Russell Maliphant is een Brits choreograaf die in Nederland bekend werd door zijn samenwerking met sterballerina Sylvie Guillem en een nieuw werk voor het Springdance festival in 2012. Danspubliek interviewde de bescheiden kunstenaar (in het Engels) onder andere over zijn werk The Rodin Project.
Russell Maliphant interview
‘Choreograaf Russell Maliphant transformeert het podium in een wervelende beeldentuin, van sculptuur tot back jump. Geïnspireerd door het werk van beeldhouwer Auguste Rodin toont hij het lichaam vanuit iedere denkbare hoek, 360 graden in de rondte. De hedendaagse dansers van Maliphants eigen gezelschap staan samen met een groep uitzonderlijke breakdancers op het podium.’ (Springdance over The Rodin Project)
The use of light played an important role in Rodin’s work: it made the sculptures look brilliantly alive. Has this been an intentional focus in your close working relationship with lighting pioneer Michael Hulls?
‘I love the point where the elements of movement and light sculpt each other and give highlights to certain points of a movement. The interaction where one defines the other has been a focus of the collaboration between Michael Hulls and I for many years now.’
Rodin felt liberated from academism by seeing works of Michelangelo. Did you feel liberated from academism at some point and why or when was that?
‘I felt very liberated when I left Sadler’s Wells Royal Ballet and started to work in areas of dance that had a different agenda and focus which I felt I could relate to. Working with DV8 and Laurie Booth for example shifted my understanding of movement and aesthetic choices greatly and initiated a new relationship to the classical studies I had undertaken previously.’
Rodin was refused as an artist at first. Have you been criticized much for your work and did it bother you?
‘I have been criticised many times – sometimes it bothers me – sometimes it drives me on, and sometimes it helps me realise something I had missed before.’
Quite a few dancers from The Royal Ballet have gone their own way and became successful contemporary choreographers. Does this mean The Royal Ballet is too rigid or is it a springboard for choreographic talent?
‘I never tried choreographing during my time at the Royal Ballet School and Sadler’s Wells Royal Ballet so I can’t say it was the springboard that got me started – though of course the information I learnt there informs elements of my understanding of movement. It wasn’t until I left ballet and became familiar with improvisational methods that I felt any urge to try and create something. The discipline of ballet and the vocabulary give a wide foundation to explore space, rhythm, accenting, and dynamics, in solo movement as well as duets, trios, group work etc. and there is a strong technique of partnering.
In my experience the practise of many techniques, can be quite removed from a creative process, whereas it is inherent in improvisational techniques and a lot of contact work. I didn’t feel the importance of creating anything in relation to my classical practice whilst it was my major focus. But after I began making performances I realised I had a knowledge of many relevant elements from the classical foundation, a connection was made that I had been unaware of previously. I felt very grateful for the experience in a way I had overlooked before.’
The surname Maliphant ‘suggests that the origination may have been theatrical for one who played the part of a “Malle Enfant” – naughty child – in the travelling theatres’. Any resemblance, or what is your origin?
‘My parents had emigrated to Canada in the 1950’s and started a family there. I was the 3rd child having two sisters born a year apart. After I was born, my parents decided to have some time with their own parents and to come back to England for an extended holiday. However during that time in England my mother suffered a nervous breakdown and was hospitalised for 18 months or so. One of my sisters and I was taken to live with my grandparents and the other sister went to live with my mothers sister which gave a rift. My mother was then an out-patient for the next 7 years and with all those events happening we never made it back to Canada.
My parents divorced when I was 9 and and my two sisters and I stayed with my mother. She was not in a great state of mental health and suffered a lot from depression, but got a job and kept us going as a one parent family. I started dancing around this time with my two sisters and she struggled to find the money for classes – but we managed. She was very supportive of my dancing but was worried when I wanted to leave The Royal ballet and work as an independent artist. My father didn’t see me dance until I was in my 30’s.’
A performance of Le Corsaire with Rudolf Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn inspired you to become a dancer. What followed after: which steps did you take and was yours an easy road?
