Q&A with Choreographer, John Scott (Irish Modern Dance Theatre) – CLOUD STUDY
We had the chance to ask John Scott some questions about his new production Cloud Study, which opens at Smock Alley this week. You can see the results below.
CLOUD STUDY – The Boy’s School, Smock Alley Theatre – November 21 – 24
Photos by Andrew Downes
What was your initial inspiration for this production?
The initial inspiration for Cloud Study was running: running away from something or to somewhere. I find the times we live in are full of panic and I can’t stop seeing refugees and migrants. I can’t stop crying for people who need to flee their countries. I’ve been working with Survivors of Torture since 2003 and the situation for Asylum seekers, direct provision is worse now than it was in the past. I’ve been to court a few times to fight deportation orders and sat in solicitors offices listening to stories of torture and examined scars and wounds to use as evidence. When I made ‘Fall and Recover’ in 2004, one of my dancers had a hole in her back because a prison guard in her country tore part of her back when he was raping her. I have witnessed small and large acts of racism directed at some of my dancers. I’ve received phone calls from some theatres asking if I can recommend ‘some of my Africans’ to be walk ons In shows – no fee – just two free tickets for their preview. I’m getting angrier about this. I’ve also been in Palestine several times and seen the appalling way Palestinians are treated by the occupying power. Mostly the international community does nothing. Cloud Study has my anger simmering below the surface but I chose to use running as a channel for all the other stuff. The clouds are witnessing everything. Clouds are also the thing between us and Heaven. Angels, Gods, Saints appear in Clouds in paintings.
How do you start making a work such as this?
I started with running in the studio and looking at running as a trigger for dance. Then the monologues came as a way of clearing the energy from the running
Your new production is described as being “part dance, part dream, part theatre, part athletics”. I guess we can expect a very varied show?
In Cloud Study we assemble several elements: pure dance, running, sensing being a cloud, the dancers creating a form of passport, asserting their identity, running again and trying to get lost. Cloud Study is very much a dance but it is composed of various elements. Salma Ataya, a stunning Palestinian dancer and Mufutau Yusuf, an Irishman from Trim, born in Nigeria, are both on a journey and they were both born somewhere else. Their casting seems to accentuate the ‘journey’ part of the work. They both live in Ireland but could be looked on as visitors, migrants. I want the audience to think about this.
The production features a number of monologues. What topics are you exploring in this text?
There are two central monologues, both delivered in chairs and spoken in English. When people migrate, they are continually asked ‘why are you here?’ ‘Why don’t you go back?’ Even in small talk. The two monologues break down two simple phrases and they become like Spoken opera arias – a sort of musical and rhythmic babble. They’re like answers to an interview. When an Asylum Seeker in seeking Refugee status, they are interviewed in a chair. They have to demonstrate that they can never return home. The interview is particularly dehumanising and often retraumatises the interviewee. In Cloud Study, the dancers speak English and also speak their mother languages: Arabic and Yoruba. It is a beautiful musical bend of words and quite joyous to listen to.
The music for this production is by Ryan Vail, who has had huge success in recent years with Stranger Things. How did he become involved in this production?
I’ve been a fan of Ryan’s music since I heard ‘For Every Silence’. I loved how he created such beautiful music using a battered family heirloom piano. There is something epic and deeply classical in his music. His introspection rang a bell as a kindred spirit. I made contact with Ryan and sent him a video of an old work. He got back in contact within a few hours and said yes. I went to Derry and we talked through things. He continued to work on the score remotely, sending samples and we talk over points on the phone. Ryan has created a soundscape which floats over the dance and also moves through it – a bit like a cloud too.
Have you any plans for after this production?
We’ll tour Cloud Study to Dance Limerick in December. In 2019/20 we are planning performances touring in Ireland and also in New York, France and Germany.
How far ahead do you plan in terms of new work?
I am already working on a piece provisionally titled ‘Divine Madness’ for late 2019. Oona Doherty is also creating an outdoor piece for the company called ‘Bandstand’. We are sketching a piece for 2020 working with the cast who made ‘Fall and Recover’ that focuses on Migrants and this will include film too. I’m also working on a piece with an opera chorus for 2021. But right now that is mostly on paper and we haven’t been in the studio yet. It’s usually takes 2 to 3 years from the first thought. Sometimes a new work is triggered by an element from a previous work – a movement or text piece that inspires further development from a different perspective. I recently made a piece that used only recycled steps from other works relating to a particular dancer. It made the choreographic task principally about phrasing and framing. The original movements were adapted to the new context but it was exciting to use pre-existing material in a fresh way.
John Scott’s, irish modern dance theatre teams up with music composer Ryan Vail for their latest show CLOUD STUDY, which runs at The Boy’s School, Smock Alley Theatre from November 21 – 24.