LIAM Francis, born and raised in Brighton, is a star performer in Britain’s oldest and most celebrated dance company. Rambert will present three new pieces at Theatre Royal Brighton. One of which, Goat, is directed by Sussex-based choreographer Ben Duke. Ahead of the group’s four-day run here, Liam tells EDWIN GILSON about Rambert’s bizarre preparation methods, why he misses Brighton and the strange Sussex tradition that was the catalyst for Goat

Goat has been described as a piece that looks at “the pleasure and pain of performing in our imperfect world”. Do you agree?

Yes. I’m very lucky to perform in it. I have a really good...well, not necessarily good, but very real journey in the piece. Quite often in dance you’re performing something that someone else has put on to you, but with Goat Ben allowed us to explore our own personal stories. It’s very therapeutic when we’re performing it, and cathartic, but it can also be emotionally draining.

If all the dancers are going on their own personal journeys, how does the dance come together as a cohesive whole?

There’s a big idea of community in the piece, which ironically is something we’re struggling with in society at the moment. All our life experiences are underpinned by a few basic shared emotions, whether it be humour or pain. We’re given freedom in the dance but it’s not like every night you can dance however you want, more that in the creative process you can share what you want.

Did you revisit any particular time in your life for the piece?

I have a duet I perform with my partner, for instance, that is very much about our relationship. There’s no hiding that it’s about us. The dynamic of it changes every night depending on how we’re feeling. My partner is happy for that to be reflected in the duet.

I take it you met while performing in Rambert?

Yes – she’s been in the company quite a while longer than me. I’m coming up to my fourth year in the company.

How did you prepare for the dance, given that it is so personal for everyone?

We did some crazy things. We all had to choose one person in the room we would sacrifice if we had to. We had to convince each other why we shouldn’t be sacrificed. We also had to pick a song that means a lot to us and sing it, which is totally exposing for dancers who have a need for self-control and perfection.

We rehearsed the day after the London Bridge attacks so we were asked to talk about our responses to that. It was an intimate environment – when you share that kind of thing you tend to come closer as a group.

Why is the piece called Goat?

Ben has spoken about how when he was younger the small community in Sussex he lived in [Westbourne] would release a goat every year. People would put things they wanted to get rid of in tins, then the goat would run off with these tins attached to it. That’s an interesting idea and I think as an adult he wanted to revisit that and embed it in his work. It’s quite anecdotal.

Also, goat can stand for “greatest of all time”. There is a lot of Nina Simone music in the show and she is obviously considered to be one of the best singers ever. Another meaning is that scapegoat.

Why is the theme of sacrifice relevant now?

The piece is kind of a microcosm of society in a way, where it almost seems ok to sacrifice a human for the apparent benefit and progression of the society as a whole. It’s this twisted concept of community that we see occurring around the world when faced with terrible events. People make snap judgements and come to drastic conclusions because the community feel threatened.

Did you bond with Ben over your Sussex roots?

Yes we did. It’s always a lovely topic to talk about, the fact we come from the same smaller place – smaller than London, at least. It’s a nice thing to go back to in conversation.

Do you ever yearn for the South Downs on a busy day in London?

Definitely. I didn’t feel I quite appreciated Sussex when I lived there but now I live and work in London, I do miss it. I would definitely move back at some point, for sure.

How did Brighton act as a springboard for your career in performance, if it did at all?

I started dancing in Sussex, at a dance school in Peacehaven. Then I studied A-Level dance at Bhasvic (in Hove). I also studied politics and I wanted to go on to be a political journalist at that point. But, ultimately, I didn’t think it sounded as much fun as dancing.

What was the turning point that made you choose dance over journalism?

I auditioned for conservatoires in London and got accepted to one. I thought I could come back to journalism at some point. Maybe I would be less political now and more cultural, something in the arts. I’d like to do that.

Theatre Royal Brighton, 
March 21 to 24,