sun 17/12/2017

theartsdesk Q&A: Director Robert Lepage | reviews, news & interviews

theartsdesk Q&A: Director Robert Lepage

theartsdesk Q&A: Director Robert Lepage

The fearless theatre-maker tells us why his alter ego is in a funk

Robert Lepage: 'From a very early age, I understood that a certain happiness comes from not knowing where you are going'Credit: Julie Perreault

Robert Lepage is not just one of the most fêted and sought-after theatre directors in the world; he is also one of the most prolific. His international breakthrough came with The Dragon Trilogy in 1985, and since then the French-Canadian’s work has been seen across the globe. His stunningly ambitious production of Wagner’s Ring cycle was recently performed at the Metropolitan Opera, New York, and he conceived and directed Cirque du Soleil’s latest acrobatic blockbuster, Totem, which can currently be seen at the Royal Albert Hall. Meanwhile, he has also found time to add dancing to his impressive repertoire. Last month he performed in Paris with ballet star Sylvie Guillem and choreographer Russell Maliphant in his Kabuki-inspired production Eonnagata.

Lepage, now 53, has pursued solo projects as well as collaborated on productions with Ex Machina, the theatre company he founded in 1994. His poetic and utterly compelling one-man play Far Side of the Moon, a story about the relationship between two very different brothers whose rivalry echoes that of the space race between America and the Soviet Union, cemented his reputation as a theatre-maker of genius. And although his productions are renowned for their high-tech multimedia wizardry, his plays never lose sight of fundamental human truths, nor steer away from devastating human frailties. Not surprisingly, he has received the highest honours for his work including, in 2002, France's Légion d'honneur and, from his native city, the title of Grand Québécois by the Quebec Chamber of Commerce.

His latest work, The Blue Dragon (co-written with Marie Michaud), opens at the Barbican on 17 February and picks up where The Dragon Trilogy left off, more than two decades later. Lonely, jaded and somewhat lost, we find the once idealistic Pierre Lamontagne, now aged 50 and running an art gallery in Shanghai, trying to reconcile himself to a country rapidly changing beyond recognition. Like China, he must choose which path to take. I caught up with Lepage in his dressing room at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, where he is appearing in Eonnagata.

I wasn’t supposed to do this kind of work - I’m too shy. I’m really a very, very shy person

FISUN GÜNER: What made you revisit the character of Pierre in The Dragon Trilogy?

ROBERT LEPAGE: Well, because he’s really a bit of an alter ego, that character. I mean, I don’t have the same career as Pierre, but I identify with his preoccupations. When I created The Dragon Trilogy I was 25, he was 25. And I don’t know why, but Pierre has always been a secret first name - when I was at school I always wondered why I wasn’t called Pierre. I felt more of a Pierre than a Robert. So when I turned 50 I thought, “Well, this is two times 25, and 50 is always a moment of suspension. We usually say, “OK, so what next?” Or, “Everything was going well and now this.” And there was that curiosity of what happened to him.

BicycleBlue-Dragon-007Isn’t there always a danger in resurrecting a character who exists at a very specific moment in time?

In the case of Pierre Lamontagne, he was a character who was created out of a mass of characters. The Dragon Trilogy had tonnes of characters from different generations. He was just a sprout out of that, so we know very little about him. He is the one who’s supposed to bear witness over 75 years of The Dragon Trilogy.

So, do you like your alter ego?

Yes, absolutely. But I think he’s a bit of a loser compared to me, in the sense that I take actions, whatever anguish, whatever doubt there may be. He’s a character who’s a bit more suspended, a bit more pessimistic. I don’t despise him for that, I just think it’s interesting to put myself in his shoes. And he’s not a character who’s necessarily been given all the chances. I’d say he’s an expression of my timidity. I wasn’t supposed to do this kind of work - I’m too shy. I’m really a very, very shy person.

Really? In another life, perhaps?

No, really, I’m still a very shy person. I don’t know if it’s something destructive in me, but I put myself in situations where I think, “Oh, my God, why, why are you putting yourself in this situation?” I’m terrorised by speaking in public and here I am doing shows and travelling and having to speak about my ideas. And I think Pierre is pretty much an expression of that shyness. He’s a very, very vulnerable and shy person.

OK. But name me a writer who creates an alter ego which doesn’t portray him as some kind of loser? Woody Allen comes to mind - a complete nerdy loser on screen. Can you name a writer who’s created an alter ego as successful as they are in life?

