Interview with choreographer and dancer Russell Maliphant

Russell Maliphant, photo Panayiotis Sinnos

 

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.

 

 

http://www.russellmaliphantdancecompany.com

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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

KH

Interview with artist France Mitrofanoff

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French artist, France Mitrofanoff, has a vast body of work behind her, having commenced her career in the 1970s, a time when she was painting monsters. Her interest turned to modern cities under construction. I remember her eerie-looking inhabitants, staring out at me from dark corners of the canvas. In the past decade she has turned the attention away from urban living to the cosmos and nature. Her large canvases, more often or not, pulsate with life and energy. Mitrofanoff’s spray of colour is astounding, but she is not afraid to explore the darker palette. Her monochrome forests or depictions of the cosmos are a celebration of nature’s awe-inspiring power..

Intrigued by this prominent,  award-winning French artist, who is virtually unknown over here, Karine Hetherington from artmuselondon.com went to interview her at her Paris studio where she is preparing her latest show.

France Mitrofanoff, why have you used the title: ‘le dialogue de l’arbre’ , ‘talking trees’ for your latest show?

I have been painting forests for many years now. The tree is our refuge as it shelters us from the rain and the strong rays of the sun. What intrigued me, is that we know so little about trees. I was inspired by a poem by Paul Valéry*, ‘le dialogue de l’arbre’ , which he wrote in 1943. I was very moved by the words.The wonderful text brings the tree to life and so I decided to ornament the barks of the trees I painted with sections of the poem.

What inspired you, or who inspired you, to devote your life to being an artist?

I didn’t choose to be an artist. I was born that way. However, it is true that during my youth, my father, set up his paints on the dining room table every Sunday. Taking his inspiration from a postcard he had bought that day, he locked himself away and no one would dare disturb him.

He left behind, when he died, a collection of views of Paris. Some paintings were a little clumsy, but all his work was imbued with a poetry and melancholy which touches me to this day.

What is a typical day for you?

My days are similar. I can’t help but make a long journey across Paris to the east of the city, to my studio. It is housed in a large building called ‘Les Frigos’ which the SNCF rail company used for refrigerating goods for many years! My studio is large and is on the top floor. In it I store my canvases from the last 40 years. 

Today I’m staring at my latest canvas which is giving me grief!

What are you working on at the moment?

I am still working on forests. However I have a secret desire to take up again on a theme I had barely started, ‘nature taking over ruins’

Looking at your work, I see the mystic in you?

If you mean that I’m always searching for hidden truths or mysteries that cannot be explained with the intellect, only with intuition, then I’m a mystic! So not in a religious sense but in a philosophical sense.

What challenges have you faced during your artistic career? 

I have never had problems on the artistic level.

They were always on the material level – yes. For a long time, I couldn’t afford a normal studio but found another solution by buying a WW1 barge, ‘la Monique’. I was terribly naive as to the challenges of the river Seine and its tides!

Have you accomplished artistically what you set out to do?

No of course not! The artist always is in search of the elusive work that he will never succeed in painting. This obsession dies only when you reach the end of your life.

What advice do you give young artists?

I advise them to have two jobs!  Firstly to have a job which requires the same skills as an artist, for example teaching. You need a job to pay the studio, your materials and to eat. Being solely an artist does not allow you to live. Having a job which pays the bills and more, allows you more creative freedom.

Do you admire any British artists? What exhibition did you see when you were last in London?

I love Francis Bacon and Henry Moore.

Last November I saw a good exhibition by Albert Oehlen at the Serpentine Gallery. A very bad one, Olafur Eliasson at the Tate Modern. And I always find William Blake impressive, who was on at Tate Britain.

France Mitrofanoff will be exhibiting at the Galerie Rauchfeld, 22 rue du Seine Paris 75006, Paris from 24th January – 7th February 2020.

*Paul Valéry 1871-1945 French poet, essayist and critic.

Film in which we see artist, France Mitrofanoff, the studio and her work: https://bit.ly/2T5ZALB. France Mitrofanoff Whoozart tv

Pietà Premieres in London: Interview with composer Richard Blackford

 

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In June 2019 Frances Wilson reviewed Pietà, a new choral work by Richard Blackford for The Cross-Eyed Pianist. Drawing on the theme of maternal grief and loss, Blackford took as his starting point the Stabat Mater. It is a hymn to Mary, and portrays her suffering as Jesus Christ’s mother at his crucifixion. In his exploration of maternal grief, Blackford decided to add Anna Akhmatova’s cycle of poems, Requiem, to the libretto. Written in 1938 when her son Lev was arrested by Stalin’s secret police, they are a record of the anguish she felt when she believed that she had lost him for good. 

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Portrait of Anna Akhmatova 1914 by Nathan Altman. State Russian Museum

At Pietà’s world premiere, at the Lighthouse, Poole, the musicians and solo singing artists performed to a packed house and received a standing ovation.

In anticipation of Pietà’s London premiere at Cadogan Hall on the 19th October, Karine Hetherington of artmuselondon.com interviewed the composer, Richard Blackford.

