Star choreographer and dancer, Russell Maliphant, has become known for his mesmeric dance, music and light productions, which have earned him the Olivier and Southbank Sky Arts Award for dance.
He is soon to perform at the Coronet Theatre with dancer Dana Fouras. His collaboration with Fouras attracted 5-star reviews in 2018, with a work entitled Duet, performed to Donizetti’s love aria, Una Furtiva Lacrima. This deeply moving work will be revived and will feature alongside new creations in Maliphant’s third season at the Coronet.
Karine Hetherington, from artmuselondon, managed to catch up with him between rehearsals.
What drew you to ballet as a boy?
My mother was a fan of dance, theatre and music. I had two sisters who were going to ballet classes and went along with them when I was nine or ten after I had seen Rudolf Nureyev performing at a gala on television. I was impressed by the power and momentum and the joy of movement. I was the only boy at the dance school at the time and got a lot of attention, which felt good and I liked to have something physical to work on. Classical ballet is difficult but I enjoyed the challenge and found a satisfaction in the improvement that practice gave.
To what extent has your classical dance training at the Royal Ballet School helped you develop your own contemporary /choreographic style over the years?
The classical training is very rigorous and disciplined. It’s systematic in its development through the levels of beginner, intermediate, advanced and the teachers were excellent at the RBS. I didn’t choreograph when I was dancing in the classical idiom, preferring to put all my time and energy into the dance training – I only started to choreograph after I had worked with more free styles and improvisation, but classical parameters and methods of analysis and vocabulary inform my perception of movement, dynamics, line and rhythm.
What is a typical day for you when you are in production?
It’s slightly dependent on whether I am dancing AND choreographing, or just choreographing, but I generally walk to the studio around 9-9.30am, start a physical practice for a couple of hours, either for myself, or teaching the dancers that I’m working with. Teaching, or moving tends to flow directly into creating material or working on phrases and lighting elements, costumes or set.
Time is always limited in a production, so the period can be intense, watching videos from the day’s tasks and explorations in the evenings tend to be pretty constant. I often edit and try options on the computer. I use video editing a lot in my process to explore and develop sequences and shift relationships between music and movement.
How do you relax?
Seeing my children and being at home with them helps me relax most days. My physical practice includes yoga and chi gong, which both have elements of relaxation and I practise Autogenics and meditation when I can.
What is it like dancing with your wife, the dancer, Dana Fouras?
Dancing with Dana is a pleasure for me – we have a similar understanding of movement aesthetics and have worked together on and off for over 20 years, so have an inherent understanding that goes way beyond what can be created during a project timeframe. The intensity can be high, because we have many things to deal with together on top of the creative and there’s no getting away from each other when the going gets tough and pressurised – but the rewards are high. Dana has created the music for my last few pieces so there is a lot of work that gets done at home, around the kitchen table.
Do you have a special routine to keep you in top form – physically and mentally?
I generally try to have at least 90 minutes of personal physical practice daily as a base level – that’s not always possible when I’m choreographing for another group but is the framework I keep as much as I can.
Your dance choreography has been inspired by studying human anatomy, yoga, pilates and massage. What does this bring to the dance experience?
The process of engaging with the body is an aspect that can be led from many different directions. Fine details often have a subtle but profound effect and I like to use the results and qualities from certain interactions of approach choreographically in creations, and in my personal movement practice.
Will you always animate your dance productions with special lighting and music? How important are they to the overall work?
How light impacts the figure in space, and vice versa, is something that I love to work with.
The body sits at the interface between the elements of movement, light and sound, that is the medium I like working with and each part is equally important in the process for me.
How does age impact on the dancer?
Well, it’s individual of course, but generally there is less elasticity in the tissues so if things go wrong, they take longer to heal. There’s also more time and experience to develop an awareness of the potential effects of things on one’s movement and health.
What have been your greatest challenges in your dance/choreography career?
Sustaining a healthy, injury-free body whilst developing and exploring new material can be a challenge.
In most creations there are restrictions…. time on a project is linked to budget, so one of the greatest challenges is time – you want to dig as deeply into material as you can, so want to see what’s important and what’s not – and equally, you can’t push the river, so patience might be needed when you feel pressure to deliver and that’s a state that can be challenging to find consistently.
What do you consider to be your greatest achievement to date?
Sustaining a life and a family, creating dance works and collaborating with performers who come from diverse and different movement backgrounds and disciplines.
Would you say dance is undergoing a renaissance at the moment?
I’m too involved in it to know.
What advice would you give a young dancer at the beginning of their career?
Enjoy and practise.
Thursday 6 February (preview) to Saturday 22 February at 7.30pm
(no performances on 10, 11, 16 and 17 February)
The Coronet Theatre
103 Notting Hill Gate, London, W11 3LB
Box Office: 020 3642 6606 / https://www.thecoronettheatre.com
A Conversation with Russell Maliphant
Wednesday 5 February at 7:30 pm
Box Office: 020 3642 6606 / https://www.thecoronettheatre.com