tue 21/11/2017

10 Questions for Choreographer Charles Linehan | reviews, news & interviews

10 Questions for Choreographer Charles Linehan

10 Questions for Choreographer Charles Linehan

Prior to Brighton Fest premiere, Charles Linehan talks Berlin, time machines, Robert Wyatt and more

'England was an exotic place for me to come to'

Charles Linehan is an acclaimed British choreographer, whose company has performed all over the world, from DanSpace New York to Brussels’ Kaai Theatre to the Venice Biennale. Born in Cyprus and raised in Kent, he studied at the Rambert School of Ballet and Contemporary Dance, prior to honing his craft as a dancer with various European companies.

The Charles Linehan Dance Company appeared in 1994 and he became choreographer-in-residence at both The Place and the South Bank Centre, also winning the 1998 Jerwood Choreography Award. He moved to Berlin in 2011 for two years but returned to the UK to be appointed Reader in Choreography at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance. He is an Associate Artist with Dance4, Nottingham. The world premieres of two new pieces, My Mother’s Tears and Quarter Plus Green, take place at this year’s Brighton Festival, which co-commissioned both.

THOMAS H GREEN: Starting with the obvious thing to ask, can you tell us a bit about My Mother's Tears?

CHARLES LINEHAN: I was curious about what would happen if you took the codified language of 19th century ballet mime gestures – with all their representations of love, death, weapons, and, er, stags – and placed it in a different context. So leafing through the text and images of a dusty old hardback book that’s supposed to explain how and why you do these things, I planned the outline of the piece. I worked with ex-Royal Ballet soloists William Trevitt and Michael Nunn. I liked the fact that they are older, haven’t performed for a long time, and that they were playful in the process. Like aural history in many cultures the intricacies of ballet mime are passed down through the generations.

linehanHow about A Quarter Plus Green?

Within the context of the programme A Quarter Plus Green is a wolf in sheep's clothing. It’s a choreographic jigsaw that is propelled and constrained by the independent transformations of the lighting environment and an escalating wall of sound by Richard Skelton. As well as stripping the venue back to a wooden floor, the performance area will be cleared to a full 20 metres in depth and there will be an emphasis on the lighting hardware.

Talking of which, how has technology been an inspiration and accomplice in your career?

It’s a luxury to have portable hi-resolution cameras as well as a video suite and sound-editing studio on a laptop. I am not a digital native and I remember the massive video rendering machines that used to take up the best part of a room.

wyattWhat was the last album you listened to, end-to-end?

It must have been Robert Wyatt’s Rock Bottom. I can’t tell you when I played it but it was an album that my girlfriend in Kent also knew back when we were 17 or 18. A while after we split up she came to my house to collect her Joy Division albums that I was trying to hang on to. It was many years later that we met again and quite a few more before we married and had children together.

Your Scalectrix project along with the production Falling Light come at the dawn of your choreographic career, when you were pushing out on your own. What was it and how did it affect your life?

It was a gruellingly physical duet. At that time, in 1994, I had hardly any connection with the London/UK dance scene as I had just returned to London having spent most of my career as a performer around Central Europe. Luckily there are some programmers who are committed to seeing grass roots work, in this case John Ashford and Betsy Gregory. It did mean that we leap-frogged into some festivals and later on I became Choreographer-in-Residence at The Place in London.

If you had a time machine and you could go back in time anywhere for 24 hours, where would you go?

That’s tantalising and difficult to narrow down. I’ve seen photos my Mum took while she was cycling through the Middle East in the 1950s so Lebanon or Iraq at that time would be fascinating. Having said that, California in the 1970s sounds attractive with its optimistic free-wheelin' culture of excess-Americana.

I read that your earliest involvement with dance was folk dancing in Cyprus. How and where were was this?

Yes, I think I’ve got a photo of me as a kid being taught folk dancing on a beach in Limassol. I was born in Cyprus but when I was 11 I was evacuated after the coup d'état and the subsequent Turkish invasion [in 1974]. Although my parents are English, England was an exotic place for me to come to. In regard to folk dance I just like the directness and joy of it, much like how I love rembetica music.

labanOne interview states that you were "thrown out" of the Rambert Ballet School. Is this true?

I don’t remember anything that specifically warranted me being kicked out but I’m sure I deserved it. It was a good thing. I had done my time there and just by chance I got my first job the next day. At that time it was old school and you just had to put up with stuff, become resilient, so in one way it was all in good stead. Students get a much better education nowadays. 

What did your years living in Berlin mean to you?

I have always loved Berlin, having performed there in the past, and I have vivid memories of visiting Communist East Berlin when I was 24. Over the two years we lived there I spent most of my time looking after the children, doing the school bike run, mainly a domestic existence. We knew we weren't going to be there permanently so professionally I wasn’t willing to start my career again from scratch by gathering people to work with, without paying them or myself, asking for favours. It became unsustainable, though it was culturally inspiring – and that included the home matches of the “other” football team, Union Berlin. 

Tell us about what projects you have on and what you are looking forward to in 2016.

In June I am collaborating with artist Wolfgang Weileder in a project that sees a full-scale replica of a section of the façade of the Trinity Laban building (pictured above), designed by Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron and built in 1997, being constructed out of breeze blocks right in the middle of Canary Wharf. Sections of the 12-metre high 1:1 replica of the façade will be simultaneously constructed and deconstructed over a period two weeks with choreographic interventions. It will be documented in time-lapse and long exposure film.

Further Brighton Festival 2016 information

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