‘The tautness of a bow’

Choreographer Theo Clinkard on Chrysalis Dance’s new show

GIFTED GALWAY dance company Chrysalis grace the Black Box Theatre next week with its new production, Slings and Arrows, which will showcase its remarkable versatility and promises to be a visceral feast for the senses.

The show is a double-bill in which the featured pieces are Bow and Arrow, a new work for six dancers with an original score, and Symphony in Sync which is set to the ‘Summer’ and ‘Winter’ concertos from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.

Clinkard and Chrysalis

Bow and Arrow is devised by guest choreographer Theo Clinkard, one of Britain’s most sought-after dance artists. As dancer and dance teacher, Clinkard has worked with many of Britain’s foremost companies such as DV8, the Featherstonehaughs, Random Dance, and Michael Clark, and he has toured all over the world. So it is something of a coup for Chrysalis that he should team up with the company to present his latest dance creation.

The collaboration owes its origins to the days when Clinkard and Chrysalis director Judith Sibley were young dance students, as Clinkard reveals over a chat after Monday evening rehearsals.

“Both Judith and I had our first full-time training at the Elmhurst School for Dance, Judith was two years above me,” he tells me. “She went on to the Rambert School of Ballet and two years later I followed her there.

“After that we lost contact for about 18 years until last summer when we found each other again on Facebook and I learned about her daughter Lily Mae’s battle with cancer. I’d recently gone through the experience of my own mother having cancer so we were able to connect about all that.

“Judith invited me to make a work with Chrysalis as she doesn’t really have the time to dedicate to the company at present while her daughter is undergoing treatment. I was really glad to be able to contribute something and also to connect with her again at this time of need, to continue the work she had been doing with the company, and help it keep growing and support the dancers.”

Bow and Arrow

Clinkard has some 18 years’ experience as a dancer behind him, but it has only been in the last couple of years that he has started devising dance productions. Bow and Arrow is his second group work.

“I’ve done a lot of collaboration as a dancer – it’s very rare you’re just taught steps - so you do end up contributing a lot,” he points out. “While I have had years of ‘feeding in’ to shows it’s true that it’s only in the last four or five years I’ve started doing research for dance shows of my own and solo films.

“Ordinary Courage was the first group work I made and after 14 shows it just finished in London on Saturday and I pretty much came straight here the next day.”

Bow and Arrow offers a stripped back series of movement studies that portray the complex dynamics of human partnerships. It features intimate duets that physically interpret a range of themes and emotional states that underpin our connections to one another. The tension, support, harmony and discourse that constitute the fabric of any partnership are brought to life through challenging, visceral, and virtuosic choreography and nuanced performances.

“As a dance-maker I’m really starting out at figuring out how I want to make and what kind of work I want to make so I’m testing out lots of different ways of working and starting points.

“With Bow and Arrow I wanted to do something that was a lot more about physicality and had a more abstract sense of narrative so it’s not looking in the same detail at linear narrative. It looks at what dance does that theatre doesn’t do or can’t do, which is to express something that we can read into ourselves. The beauty of dance is that you can leave it open to interpretation.”

The musical score for Bow and Arrow is composed, and performed live, by double-bass player David Leahy. A native of New Zealand, Leahy has been based in Britain since 1998, where he has become a prominent figure on the improvised music scene. From Clinkard’s perspective Leahy brings the added bonus of also being an experienced dancer.

“While David is primarily a musician, because he dances himself he’s someone who truly knows about and understands movement and responds to what he sees,” Clinkard observes. “Bringing David in was a very early decision on my part. We hadn’t worked together before but he was recommended to me by so many people and when we met we clicked straight away.

“I’m really passionate about working with live music both in my own group work and elsewhere. David works with a loop track so he can make rhythmic structures with soaring strings and it’s multi-layered. The fact it’s live really affects the performance, things are happening in the here-and-now and there’s a sense of flux that dancers have to respond to. There’s a real beauty to live music which brings out a special quality in the performer.”

Clinkard expands on the ideas underpinning his piece.

“The essential thing I’ve been working on is the idea that there is a certain kind of muscularity and play with tension that classical dancers inhabit whereas with a lot of contemporary dancers it’s more about falling or weight or collapse. There’s something about the muscularity and tension in classically trained dancers that I was excited about working with in this commission - and there’s a parallel with David’s playing, and the tautness of bows and strings, where we can see that physicality reflected in the music.”

Symphony in Sync

Contrasting with Bow and Arrow is the other half of the double-bill, Symphony in Sync, a revival of an earlier production. Set to the sublime music of Vivaldi, this is a visual spectacle of movement dramatising the contrasting elements of winter and summer. It’s a dynamic ballet that explores shape and form and responds to the intricacies of Vivaldi’s music.

Clinkard has been enjoying the stylistic contrasts between Symphony in Sync and Bow and Arrow.

“The two pieces both feature stringed instruments on the score but other than that there is very little similarity between them,” he notes. “It’s interesting for me to see the switch in styles between the two pieces because I don’t really do classical work so it’s like going back to my training.

“I did train classically and it’s the first time since then I have gone back to that kind of language but I’m looking at subverting it, pushing it, and twisting it. I challenge the dancers physically and I enjoy coaching them into movement that’s a little bit more extreme than what they’ve been used to.

“They’re all incredibly talented dancers and this has been an exciting opportunity for me and I’m so pleased Judith has given me this chance to grow as an artist, it’s been a real privilege for me working with Chrysalis.”

Galway audiences can see the fruits of that work at the

Black Box on Friday March 8 at 8pm. Tickets are €18/15 from

the Town Hall on 091 - 569777 and www.tht.ie


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