Thursday, 18 February 2016

Jumping Dramaturgy: Kally Lloyd Jones on Nijinsky

credit:Susan Hay
Nijinky’s Last Jump
Spring Tour – April/May 2016

Company Chordelia is delighted to announce that a tour of their theatre/dance production Nijinsky’s Last Jump is planned for Spring 2016. Premiering during Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2015, the show gained wide acclaim amongst critics.

Nijinsky’s Last Jump combines theatre and dance to evoke the legendary 20th Century dancer’s journey from global success to the desolate isolation of mental illness. 

As the passionate obsession of the young Nijinsky comes face to face with the searching inner life of the older Nijinsky, this sharp and tender show portrays a poignant intimacy of genius and madness, youth and age, both the performing and private self. Inspired by the rhythmic obsession of Nijinsky’s diaries, Young and Old Nijinsky consider their life together, on and off stage, trying to make sense of the loss of self.
What experiences drew you towards choreography?
I’ve been dancing since I was two years old (I was shy and too young for play group ...) and very lucky to have been taken to a wide variety of performances from around that age too. Looking back, I was very influenced at a very young age by, in particular, Peter Darrell and a bit later, Christopher Bruce. 

 Their work was narrative in different ways and I think that just seeped into me and is my natural mode of expression. I suppose being drawn to choreography was almost inevitable (though the route was circuitous!) but these days I think of myself equally as a director.

What was the inspiration for this particular work?

I won a school prize when I was a young teenager - and got given a book token which I spent on Richard Buckle’s biography of Nijinsky. I am not sure exactly why it made such an impression on me but I felt then, as I do now, an affinity or connection with him. I think I always felt that if I didn’t dance, or make work, I might have been a very different, possibly depressed, person. 

I suspect that I have had some kind of narrow escape and the flip side of this sense of what might have been is, I think, what I ended up wanting to show. There is always a funny alchemy of events which make me want to embark on making a piece, and on this occasion, meeting Michael Daviot, (who wrote the text) and his shared passion for, and knowledge about Nijinsky set the train in motion. And I was ready.

Did the process differ from your usual approach - did the subject matter make any surprising demands on you?

I am not sure I have a usual approach! I think my approach is determined largely by the subject, the demands of a particular show and what kind of performers I am working with. 

 Many of my decisions are made from a kind of instinctive feeling, or thoughts and images that arrive in my head and I have learned to trust those. I also work regularly with designer Janis Hart and this relationship has produced the work I am most proud of We have a communication which enriches my thought processes and she has a wonderful way of absorbing the things I say and the images I describe and turning them into exactly what I wanted without knowing it.

  Nijinsky's Last Jump Trailer from Company Chordelia on Vimeo.

In the case of Nijinsky’s Last Jump, it was necessary (and very enjoyable) to do quite an extensive amount of research during which I made notes about ideas, images, scenes and afterwards I began a storyboard. I wanted to focus in really tightly on Nijinsky’s mental state and so decided very early on to peel away everything else. I didn’t want to make a biographical show - it is not linear or narrative in that sense.

I always arrive in rehearsals with a storyboard and a very clear sense of the show, which might then change along the way. What probably doesn’t change is my sense that I am setting out to create something I can already taste.

What are you hoping that the audience will experience when they see the work?Well, I suppose I want the audience to experience something individual and personal. To ponder this man, his life and work, what might have been, and the nature of mental illness - its causes and treatment. I hope they will experience deep empathy or feel something which is about the need for people to be allowed to be not like everyone else.

Are there any particular strategies you use to put this across?There are two Nijinsky’s in the show - an old Nijinsky, nearing death, and a young Nijinsky at the peak of his career. Having these two Nijinsky’s allowed them to have different perspectives on his/their life and events and for them to have the opportunity to talk to each other. It’s as if the show helps them to work out what happened to them. 

Old Nijinsky is played by an actor, James Bryce and Young Nijinsky is played by dancer and actor Darren Brownlie. There is actually a third Puppet Nijinsky who represents the performing Nijinsky, who was treated like a puppet. The use of text, movement, dance, puppetry and music are all key elements in the way the show is woven together.

Do the potential venues provide any challenges to your work?The work was created to be performed at Dance Base as part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. It’s a lovely big performing space and the audience is very close up so it is extremely intimate which worked well. In touring the work to venues of different scales, there will be some technical and practical challenges but the big challenge will be to make sure the work can meet and stand up to being done in a less intimate space. 

I will tour with the show so that I can tweak it a bit for every venue. Which is actually really enjoyable because the work stays very alive in this way.

Are there any questions you feel I ought to ask to understand your approach and work?

They were good questions! It’s quite hard because I just get on with it and don’t think that much about HOW I do it. I get immersed. Occasionally I have looked at something I made and wondered how it got there.

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