A few years ago Brighton-based choreographer Theo Clinkard was tasked with “thinking differently about large scale dance”. This Bright Field, showing at Brighton Festival, is his response. By EDWIN GILSON.
YOU can tell the rate at which Theo Clinkard’s mind whirs by the amount of times he uses the phrase “I’ve been thinking about...” in our 20-minute conversation. “I’ve been thinking about statistics”, “I’ve been thinking about what we hold dear”, I’ve been thinking about snails”.
His latest dance piece This Bright Field is the culmination of years of contemplating his art. Wanting to get away from the conventions of a traditional theatre space, he set about dreaming up a project that allow for a unique connection between performer and audience.
“I wanted to make it so the audience were right up close to the action,” says Clinkard, who previously danced in Matthew Bourne’s renowned ballet company, making his debut at Sadler’s Wells when he was 17. “So what I’ve done with this show is invite the audience on to the stage in the first half. They come in through the stage of the Dome and form a border around the dance happening at the centre.”
This approach enables the audience to act as editors of their own experience. As each member is positioned in a different place around the performing cast, they all focus on different aspects of the show. With the familiarity and intimacy of the dancers imprinted in the audience’s minds, they return to their seats for the second half.
“The question then is how do you maintain that sense of connection when the distance is reintroduced?”, adds Clinkard. This is where statistics comes into it. The theme of distance and intimacy was a result of Clinkard’s preoccupation with facts and figures.
“You always see it on Facebook and news headlines – ‘this many people have been affected by something in the world’. It sounds like a cliche, but with the numbers how do we manage to remember that these people are fathers, daughters, parents, lovers?” Fittingly for this year’s festival, in which Kate Tempest is attempting to bring people together through the arts, Clinkard says his “work has all been about empathy”. The internationality of his cast reflects his desire to emphasise difference.
“I’ve got people from Spain, Belgium, France, Finland... I’m trying not to use the word Brexit but there has to be a place for diversity. In this current political climate we can’t take anything for granted; the right to be touched, the right to take time. Our basic human rights are in jeopardy.”
This diversity extends to age, too. “There’s a mother of two in the work, not that you would recognise her as being older. It gives her a voice, because it’s quite easy not to get work once you have kids. It’s important we represent all people.” A big influence on This Bright Field was Juhani Pallasmaa’s book The Eyes of the Skin, which, as Clinkard paraphrases, “talks about how architecture has become something to impress the eye while other considerations have gone down on the scale”.
He adds: “We’re trying to evoke more in the audience than just the visual side. I’m trying to personalise dance.” Nowadays Clinkard is more a choreographer and designer than a dancer, although he says all of these elements come together in the “total vision” of his work. He has just been made associate artist at the Dome, which means he will part of the “conversations” about the venue’s identity and future.
Even more for Clinkard to think about, then, but he’ll surely relish the challenge.
This Bright Field Brighton Festival, Brighton Dome, Church Street, May 25