn't imagine a better way to watch top principles from the Royal Ballet, and can't imagine another opportunity to watch something that felt such a personal experience. Utterly beautiful and captivating- it has given me so much to think about. You could only ever dream of being so close and watching such detail. Thank you!

  3. Kate responded on 13 October 2017 at 6:00pm Reply

    I thought Heather Ogden was a fantastic talent. So happy I got to see her dance up close.

  4. Julie responded on 13 October 2017 at 11:33pm Reply

    [This post has been edited to remove bad language as per our community guidelines]

    I'm not sure what everyone else was smoking, but the piece was terrible... unless other people are saying that and ROH is only selectively posting comments. If so, shame.

    • Mel Spencer (Senior Editor (Social Media)) responded on 14 October 2017 at 11:09pm

      Hi Julie,

      We publish all comments where possible, even if they are negative or critical - although any bad language or overly personal comments about our artists are likely to be edited out as per our community guidelines.

      Thanks for your comment.


  5. Anne responded on 14 October 2017 at 11:17am Reply

    To be honest, I didn't expect much from standing in the old printworks for 45 minutes! But this turned out to be an amazing experience, being so close to the dancers. Especially thrilling was the wonderful partnership of Alexander Campbell and Francesca Hayward - she was fearless and flying!

  6. Denise responded on 15 October 2017 at 6:03pm Reply

    This was amazing and very beautiful. I really liked being so close to the dancers and being able to focus on small gestures in a way that is not possible in a conventional setting. I look forward to more performances like this.

  7. alex responded on 15 October 2017 at 11:18pm Reply

    It was a totally new and enriching experience. The piano music by Lubomyr was stunning! What an amazing event this was. I loved the feeling of "having" all the dancers around me, and to be able to watch Yasmine Naghdi, dancing a beautiful pas de deux with Ryoichi Hirano, right in front of my eyes is unforgettable.

  8. Nick responded on 19 October 2017 at 9:12pm Reply

    I'm with Alex - Yasmine Naghdi and Ryoichi Hirano in particular, but all the others too, right in front of us was such a thrill.

    Obviously not everyone's thing, but I thought the setting was fantastic, what a wonderful experience.

    As I was leaving, one of the security men wished me a safe journey home and hoped I'd enjoyed the evening, and my enthusiastic reply was matched by his own, almost incredulous reply along the lines of "Wasn't it great? I *really* enjoyed it!" I got the impression he'd been really surprised at what he saw and heard, and his own reaction to it. A convert maybe!

    And all for £15!

  9. Anna responded on 22 October 2017 at 4:04am Reply

    This piece just got into my whole being. It's a sublime experience.

    Hope that you keep getting more pieces from the same choreographer.

  10. Disappointing. The general consensus from our group was that this was mediocre, at best, with the strongest part being the opportunity to be close to such exquisite dancers. Why the Royal Ballet would take such a step down in quality and showcase this when there are a number of sublime choreographers working today is a mystery, for now. Very curious, indeed.

  11. Reid responded on 24 October 2017 at 9:06pm Reply

    Gorgeous dancers and lighting. Boring work.

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