So, what do you think it is, guilt? Is it because a successful person feels guilty and has to create a character who’s a loser? Is it a kind of Judeo-Christian guilt?

Perhaps it’s because we never see ourselves as others see us. As human beings we are all still feeling our way, and we’re never as confident as we may appear.

But don’t you think it’s to do with the fact that when you’re a public figure, if you’re somebody who’s in view, people don’t think that you can relate to them? I think it’s maybe a need to identify with people.

Do you think that’s a conscious thing? I suppose no matter how successful you are you will always have your human vulnerabilities. Because you’ve spent most of your life not being that huge success.

Yes. But your alter ego is also what you think of yourself in a certain way. You criticise and you incarnate a side of yourself that you’re not necessarily proud of and you incarnate a side of yourself that you don’t necessarily want to show. It’s a character, so you have the excuse that it’s just theatre.

In order to grow you have to put yourself in danger, and intuitively Pierre knows that. He has to destabilise himself

Pierredragon_10Do you think Pierre (Lepage as Pierre, pictured left) has changed a lot?

Yes. As I said, he’s suspended. I think he’s a character that is… we’re always victimised by our own ambition, in the sense that when you’re young you have a dream. If you’re good at what you do your dream becomes a reality, which in turn becomes a nightmare. The worst thing that could happen to you is that your dream comes true, right?

Why?

Because we’re very ignorant people. When we’re young we say, “Oh, I want this to happen to me,” but you’re ignorant of, “If this happens to me, I’ll be very unhappy.” And then it happens – and then you’re unhappy.

But, conversely, you’d be unhappy if you didn’t fulfil your dream.

From a very early age, I understood that a certain happiness comes from not knowing where you are going, and not wishing anything, but just going, “Well, I’m interested in theatre and theatre brings me to places where I thought I’d never go.” And I know a lot of people who’ve achieved their dreams and they’re unhappy. They wanted to have this, this and that, and they got all that and they’re unhappy.

Are you sure they were happy before?

No, probably not.

Well, you know, at the same time, there’s nothing like a frustrated desire.

I think that it’s also a question of the world changing. When you’re 25, you have your dreams, your ambitions, a political stance and a philosophy. Even if you hold on to all that, you end up 25 years later in a world that’s changed. That necessarily creates a confrontation.

Pierre Lamontagne decides to go to China at a time when hardly anybody went to China. He is part of a small group of Europeans who went to open places like art galleries in Beijing and Shanghai in the late 1980s, when there was absolutely no freedom, no money, no possibility, but who knew that one day something would happen and that these artists would come to fruition. And when that came, it came in such a huge rush. And now these people are victimised by that system. These people who collaborated with the system, who spent 15 years of their lives not making money and believing in the dream, now they are told, "Sorry, you’re a foreigner, we need your house. Thank you, goodbye.” That’s what happens to Pierre. He’s a character who’s at a moment in time, like China. China is at a moment when it has to choose. There’s a fork and they both have to choose, “Right, now where are we going?”

Watch a trailer for the 2010 Canadian production of The Blue Dragon



What made you take him to China in the first play?

Well, in order to grow you have to put yourself in danger, and intuitively the character of Pierre knows that. He has to destabilise himself. He has to go to a place where he doesn’t know the language, he doesn’t know how things work. It’s the only way you can find who you are. It’s that search for identity. If you hang around your family too much, you’re never going to find out who you are. You have to tear away and go very, very far.

I think it’s like any hero. A character goes through all these different life-changing experiences and there’s a moment where you have to go under, like the sun does. You have to go into the darkness, to the place where you don’t know the rules, where you have to reinvent yourself, where you fall into every possible trap. And if you come out of that, you can come out of that triumphantly. Quebec culture is now making a name for itself – dance companies, circus companies, singers. But for a long time, certainly in the Eighties, Quebec society was very closed, very paranoid, very self-centred, and there were very few courageous people who would come out and travel and go around the world, which is what Pierre, who comes from that background, decides to do.

Are you often surprised that critics engage with your work on levels that don‘t always occur to you?

Oh, all the time. All the time. That’s why I have a strange relationship with critics and reviewers, because I actually read reviews and I actually feed off them, because the way I work allows me to change my work. I think that if I was a traditional playwright, I would write my play and I would publish it and that would be that. Somebody might criticise it, but there’s no way it gets changed. But my work isn’t like that - I mean, I’m rewriting half The Blue Dragon for London. My performance is my writing process. So if you work like that, you have to take what people say about it into account.

That’s a very unusual way of working, isn’t it? Most writers couldn’t bear to change anything.

