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An Interview with Mark Baldwin

the new Artistic Director of Rambert Dance Company

by Stuart Sweeney

June 2002



When did you first hear the news and has it really sunk in yet?

I heard definitely on Tuesday evening [two days before]. The selection process had gone on since January or February and in all I attended four meetings and that gave me some time to get used to the idea. Itís almost sunk in and today [the day of the announcement] was crucial as I met the dancers. I wanted to speak to them in a way that they would understand where I was coming from and to make some sort of first impression. Itís a very beautiful Company and Iíve been keeping a low profile because of the way that rumours spread in the dance world. So it was very nice to see them working in class and what a fine bunch of dancers they are, quite incredible.

Going back to your own time as a Rambert dancer, what are your strongest memories from those days?

There is something quite thrilling about being a dancer Ė having work made on you and just the thrill of being in a theatre and performing in a fantastic place where anything can happen. If youíre a lover of dance, a black stage with some dancers on it is a wonderful thing. Sometimes when youíve done a season you can look back and feel that you were able to push yourself completely and see yourself improve technically and in your performing skills and also forming a logic about how you hear the music.

And of course with a company you go abroad and we went to Egypt and I remember looking at the Pyramids and thinking, ĎDance has brought me here.í Meanwhile we all got stomach bugs!

One remembers some conductors and other wonderful people you worked with. I used to do ĎPierrot Lunaireí [by Glen Tetley and back in the Rambert repertoire recently] and that is a very difficult piece to do and a couple of times I can remember the whole thing being quite electric and really working.

It was 10 years ago when I stopped coming here although I have been for the odd rehearsal since then. So it was quite strange when the train stopped at Stamford Brook station and I had to make myself get out of the tube and follow the route that I had followed many years ago.

Over the past decade youíve made work with various companies around the world with and of course your own Mark Baldwin Dance Company.

Iíve been building up this relationship with the Royal New Zealand Ballet. I was there last year for about 3 or 4 months and we did a big project with a local Maori group as they have a tradition of concert parties and the ballet toured with the concert party and it was a huge success. Itís a small country and itís very difficult to get people to go to modern work and yet we had full houses. So it was thrilling to work on.

I also had my own Company for 8 years and I won a South Bank Show award for my last show. We commissioned a piece ĎThe Bird Sings with its fingersí and that paid me back in diamonds. Even though we were a small project funded Company, we managed to establish a relationship with an orchestra and it was a great thing to do. So in a way this artistic venture came to a crescendo with that show. Iíd worked with some of those dancers for a long time and in a wonderful way they knew how to express themselves through my work. It was important, as the show before that wasnít so great, so it was very nice to leave the Mark Baldwin Dance Company having done a show that I was very, very happy with artistically.

Itís also a tradition of Rambert to work with live music with their excellent Musical director Paul Hoskins, but isnít it very expensive?

Iíve just been speaking to Paul and weíre going to meet next week to talk further. One of the things about this job is to persuade people that these things are valuable for all of us and I need to get out there to raise some money for them to continue the regular use of live music.

I read that Christopher Bruceís farewell performance will be in November. Is there going to be a hand-over period?

I suppose itís started now, but we havenít decided when Iíll start full time and Iíve got commissions to fulfil until the 22nd November. The farewell to Christopher will be a sad occasion, but weíre opening up to all kinds of exciting things, in the tradition of Rambert.

One of our team has just reviewed the Rambert performance in Brighton. She commented on the wide range of pieces on show, with works like Christopher Bruceís ďGhost DancesĒ and ďCheeseĒ by Jeremy James. At Sadlerís Wells recently we also saw Jiri Kylianís ďSymphony of PsalmsĒ and, in contrast, Lindsey Kempís "The Paradeís Gone By". One of the national critics commented that the rep was too wide and there was a need for a sharper focus. Whatís your view?

I believe that the repertoire needs to stay as wide as it can. Sometimes when Directors take over companies the repertoire ends up reflecting their work. I want to bombard the dancers with a very wide repertoire, but within that Iím hoping that we find a voice which says, ĎThis is Rambert Dance Company, you canít find this anywhere else in the world. We do our stuff in this particular way, we have particular pieces that are made on us and are special to us.í Thatís what Iím very much looking for.

Can we expect to see your own work entering the repertoire quickly?

Not for a while, as I think itís my job to find a repertoire before I start doing my own work. When Iím sure about the direction that the company is going, then Iíll know how to fit myself into that and of course Iíll know the dancers really well by then. My stuff is based on music and mainly new music and working with composers. Iím very lucky that they have their own orchestra here. Letís be honest, one of the reasons I wanted to do this job was that a year or two down the line when I do my own work, I will know how to take advantage of this marvellous resource that we have here.

What will happen to the Christopher Bruce works?

They will be leaving the rep slowly. Christopher says he wants a rest and I think he should do that, but of course Iíd love to leave an invitation for him to come back and do things when heís ready for it. I hope he doesnít leave it too long as the dancers are still fresh from doing a lot of his pieces, so they understand the work. Weíve had one discussion about when he might come back to do something for us. The prospect of finding big works to replace ďGhost DancesĒ and ďRoosterĒ is quite daunting because when youíre touring, the theatres and the audiences know those works and yet we have to replace them somehow. Iím going to have to spend a lot of money on advertising and spread the word to the public about the new works.