When did you first start working on Pietà? And what were the creative stages of the work?

In 2017. It was following a visit to Rome where I saw the famous Michelangelo statue in St Peter’s. What struck me was how moving and sad the story of Pietà was, of Mary cradling her crucified son. I wondered how something so sad, could be also so beautiful and so inspiring in so many ways.

I decided to set the Stabat Mater text, although I was aware it had been set over 200 times. At the same time I was moved by stories about mothers losing their children in the Syrian war. I couldn’t quite finalise my approach to it until I found some poems by Anna Akhmatova, the Russian poet. She wrote a series of poems called Requiem when her son was taken away by the KGB. In them she used very strong Stabat Mater imagery.

How do you work and how long did it take to complete Pietà?

I immerse myself in one work at a time. I block out everything and work very long hours. Getting into it is the hardest thing but once the first of the movements was written for Pietà, I had a handle on the musical language.

It took five months in all to write. It would have taken longer if I had had a full orchestra. This was written for string orchestra and soprano saxophone.

How did it come to you?  Generally composing do you start with words or music?

In this case it was the words first. I wasn’t sure where Anna Akhmatova’s poems would come in or how many poems I would set. Two of them are in fact set back to back in one huge mezzo aria. The other poem I found extraordinary was when Akhmatova wrote “A chorus of angels sang/In that momentous hour”. I thought, the music I write for this mustn’t be saccharine. These are no Hollywood angels! I wanted a tumultuous cry of avenging angels. I wanted it to be more about the mother’s rage. I decided that my setting of the Stabat Mater which is normally slow and meditative, was going to be dramatic. As well as grief, it was going to be about rage and finally acceptance. It would be about earning a place in paradise, not just being granted redemption for no particular reason. I think it gives the music an edge.

Do you play different instruments? How are you able to write for other instruments?

Well I’m a pianist – not a very good one. I used to play percussion, the viola for a few years. But I’ve been a professional conductor all my life and so as a composer and conductor it’s just part of the job to know how to score for every instrument. I’ve always tried to write for instruments and voices, music that is good to play and good to sing. If it’s well written for them – to me – that’s part of the job.

Do you need absolute quiet to work in?

I really do. I’m lucky enough to have a studio in my house in Oxfordshire. I work eight or nine hour days with perhaps a walk around the village in between. When my wife comes home from work she asks me to play back what I’ve written. Sometimes she’ll just nod. Sometimes she’ll say: “I’ve got a real sense of where that’s going”. Her opinion as a listener is very important to me although she is not classically trained. It’s nice because it can be a very lonely path being a composer.

When you are composing, do you stop listening to other music?

That’s a good question. I don’t deliberately stop listening to other music. Perhaps a better way to answer your question is to say that before I start a piece, I do a lot of research. In other words when I was writing the  Stabat Mater, I did listen to a dozen Stabat Maters, including contemporary settings as well, in order to have an insight into how other composers have treated the same text. Research is something I learned through doing my PhD in music. Research is not only necessary but is also very pleasurable.

Is composing a necessity for you? Do you have breaks when you are not  composing?

It is a necessity. Whether it’s composing or being creative in another way, it’s the only thing I really know how to do. I don’t think I’ll ever retire. I start to get cranky if I’m not composing or researching.

Pietà premiered at the Lighthouse, Poole in June this year. What was it like hearing it being performed for the first time?

I knew musically how it would sound as it’s my job to know that. What is impossible to anticipate is particularly how the soloists will interpret your work. I wasn’t prepared for the power of Jennifer Johnston’s interpretation of Anna Akhmatova’s poems [Her mezzo-soprano part will be sung by Catherine Wyn-Rogers at the Cadogan Hall] . I hate the expression but they “blew me away”! I wasn’t prepared for how sweet and moving the children’s chorus was because the Stabat Mater is a bleak, dark piece and yet I try to bring elements of light into it. The children’s chorus is like finding water in the desert.

Are you sensitive to different music venues? Pietà will be performed at the Cadogan Hall this month.

In some ways the sound may be more powerful at Cadogan Hall because it’s smaller. In the Cadogan Hall you will be able to hear the words more clearly. My feeling about performance is that once we’ve recorded it, and we have recorded it with Nimbus records, then I let it go. Then if another conductor wants to take it faster or slower, I don’t mind at all because the work has a life of its own then. At least the recording is how I intended it.

Any mad projects in the pipeline?

Very odd that you should ask that! I’m working on a very large orchestral commission about madness. I’m writing a piece for the BBC National Orchestra of Wales about British artist, Richard Dadd, the Victorian painter who was schizophrenic. He murdered his father and was confined to Bethlehem hospital in the mid 19th century. The governor of the asylum saw that he was a hugely talented artist and gave him paints and canvases. For forty years he produced extraordinary paintings. He has works in Tate Britain. The piece is about the thin line between creativity and madness and also how art can redeem someone.

Well we may be coming back to you to ask you about this when it’s finished!