Because my work doesn’t have any literary value. It has absolutely no literary value - it’s just a happening. I’m onstage and that’s what I do.

‘Why have the pretension that you know what you’re talking about?’


Many people who love your work would be surprised at what you’ve just said.


It has no real literary value, it’s just something we do at that point in time and it’s very ephemeral and then somebody comes to the show and they say, “Oh, did you know that your show is about this?” And you say, “Oh. Really? Well, that’s more interesting.” And then the day after, you cannot pretend that it hasn’t been said. And then you see that it might be true. That’s how evolutionary writing processes work. And I never shy away from that. I used to be a bit embarrassed by it. I used to think, “My god, I don’t know what I’m writing, I don’t know what my shows are about.” And then I discovered that this is actually a virtue. Why have the pretension that you know what you’re talking about?

You had a massive critical hit with Far Side of the Moon (pictured below right) at the National Theatre in London in 2000. Yet you’ve said you were surprised that it translated so well to British audiences. Why? If anything is universal than it’s the theme of sibling rivalry.

I don’t know, I just thought it would be of no interest. I wasn’t surprised when we went to Korea for example, and people were extremely taken with the whole piece. And you go, “Well, yes, of course, the history of Korea, it’s about two metaphorical siblings who are at odds.” I mean North Korea and South Korea.

DarkSideMoonYes, you can take it at a symbolic or a metaphorical level.

Well, otherwise it’s just a first-level story, and that’s of no interest. The first-level story has to echo a bigger story, and if you’re performing in a culture where you think there won’t be a larger echo, you end up thinking that it won’t translate. I thought in England it might be perceived as a naïve view of the space race.

I think audiences had rarely seen anything as visually exciting before.

One of the great qualities of English theatre is that it’s about the written word, the spoken word, the way English actors are so brilliant in the way they deliver text - it’s a great pleasure for the ear. The English say “audience”, which means people are going to listen, we say “spectator”, which is about seeing. So that’s why I sometimes have the impression that when we come to England, people’s ears are cleaner, more acute.

The first thing I ever saw of yours was Tectonic Plates, on television, so the film not the stage version. And I’d never really seen anything like it, and so it made me interested. And then I saw Coriolanus at Nottingham Playhouse in the mid-Nineties, and what was so interesting about the night that I saw it was that it was in French and the surtitles had broken, and I thought, “Oh, my God, how many hours of Shakespeare in French can I take?“ And the theatre manager came on and explained what had happened and said that we could come another time. But most of us stayed. I didn’t understand a word, but I have to say it was the most visually exciting theatre I had ever seen.

But you got the gist of the situations?

Well, it would have been interesting if I didn’t know the play at all - that would have been a different experience. I knew it broadly, not intimately. But the visual language completely bowled me over.

And now there’s more of a visual culture in England. But still today, in British society, people are careful how they speak. Speech reveals education, where you’re from - it’s still a class-ridden culture. I have the impression that it’s… not an obsession, but that this thing is very present in England and you can sense it more than anywhere else. I mean, besides Austria, where you try to speak German and they see that you’re a foreigner trying to speak German and they won’t even serve you. So, what I mean is, the relationship to the spoken word, and to the voice and all of that, people listen very carefully [in English theatre]. It seems to be the vehicle of so much more than in Latin cultures like French or Italian. We’re more sloppy about all that and we don’t really care about accents because the class system has been kind of broken, so it doesn’t really matter.

But also I know that most theatre directors aren’t as visually clever. They're just not.

Well, maybe not. Perhaps they’re not interested in it. One of the most important things in my theatrical upbringing was when I had the chance to go to Japan for the first time, and for me it’s impossible to spend more than a day in a country where I cannot read the language. I have to be able to do that. So after a week I could pretty much read Japanese. I couldn’t speak it but I understood how to decipher it, and suddenly it gives you X-ray eyes.

So when I was in Japan, the thing I discovered, which was a shock, was that in the Western world when we write it is a kind of... we’re transcribing the audio. So you will say something to me and I will write it down, and it’s just a bunch of sounds that are all connected together. That’s what writing is. But in Japan, it’s two things: it’s images - some of these words are actually pictures – and it’s also sound. And when you learn Japanese you have to be as visually aware as you are audatively aware. So Japanese language is not something that can be really fully understood if it’s just spoken. It’s also something that’s painted. I mean in Dragon, there’s a bit about that, because Chinese calligraphy is mainly about drawing pictures, and how they seem able to find a balance between sound and vision.