One of the other traditions of Rambert that I admire a great deal is the choreographic workshops and the encouragement of dancers in the Company to make work. Is that going to continue?

Marie Rambert always bullied her dancers to choreograph and if she thought there was a choreographer in the Company she would get them involved. Hopefully weíll be able to keep that tradition going and give the dancers who want to choreograph the support and encouragement that they need. It should come from the round. That is, thinking about the design point of view and from a musical angle as well as choreographic structures.

I really hope that we can not only take dance ideas ahead and forward, but also musical and design ideas. Itís a big task, but itís in the tradition of Ballets Russes. The idea that the elements which make dancing a thrilling experience in the theatre, namely dancing, design, music, choreography, all of those things are strengthened when they are in combination with each other.

That fits in with the comment in the press release that the Board were impressed with your plans for collaboration with other art forms.

Thatís it. The dance world is not that big, especially when you think about the 10 million people who have been to see Tate Modern in the last two years. That is an amazing statistic and itís a pointer that people want to see new work and we want to give it to them in the best form possible.

Does new technology have a strong place in the future of the Company?

Iíve always used technology to make my work before it gets to the studio. I used to use the Life Forms software and I use high digital cameras to catch movement and help me refine it. It remains to be seen how people want to use that on stage. These tools have all been developed to help us heighten what we do, but we have to be careful that weíre not going to rely on them to do the work for us.

I made a dance CD-ROM as far back as 1994, so I have a good background in this area. My instincts are that it can be wonderful, but actually at the end of the day with an empty stage and a brilliant dancer on it, you donít need anything else. That human thing still thrills me more than other stuff.

Rambert is a medium sized business and there will be a lot of decision making to be done with some 50 employees. Is that a daunting prospect for you?

No itís not really. I do have the benefit of my time at Rambert as a dancer and I have worked with large companies around the world, so there are aspects that I understand, even if you havenít been in the office everyday.

I think that one of the reasons why they may have chosen me is I do have knowledge of the detail of running a company. With a small company such as my own you get to see how to make something from almost nothing. The learning curve for this area was really steep at first because youíre struggling with financial issues the whole time if youíre an ambitious project funded company.

When I went to the Rambert interview I did angle it in the direction that I understand business. I spent a lot of time examining the draft accounts with one of my best friends who is a Professor of Accounting at Reading University and another who is a City Editor. So, itís not as foreign a language to me as people might expect.

When I met with the Executive Director, Sue Wyatt, she understood that I understood what she had to do because of my own personal connections with the business world. Everything I do has cost implications so I wouldnít dream of doing anything without running it past Sue first. Letís be honest, I donít think that you can be the Artistic Director of a company unless the relationship with the Executive Director is on a very firm footing. Weíre going to be doing this together.

Rambert has Prudence Skene as Chairman of the Board and if anyone knows about arts business itís her. Iím also blessed because I have Stephen Brett as my Associate Director and he is wonderful and very organised and does a great job. Thatís what made the job attractive for me that these people were in place and that Iím able to rely on their expertise to give me firm advice when I need it.

Where would you like to see Rambert in 5 years time?

Iíd like to see Rambert with a repertoire that they can truly call their own. A repertoire that was made on and for and by the dancers. I would like to see us have several pieces in the repertoire from the Companyís back catalogue, because they are complete works of art that are worth reviving again and again. That the whole thing smacks of brilliant originality and that says things about the times we live in now in Britain.

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As a postscript, here is Mark Baldwinís view of Rambert, six months after assuming the role of Artistic Director.

 

MY VISION FOR RAMBERT

By Mark Baldwin

As I look around Rambertís home here in West London, Iím constantly aware of Dame Marie Rambertís extraordinary achievement in establishing this fine Company 77 years ago. To follow her, and all of the other illustrious artistic directors of Rambert, is an enormous responsibility, but one that I find inspiring.

Since my arrival in December 2002, I have been getting to know all of Rambertís dancers and staff and planning the future artistic shape of the Companyís repertoire. This period of thinking time has led me to the conclusion that my ambitions for Rambert will be evolutionary rather than revolutionary. As a former dancer with the Company, I see my appointment as representing a continuation of the Rambert tradition.

My vision for Rambert is to build on the Companyís reputation and its Diaghilev roots Ė perhaps the Companyís most enduring role model. With this tradition in mind, I will be commissioning a body of new work for Rambert that draws on my own choreographic and performance experience and most particularly my interest in modern music makers and visual artists. This combination has stimulated me to initiate collaborations where dance, music and design can cohabit in a harmonious and meaningful way. I want to encourage choreographers, composers and designers to create works that will be physically powerful, emotionally engaging and above all entertaining. Integral in my decision making about the commissioning of new works will be our relationship with our associate orchestra, London Musici.

Collaborations are going to be key to the delivery of my vision for Rambert. They will provide an opportunity to develop our own distinctive voice and be our constant source of excellence, public interest and development. This collaboration extends to Rambertís excellent dancers whose hunger for involvement in the creative process will not only stimulate and develop them as artists, but will help in the emergence of a unique repertoire for the Company.

It is my desire that Rambert Dance Company should be a leading force in shaping British modern dance and that it should direct from the front, rather than just pull in that which appears to be fashionable. Although Rambert Dance Company occupies a significant position in the dance world, it cannot rely on yesterdayís successes.

Mark Baldwin Ė June 2003

 

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