‘It was easy in as much as I enjoyed the dancing, and the teacher, and got positive attention for it for the most part (although not from the boys at my comprehensive school!) My mother was happy to have me go to classes and perform in festivals and audition for the Royal Ballet School. I was very self disciplined and from the age of fourteen would get up and practice for an hour and a half a day before school. I got through to the Royal Ballet upper school when I was sixteen but in my third year suffered an injury that made me loose the use of my arm for 12-18 months. I was given an extra year at the school and taken into the company before the end of that year. My injury had improved 80% or so by then but I didn’t get full movement back until I started practicing yoga some 7 years later.’
What exactly do rolfing, Zen and tai chi add to your creating process?
‘An important aspect of Rolfing is seeing… Seeing structure… And relationship… For example between parts of the body relating through twists, rotations, shifts, torsions, spirals, – and seeing flow, both within the body and through a person’s relationship to the space around him. For me those are completely choreographic concerns so I think about those in the studio a lot whether I’m practicing or choreographing.
Tai chi is a multi dimensional form. Like Rolfing it also contains an aspect that brings into focus flow within the body and within the space around you. It affects your state through its attention to minute details – through intensely slowing movement down and dynamically evens out the vocabulary of steps or what could be seen as a palette of shapes. This again is like a choreographic task, which could be implemented before choosing where to add emphasis.
Push Hands is an aspect of tai chi where you work with a partner, keeping constant contact through the hands and trying to uproot your partner (make them go off-balance). You have to listen intently through touch to feel what your partners intention is and to be able to deflect their strike as it happens. It is a great tool for the development of physical listening and responding to a partner’s intention, exploring force and structure in an improvised way.’
Dance critic Luke Jennings says the following in a recent article on The Royal Ballet School, ‘Ballet is about physics, about advanced co-ordination and muscle control, but there’s a metaphysical element, too. You don’t perform the arabesque, you become the arabesque.’ What is the metaphysical element in dance for you?
‘I particularly enjoy the elements in performance. A dance piece is a journey – for both the public, and for the performer… It often takes place in an environment which is full of extremes of darkness and light. The performer needs to be very present and acutely aware during the process – which means finding a way to mentally take yourself to an optimum state for the tasks involved. The journey on stage can feel like it happens in a different dimension to the reality of our usual day to day experience.’
You worked with former Paris Opera étoile and ‘ballerina of her generation’ Sylvie Guillem. Did you both feel mutual ground in breaking away from the ballet establishment?
‘I can’t say how it is for Sylvie, but it is a reality that we share some mutual ground in having experiences inside and outside of the ballet establishment. I always found moving on to doing things I wanted to do empowering and liberating as well as scary. Though there are things that I miss about being part of a large secure organisation I felt the opportunities for learning what I wanted to learn and doing what I wanted to do were greater in a personally lead path.’
Have you any dreams still about dance or art?
‘Many. At the moment I want to work on movement/light textures. It’s what I’ve been led to over the years collaborating with Michael Hulls. We’ve had a few opportunities to explore this in works like Afterlight, Two and Shift and I dream of going deeper into that specific. Maybe in an art gallery setting.’
Russell Maliphant studeerde aan The Royal Ballet School en danste bij het Sadler’s Wells Royal Ballet. Hij startte een carrière als zelfstandige danser en trad op met DV8, Michael Clark Company, Rosemary Butcher en Laurie Booth, met wie hij de Time Out Live Award (1991) won voor het ‘naar nieuwe hoogten brengen van improvisatiedans.’ Tussen 1991 en 1994 studeerde hij anatomie, fysiologie, biomechanica en Rolfing. Sinds 1994 werkt Russell Maliphant nauw samen met lichtontwerper Michael Hulls. In 1996 werd de Russell Maliphant Company opgericht. Russell Maliphant is Associate Artist bij het Sadler’s Wells Theater.
Russell Maliphant creëert een solo voor sterdanseres Natalia Osipova die 29 juni 2016 in première gaat. Haar partner en sterdanser Sergei Polunin (bekend van een dansvideo die viral ging) zal haar vergezellen. Op 7 juni is de voorstelling No Body met multi-installaties te zien in het Sadler’s Wells theater.