Interview with Choreographer Alexander Whitley

Alexander Whitley is one of Britain’s most exciting young choreographers. Continuing his collaboration with visual artists Tuur Van Balen and Revital Cohen with whom he created 75 Watt, Whitley has created a piece that explores how ideas of production relate to and make an impact upon the body. Entitled Frames, the work is set to be performed by Rambert dance company at Sadler’s Wells this May. Whitley speaks to us about the ideas behind the new performance and his collaboration with other artists.

A: Your newest work is Frames, a collaboration with Revital Cohen and Tuur van Balen, which is appearing at Sadler’s Wells in May. Can you tell me a bit about it?
Frames is about production. It presents Rambert’s dancers with the raw materials of the theatre – components of a set and lights – and from a blank canvas they set about in constructing the performance and performing the construction. The choreography, therefore, concerns the making and manipulation of things as much as it does with what might conventionally be considered the dance. I was really interested in how such a task draws the dancers together in collective action and heightens their awareness of one another, each person has to rely on help and cues from others in order for the choreography to work. Frames seeks to reveal something of the mechanisms of the theatre as well as something of the nature of movement. In situating the dancers alongside solid objects it aims to draw attention to the transiency of their actions, asking what is produced through dance itself if no tangible object is left behind from their efforts.

A: What first drew you to working with Cohen and van Balen?
Revital and I were both nominated for the Arts Foundation fellowship in 2012 and at the awards ceremony had the chance to see each other’s work for the first time. I was really intrigued by the subject of her work, which was investigating design in the context of biological and political processes. I was thrilled when a few weeks later she and Tuur got in touch to ask if I wanted to collaborate with them.

A: Your previous collaboration, 75 Watt, is a routine set within a factory. Why did you choose to place your choreography in such a man-made, machine based setting?
This was Tuur and Revital’s initiative and they invited me to apply my choreographic knowledge to the factory setting. The project sought to explore the position of the human labourer on the factory production line and how a manufacturing logic, concerned with efficiency and standardisation, has consequences for the bodies of the workers bound up in it by dictating their movements in scrutinising detail. 75 Watt flips this logic around though, by designing an object who’s only function was to choreograph the dance of its production, rendering it the subject of the workers’ performance.

A: Frames has been scored by Icelandic composer Daniel Bjarnason. Do you feel this original score best conveys the themes you hope to portray in the piece?
I think the score supports and contributes really well to the other elements of the piece to convey the themes it’s dealing with. Serendipitously, Daniel happened to have recorded some sounds of a piano being struck in various ways, which were very rhythmical and almost industrial in quality and lent themselves very well to the ideas I was developing. This became the basis of the score he wrote, which was also developed from his response to the choreography as he observed it develop in the studio.

A: Are we going to see any new collaborations or solo works later this year?
AW: The next piece I’m working on is a new duet for my company, which is a continuation of a collaboration with some digital artists looking at how interactive technology can be incorporated into live dance performance. I’m also making a piece for Candoco – a mixed ability dance company – that doesn’t explicitly involve a collaboration but may well continue to develop the ideas explored in Frames.

Alexander Whitley: Frames, part of Rambert — with Tredegar Town Band and the Rambert Orchestra, 12-16 May, Sadler’s Wells, Rosebery Avenue, London, EC1R.

1. Frames 9 ® Tristam Kenton, Alexander Whitley.