You have choreographed to the music of many – and varied - composers over time. What do you look for in a score? Can you identify moods, structures, or feelings that best fit your work? Choreographers are increasingly editing soundtracks - commissioned scores to shape music so that enhances what their dance is saying. How do you work?

Every piece is different. But I always look for music that has space in it. The layer of dance adds a new dimension. Some music is so full that there is no room to add anything. Music (for dance) has to be structured in such a way that dance has the room to create an experience for the audience.

I tend to like scores with a very personal voice, that of the composer’s unique imagination. I often like music that is either hyper lyrical or full of noise and intensity. I am not one for the middle ground, the nice or the pleasing. I think commissioning music is very difficult and each time I have done it I have found it hard to convey what I need and want from the music, if I don’t know the composer well. I prefer to work with people whose sensibilities are so in tune with mine in a natural way that no discussion is needed. Otherwise there is a tremendous wealth of existing music to choose from.

Still from <i>Life Story</i> © Henry Leutwyler
Still from Life Story
© Henry Leutwyler
Life Story will be performed at Sadlers Wells as part of ‘See the Music, Hear the Dance’. Two of your dancers will share the stage with soprano Claire Booth and Thomas Adès at the piano. Can you tell us more about his collaboration, and what the relationship between music and dance - together on stage - bring to the performance?

The most important aspect of the music and dance working together is the extreme sensitivity that goes on between musicians and dancers. The listening, looking and feeling makes it so ALIVE for the audience! The public feels the intensity and the immediacy in a way that cannot be replicated with recorded music.

 You have been a leading voice in dance for decades, using ballet based vocabulary and contemporary motives as precepts for creating clear, changing and informed movement. The classical lines remain, but the approach evolves. Can you tell us about your ‘principles’ and how you feel they inform your creativity?

I am interested in how the classical concepts and the poetic expressivity of ballet can be combined with process-oriented dance, that thus become modern, because it draws on concepts from our times. These are often from scientific sources…fractal geometry (the geometry of clouds, mountains, seashores) for example, rather than the linear Euclidian geometry of traditional dance is, to me, an interesting consideration to create a movement vocabulary from. I am interested in creating movement in a 360-degree visual arena rather than creating movement aimed for a frontal, linear viewing experience. I make movement that has theme and variation occurring simultaneously rather than having a leading element (whether a what or a whom) on stage which would direct your eye to that leader (or leading feature). The use of space as a field, rather than as a point, changes what dance looks like. All of this adds up to a democratic, funky feel that is very different from ballet’s royal origins, which promote stability, symmetry and a hierarchy of focus. Extreme lyricism is always punctuated by intense accents that give a raw force to the work. Influences from street culture and street dance are always included in my work. Street melts into the classical concepts in an organic way. But it changes what it looks and feels like adding new possibilities. All of this is in the service of expression – and are tools to express, through creative works, the experience of living in our contemporary society. And it challenges traditional sexual and political interactions amongst dancers; though the classical roots are always at the base of the expression.