So you think it’s all cultural?

Completely.

Because I would have said that most people aren’t gifted at both.

But shouldn’t you be working on the opposite? For example, I bought myself a piano last year. And the reason why I bought a piano is that I know that ageing actors usually start paintings for some reason - a lot of singers, too, Brian Eno and David Bowie and all these people, they suddenly become painters later in their lives - and I’ve done so much visual work in my life that I thought, I’m not going to do watercolours that’s for sure. So I bought a piano and now I’m trying to do something that is more about the inner ear.

A lot of your plays have been translated from French into English. What do you think happens to them in the process?

Well, it’s a radically different thing. The Italians say traduzione traditore, which means "translator traitor". You cannot be faithful to someone’s script unless you betray it. If you try to be faithful to the word you eventually end up betraying the meaning. If you want to be really faithful you have to change it and make it something else.

I’m a much looser person in English than I am in French

Was Far Side of the Moon radically altered as a result of its English translation?

Pretty much. There are things that are better expressed in English.

It was very funny.

That’s, I guess, in both languages. But it’s funny you should mention that play because in a few days from now it’s opening in Quebec City with the actor who took over from me in French. And he performed it in English when he toured in the United States and he called me again two days ago to say, “Listen, there’s a line in English where he says, 'Get rid of that loser energy and get a life.'" But in French you can’t say that. So we just kind of jump it and go into some other subject and the actor playing the part said, “But that’s such an important thing that he says.” And for years now we’ve been trying to translate that line and there’s no possible translation.

Is it more slangy in English? Looser?

Yeah, it’s looser. I’m a much looser person in English than I am in French. I am two different people in French and in English.

Do you have a brother?

Yes, I have.

Is he younger than you?

No, he’s older than I am. He’s five or six years older than me.

What did he make of the sibling relationship in
Far Side of the Moon?  Because the younger brother, he's shallow, non-reflective, a bit cheesy - I mean, he's this really cheesy TV weatherman - and he's anti-intellectual. And the other brother, who is clearly you, is completely the opposite of that. Didn't he feel a bit hacked off?

No, no, he didn't, not at all. I don’t think so. It’s just that, you see, my brother is an example of someone who’s planned his life so carefully and his dream came true. He has a house and a family and he has a good salary and he has two cars, and he teaches art. I guess it’s a question of control. He probably wants to be in control. He wants security. And he finds happiness in that and I’m exactly the opposite. I don’t have any ambition, I don’t have any career plan. The guy in the play, he's a public guy, and the other one is the one with the more integrity, but at the same time is more paralysed by it.

Because the play was written from the viewpoint of the angst-ridden intellectual, who is actually also very envious and insecure.

Absolutely, very unhappy and jealous of the unconsciousness of the other character. He would have wished to be like that, because his consciousness makes him unhappy. Of course, there was a time when I was a bit like that, and then I discovered that there’s more fun not knowing where you’re going.

Even now?

Oh yes, absolutely. You end up doing things you’re not supposed to be doing and you think, this is great. Otherwise, I never would have gone there. If I had planned my career, if I had chosen things, if I had been reasonable…

‘I think it’s a great advantage for English-speaking people to come and see Shakespeare in a foreign language’


But you have a personality which is very open to things. I don’t think it would make everyone happy.


I don’t know. It’s a thing that I’ve always been like. I always say yes to the thing that surprises me. Sylvie Guillem showed up after a show I was doing in Australia and said, “I want to work with you.” Oh my God, Sylvie Guillem! And you say, “Why not?” And then you discover she wants you to dance with her. What? I was 50, And you go, “Alright.” You have to say yes. If you say, “No, I’m 50. I’m sorry,” and if you’re reasonable, then you’re not going to learn anything. And all my life has been like that. Of course I try not to be too crazy because then nothing would make any sense, but life has to surprise. For instance, I was never interested in the Russian culture. I’ve always been afraid of Russian culture. We weren't showing there because everything was complicated, and I tried to learn the language, and I thought, forget about it. Everything was against it. And then they called me and they said, “You’ve won the Stanislavski prize for Best Foreign Director," and you go, “Oh Jesus.” And they say, “We want to see you, there’s a gala, we’ll pay for your transportation.” And I think, my God, not Russia, not Russia. But I went and it was one of the greatest and most exciting places I’ve ever been. Completely crazy, completely difficult, but completely challenging. I never would have chosen to go and work there.

