Brighton-based choreographer Ben Wright had a fairytale introduction to dance suitable for a Billy Elliot style script.
Going from complete novice to the Ballet Rambert School in just a year, he went on to play the role of the prince in the original production of Matt Bourne’s Swan Lake and formed his own dance company bgroup in 2008.
His brand new piece of work Just As We Are seeks to explore three areas of human experience and will offer members of the audience the chance to participate.
Elizabeth Hughes was curious enough to want to find out more.
Elizabeth Hughes (EH): Just As We Are is a brand new piece, what can you tell me about it?
Ben Wright (BW): In 2008 I created ‘This moment is your life’ (a Bloomberg Place Prize for Dance) which embraced a certain group dynamic and included some rather overt audience participation. We have never toured the work nationally and for some years I have wondered whether it might fit within the context of a longer programme of work. Just As We Are is an attempt to contextualize that ‘group’ work by covering three areas of human experience; the self, us, and all of us. It’s a work in three interlinking sections that moves from a notion of the singular to the plural. I’m known for my being rather mercurial in my presentation of work - I work across a mix of mediums as a professional and I think that Just As We Are represents the diversity of my taste and humour.
EH: Your press release states that Just As We Are “invites the audience to consider the level of its participation.” What does that mean? Will we all be encouraged to join in?
BW: Let’s just say the last section of the work is profoundly based on the courage of both those performing and witnessing it. The last time we performed a version of the work was at The Royal Opera House as part of the Time Out curated Deloitte Ignite Festival and we were never short of those willing to throw caution to the wind. I hope Brighton won’t let us down!
EH: How would you describe bgroup? Are they a contemporary dance group?
BW: To all extents and purposes yes, although the work I make swings into more theatrical realms at times. For the time being I work with contemporary dancers who have more strings to their bows that just being straightforward ‘movers’. I really do believe that contemporary dancers are some of the most fascinating people around, out of all of the types of performers I work with they are consistently the most hard working and imaginative.
EH: Ben, you are the director and choreographer, are you also performing in Just As We Are?
BW: No, I am not performing in this programme. I have done in the past but these days I really prefer to aim for the objectivity of being a facilitating eye, outside the process so I see things clearer. I sometimes miss the jeopardy of performing and I certainly haven't given up on that as an idea. The right idea needs to come along. I have been toying with the idea of asking someone to make a work on me. Watch this space…
EH: You work with a lot of young people on educational and community projects. How old were you when you first took up dance?
BW: I was 19 and about to audition for drama school but I needed some dance experience, so I joined the Derbyshire Youth Dance Company where I met my first teacher Eve Leveaux, mother of British theatre director David Leveaux. She offered to teach me for free and within 12 months I had successfully gained a place at The Ballet Rambert School. It was Billy Elliot material and ironically I also went on to play the original Prince in Matt Bourne’s Swan Lake.
EH: What inspired you when you were 19 years old?
BW: For many years I metaphorically had Lloyd Newson on one shoulder and Trisha Brown on the other - like oil and water in terms of work but they both inspired me tremendously with their rigorous vision. Seeing their respective work made me want to perform. Obviously I have had a lot of other influences since then but these were my formative heroes I think.
EH: What inspires you today?
BW: In truth, everything: movies, film trailers, visual art, books, tweets, Facebook postings, news articles, friend’s work, stranger’s work, colleagues... If I am to do my job well I need to stay ever curious. I just aim to keep my senses open. My dancers and collaborators are of course a constant source of inspiration and influence. Einstein said logic takes you from A to B but imagination can take you everywhere, that’s good advice - I try to keep imaginative and that keeps me inspired.
EH: As a keen armchair dance fan and I see that on TV shows such as ‘Got To Dance’ on Sky1 contemporary dance is starting to hold its own against the recent explosion of street dance… How do you see the future of dance in the UK?
BW: I can make no predictions, but I do know that the future is ours and as makers of ‘current’ arts practice we must tread with ever increasing awareness, together with other disciplines; we must concentrate on finding a language that articulates the arts’ essentiality, so that future generations will have access to this thing that has the power to change feelings, thoughts and lives. Regarding reality TV shows… I worked with Gareth Malone [choirmaster for BBC TV show ‘The Choir’] a couple of years back on his BBC2 programme about the Knight Crew project at Glyndebourne. I’d love to see a choreographer go into a community and create something similar in dance terms, taking a leaf from his ‘Choir’ tactics. I’m game if anyone’s interested...!
Interview by Elizabeth Hughes.
Just As We Are visits Brighton Dome Corn Exchange on Wednesday 20 March 2013. Tickets are £15 / £12.50 conc. A number of school and student tickets are available for £7.50. Click here to book tickets or ring 01273 709709.