In the meantime I look forward to Pietà’s London premiere at the Cadogan Hall, Saturday 19th October. 

For tickets : https://cadoganhall.com/whats-on/bournemouth-symphony-chorus-2019/

Interview: Star Baritone Jacques Imbrailo

 

ROYAL OPERA

 

Jacques Imbrailo is singing in Jules Massenet’s Werther (see our review here) at the Royal Opera House and then he is off around the world on various singing engagements through 2020. In April this year, this rising star among baritones earned great reviews in Billy Budd and his Albert in Werther is another step forward in his accelerating career.

Karine Hetherington met the 40-year-old South African at the Royal Opera House.

Any opera singers in your family?

No – no classical music whatsoever. I grew up on a farm. My parents are not musical at all.

I went to a boys’ choir school at a young age and that’s where the classical music started.

Did you have a mentor somewhere along the line?

At different stages, different people. Probably the biggest influence that persuaded me to take singing seriously and follow it as a career, was my first singing teacher in South Africa, Professor Werner Nel. He was a wonderful singer, a wonderful teacher. He gave me lessons when I was about sixteen and I carried with him when I was at university.

Did you study music?

At first I studied law. I was a very lazy law student. It went in one ear, onto the paper and out the other ear. I didn’t care much about it.

Was the law useful?

No use whatsoever!

What was your first real break?

I was taken on the Jette Parker Young Artists programme at Royal Opera House. So that helped. I sang in the title role of Owen Wingrave in the Linbury Theatre which got well received. On the strength of that I got an audition for Billy Budd at Glynebourne.

At what point did you know you were a tenor or a baritone?

My voice broke very late. I could still sing the Queen of the Night at sixteen! But shortly after my sixteenth birthday, my voice started to slide down. At seventeen I was still a school boy tenor. By the time I was taking lessons at university my voice slid down to a baritone.

High baritones often get nudged by people saying ‘aren’t you a tenor’? but it’s not just a matter of singing higher notes. It’s the whole range.

What are your favourite operas to listen to – or do you tend to only concentrate on the operas you are working on?

Only to operas I’m working on. When I’m not working, I listen to my children’s music. So it’s the The Lion King and Aladdin at the moment. That’s what’s on in the car most of the time.

Otherwise, rather than listen to operas, I tend to listen to singers that I like. From the baritones I love Battistini, the “King of Baritones” from the nineteenth century. I also love Robert Merrill and at the moment I’m listening to the Swedish tenor Nikolai Gedda.

You have taken on very different roles. How important is the acting process for you?

I love that part very much. Sometimes to my detriment. It can get in the way of singing if you get too emotionally involved, like in Billy Budd. It makes it hard to sing as well as you would like to.

Do you find with getting older, your voice changes?

My voice changes a lot but it’s not to do with age. It depends on my emotional state. Whether I’m tired, my kids have kept me up a lot. You try however to consistently produce the same voice all the time.

So what do you do to relax?

The kids take up all my spare time. Singing abroad I haven’t had a lot of time in the past few years as the roles have been large. But I like to catch up on all the sports. I like to watch rugby.

Have you sung in any contemporary opera?

Yes. I did the Brett Dean Hamlet last year. Another opera called Brothers. I like the end product but I find it very frustrating to learn, rhythmically and harmonically. It takes a long time.

When I first start working on a modern piece I hate it. I’m a grumpy bear for the first few weeks. As I get on top of it, I start to enjoy more or admire more and usually by the time it’s on stage it’s fine.

But for the most part I prefer to sing traditional works. They are safer for the voice.

Favourite city to visit? 

I really enjoyed Madrid because I worked with a great bunch of people there. Chicago. And my wife and I enjoy Amsterdam.

Favourite language to sing in?

I quite like French. It tends to keep the voice in a nice high position. It might not be the one I’m best in, but it suits my voice. I don’t mind Italian or German. Russian is quite nice.

Any mad projects?

You know they do Peter Grimes on the beach in Suffolk. I would love to do Billy Budd on a ship. Cutty Sark. It would be great fun!

What are you next singing?

I’m off to Moscow, end October, to sing Aeneas in Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas. I go to Washington for a few days to sing the part of Hamlet in Ambroise Thomas’s Hamlet. After that I’ve got La Favorite and then my first Marcello in la Bohème in Berlin. And Merry Widow in Mumbai of all places which should be interesting. Cose von Tutte in Seville.

A very packed schedule

Yes. I’m having to learn four to five new operas a year at the moment.

I do admire opera singers for their hard work from a young age. Like premiership footballers. Is it really like that?

In some ways yes. It never stops. You have to learn new music, new skills and new repertoire.

Did you have a childhood though?

Yes. I had a glorious childhood on the farm in South Africa. We could run around everywhere without our parents knowing where we were. We’d fish in the river in our spare time at school and in the holidays slept outside under the stars. Rode horses. It saddens me that my kids won’t have what I had.

 

KH

If you want to catch Jacques Imbrailo in Werther, performances are : Sept 24th and 27th. 1st and 5th October 2019