I fell into the trap of vanity. But it was just the toughest thing ever. I ended up screaming all the time, and I’m not a screamer

Why did you decide, and I think it’s fantastic and audacious, that the cycle of Shakespeare plays you directed in French should be brought to an English-speaking audience still in French?

Well, originally because French is my first language. But I think that there’s something about Shakespeare that isn’t fully understood by the English-speaking world because the writing is so brilliant and inventive. Often the action or the stories are eclipsed by the beauty and the music of the language, and that’s untranslatable into French. So you have to shift through that and try to invent your own thing and out of that comes really, really interesting things. And I think it’s a great advantage for English-speaking people to come and see Shakespeare in a foreign language because they’re deprived of the first-level appreciation of the language. And once you’re deprived of that, you have to look at what’s behind it and there’s a lot.

What’s been the most difficult project you’ve ever worked on?

Oh my God, that’s very clear. I worked on a Shakespeare collage about dreams which was called Shakespeare’s Rapid Eye Movement. And it was something I did in Munich for the National Bavarian Theatre in the early Nineties, and it was the most difficult project of my life.

Artistically difficult?

At every level. It was a tough moment of my life, my career, everything. I fell into the trap of vanity. It was this important theatre of Bavaria, were there’s a lot of money and great actors, and it’s very prestigious, and German critics were saying, “They should ask Lepage to do something.” So I kind of fell into that vanity thing. And I was given a lot of freedom, I was given a lot of time. But it was just the toughest thing ever. I ended up screaming all the time, and I’m not a screamer.

Can you put your finger on what was so hideous about it?

It’s Germany. It was Germany.

So it wasn’t an artistic difficulty, it was more cultural?

Well, it was a culture shock. It was how culture is in Germany compared to other places. How rigorous, how disciplined, and I was just, like, “Whoa.” Everybody was fighting and just screaming all the time and I was lost in the middle of this very, very traumatic, mad whirlpool.

So they expected you to be like a commander, and you don’t work that way.

No, I don’t work that way, and I’ll always remember the assistant director the first day we arrived at the theatre, which was like a week after the first readings. We arrived at the theatre and the technicians were there and nothing was happening. It was impossible. And he said, “Well, that’s because you’re not screaming. You have to scream at them. If you don’t scream, nothing is going to happen.” And I said, “But I’m not a screamer.” And he said, “OK, then I’ll scream.” And it was like that for two months and it was excruciating. I mean there were some nice actors, but in general these were actors who, if you don’t hit them, if you don’t destroy them psychologically, they won’t act. So it was extremely difficult, and a very painful thing for me. Oh, and the Shakespeare translations in German – I had learned a bit of German, but this was in High German. It was just a complete headache from the first day.

What’s been the most pleasure, the most fun, perhaps the most liberating project you’ve ever worked on?

Well, there’s a lot of those.

Well, do you think there's a correlation between the thing that’s really fun and the thing that’s artistically successful, do you think?

I think so, yes – when you feel that you’re working on something that’s alive, that has its own life, and that you have to just water and it will grow. For example, I’ve just come out of an experience that was very pleasurable. I’m working on a new piece about playing cards, and there are only going to be four shows, four three-hour shows and we had a 10-day workshop on the first part, which was about spades, and in just 10 days we had a show. And it has to do with the people you work with. I don’t audition people, I don’t cast people. I bump into people on projects and I go, “Oh, it’d be nice if we work together one day.” And then a project comes along and I say, “Oh, I’m going to call this person up, or that person.” And we get together. The dynamic of the group is so important. If it’s really, really good, miracles happen, and you have the impression that you’re not responsible for any of these miracles - you’re just looking at these things appear. And that’s really pleasurable.

How do you fit opera into that? Is opera more challenging?

Opera disciplines me, dramaturgically. The fact that I’ve now abandoned any attempt at staging a text that I’ve already written, and am just concentrating on writing stuff for developing or improvising... and opera’s exactly the opposite of doing that kind of creation.
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How did you find the Ring cycle?

I enjoyed it a lot.

Red_WagnerDid it make you nervous?

No. I was sitting with a journalist from The New York Times a week before the opening and we had technical problems etcetera, and we had rescheduling problems, and there were all these things going on, but we were having a ball. And he was sitting there saying, “I thought you’d be more tense, I thought you’d be more nervous.” Well, for what? I’m excited, but I’m not having nervous tremors. And he said, “Well it’s the Ring!" And what if people say this, and what if people say that? And I said, “Well, what can I do against it?” With time I’ve become less affected by a bad review or by fans who say they’re disappointed because I've been praised and I’ve been panned so many times, and I’ve survived. I mean the number of times that people write, “It’s over,” you know. And I’ve had that said about me since the early Nineties. They’ve been saying, “Well this show definitely proves that the Lepage era is over.” Well then, so be it.

