© Nick Mead
© Nick Mead

You choreograph extensively to contemporary music. Are there composers that inspire you in particular and that spark your creativity? Are creative collaborations essential to you?

I like many different kinds of music,and I’m very keen to work with contemporary choreographers, with whom I can really develop a piece. I’m often, luckily, in the position of being able to commission new music and this means I’m able to have a privileged relationship with composers over time, which is precious. Unfortunately, restrictions (due to scheduling and timing) can limit the possibilities.

But when I create, music isn’t necessarily the thing that always comes first. In the hierarchy of elements, it isn’t always the point of inspiration for my work. Outlier, my piece set to Thomas Ades’ Concentric Paths was created within a very specific context. I was asked  to make Outlier as part of ‘Architecture of Dance’ a series about architecture. I wanted to look at the Bauhaus influence on America’s architecture. I hence approached the choreography from a visual perspective, and then thought about music that could align itself to some of those ideas. And then, Thomas Ades’ ‘Concentric Paths’ imposed itself. It became an inherent part of the work, but it didn’t inspire it… an architectural, visual image did.

I commission composers, but I will also commission visual artists and scientists at the same time. So in that sense, performances really are true collaborations. I think what is truly important is to create a world, to which the music contributes, is an attribute of, but it might not necessarily be the (only) driving force. I feel there are no rules (or should be no rules) in the way in which you create works, whether these are contemporary ballets,modern dance works, or musical compositions…What is important is the dialogues that you are having. It’s when you collaborate with other creative artists that you get the best forms of works. For dance, that might mean that sometimes, you have to push for the visceral feeling of the music to come through… I collaborate with Max Richter, who often works with orchestra and electronics together. We are currently collaborating on a new piece (based on Virginia Woolf) and one of the things we are considering is how electronics can amplify aspects of the orchestra , so it resonates in a different way. The result is a very modern sound.

Musical choices and directions very much depend on what you  (as a choreographer) want to get out of music: Do you want it to challenge your audience, or to disrupt the stream of the movement …(or guide you towards another) ? do you want it to force the eye towards particular features of the movement? Sound can really shape the way you see dance… I like the challenge that sometimes permeates through a performance. I think it is important to be stimulated as an audience member, both by the dance and the music… I find things exciting when I have to work to really access the full depth of a piece .

Should we be active audience members?

I think it is critical to be. In daily life, things aren’t always complete and understandable, We all have a constant internal narrative in our minds, and we are always trying to pull meaning from things.We can approach stage works in the same way. And brilliant music can really help you work things out. Adès’ Concentric Paths for example, has tension and amazing secrets, but you have to actively listen to hear these, you can’t expect to get everything out of it the first time you hear it. And It’s the same with dance performances: you sometimes have to actively look, and look again, and actively engage with the works, to fully grasp them.


Although the music was not the inspiration for Outlier, do you feel, revisiting the piece now,  that the music too enriches the dance?

Yes, definitely! I read music, which I studied, and I think of scores as information that you can use and imprint in a dance piece. The way composers write scores is very interesting. Steve Reich for example , will notate his score with numbers to mark changes in themes and ideas … there is a grammar in a score, a rich structure beyond the melody that we hear, which I find fascinating. There is definitely a dialogic relationship between Ades’ score and the dance

The structure of Concentric Paths is that of Outlier.

Is Outlier abstract… can you tell us more about it?

There is a massive clue in the title OUTLIER . The piece is very much about the exceptions to the rules, about strangeness and individuality. It’s also very much about discontinuity (its inspiration was Bauhaus architecture after all) There are a lot of outliers, both in Thomas Ades’ score, and in the piece that I’ve made...

Outlier will be performed by Random dancers at Sadler’s wells… the cast must change the piece to an extent…

 Yes, it’s an interesting challenge, because it was initially choreographed on pointe for New York City Ballet. I had a similar experience with Chroma, which I initially created for the Royal Ballet, and which I revived for the Alvin Ailey Dance Company. it was a really interesting challenge, and an interesting re-interpretation…  it’s been very interesting to work on Outlier with Random. In some ways it’s the same work, in some ways it’s not… it has become an Outlier in itself.

You’ve been choreographing for over twenty years, for Random, and for special commissions, as well as on the biggest international ballet companies. Has your choreographic process evolved much over time? Are technology, digital technology and science still feeding your creativity?

You know, some people will say they are always making the same piece, and I think in some ways, we all are. Technology and science are constant preoccupations of mine, because they are constantly evolving, and we are learning from them all the time. I feel it’s extremely important for dance to be plugged into the real world. I think it’s relevant that some of the tensions of the contemporary ways in which we live have some effects on the stage works that we create. I don’t look retrospectively at my work, I don’t want to label things, because that gets in the way … it can hinder your focus, your aim with what you want to create next. I genuinely do the things that I’m interested in, hoping others will find these interesting too. I like to be very present in what I am doing, rather than look back, or try to see how dance will evolve in the next decade. I’m creating works that I really believe in, and that I am very passionate about… and for as long as I have questions, I will carry on making work.