Robert Lepage talks about directing the Ring cycle

I have to say I haven’t read that many bad reviews.

Actually, in The Seven Streams of the River Ota, which was quite an ambitious project about Hiroshima, we started at the Edinburgh Festival and we had a three-hour version – it was a seven-hour show – and we thought we had been cheated because the organisers had promised that we wouldn’t be opening the festival, that we would just be presenting it as a work in progress. But we ended up being the opening event. And it was a catastrophe, a complete catastrophe at every level. And the reviews, most of them wrote that it was clear that it was over. And then you think, “OK, well I’m dead.” And then you continue working. And I remember a month after that, we were playing the show in Manchester and it was still a problematic show – it wasn’t the best show in the world – but we managed to swell it up to four hours and I developed characters and all that. But even then, it was the best thing in that festival, and I kind of went, “Why should we be embarrassed by that? At least it was courageous and there were some interesting moments.” And the same reviewers who had at first decided it was all over, voted it among the best 10 shows of the century. And you go, “You’re the guy who said that I was dead.”

Why do you think theatre critics often engage in so much hyperbole?

I think that theatre critics want to be creative, and they want to give birth to an artist. I had this huge, huge argument with a critic from the London Times who came to Toronto to see The Dragon Trilogy and who wrote that I was the new Peter Brook. And I never said of myself that I was Peter Brook and I didn’t think it. But he wrote that and everybody in England was going, “My God, the new Peter Brook.” And then they come to see a show and say, definitely not. Well, argue amongst yourselves, but I never had that pretension. So there’s that thing where people like giving birth to an artist and if you’re not going where they think you should be going they start punishing you.

Do you go and see a lot of theatre yourself?

I have to be honest and say I don’t see much. I try, though, when I find the time. But I rarely go and see the big hits. When I go back to Quebec City and I have time on my hands and I have maybe three free nights. But I’m not going to see what’s in the big theatre, I’m going to see the young kid that sounds interesting but has only six people in the audience and whose show might be half-baked. I’m still more excited by that than a very, very good piece of theatre. Of course, I have people that I really admire, people like Simon McBurney, because we’ve had a kind of parallel career, in the sense that he’s attempting the same kinds of things I am. I think he makes very courageous theatre and he sometimes falls into the same pitfalls that I do. I’m a great fan of his.

They’re aren’t many English directors like him.

What he does is very peculiar.

How is the dancing going [for Eonnagata]?

It’s going quite well, and there's something so nice about that show. It deserved to come to France. And it’s good also for us to perform in French, which is more natural for both Sylvie and I. There’s a sense of humour that wasn’t necessarily understood when we performed in England, or when we performed in English-speaking countries. This kind of a level where it’s French humour and there’s a lot of double entrendre and things that elude translation. It’s tough, physically, but I feel very privileged to have been asked to do it.

Watch a trailer for Eonnagata

Has she ever worked with a non-dancer before? Is she used to nurturing a non-dancer?

No, I don’t think she’s done that. But I think she’s enjoying it a lot. It goes back to what we were saying earlier about putting ourselves in danger, you know. It’s an interesting project because all three of us [the production also features British choreographer Russell Maliphant] are not in our security zones. So we're all doing something we’re not supposed to be doing and that’s very, very scary, but at the same time very exciting.

But does she appreciate your limitations as a dancer?

We never established those. She never said, “Well, this you can do, this you can’t do.” We just try to push ourselves as far as we can, and eventually, at the last minute, she will say, “This jump you do, you should forget it.” And I think, oh, why’s that? Is it because I walk funny, or is it that embarrassing? And she says, “Well, no, but…” She does it in a very polite way. We all have our limits and when we confront them we see where that tries to bring us. It’s great fun.

A lot of people would go bonkers with your work schedule, living in hotels.

It’s a bit of a chaotic thing, but it’s well organised by the people who take care of me. I’ve got amazing assistants, a great associate and people who really structure things for me, and I just kind of follow: “OK, where do I go next?” They allow me to be fuzzy and unclear.

Do you have any regrets in your career?

I used to answer that my regret was not to have danced before or done more physical theatre. I started off as a physical theatre person and became way too talkative, and that’s a regret. But life has answered that as I was offered to do this dance piece.

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