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Interview with Charles Linehan

by Donald Hutera

October, 2003

In a studio near Bethnal Green, dancers Greig Cooke and Andreja Rauch slide, roll, spin and drop their way through Charles Linehan’s 2002 Umbrella-commissioned duet “Grand Junction”.With a hurtling urgency and speed they negotiate carefully crafted movement that follows no apparent narrative, but says much about how (these) two human beings interact.

After a short break the pair are joined by Ben Ash and Rahel Vonmoos for a run-through of what exists of Linehan’s newest dance, an Umbrella cocommission entitled “Disintegration Loops”. The four seem almost monastically attuned to each other as they pull, hook, press and lift according to a complex choreographic code.

Linehan’s dances work a mysterious magic. Physically expansive but emotionally subtle, they get under your skin. He spoke about them a week or so after the rehearsal, having in the meantime become a first-time father.

Donald Hutera:When are you at your most creative making dances, or making a child?

Charles Linehan: I’m most creative when I’m thinking about making dances. My part in making the child was pretty straightforward.

DH: Seriously, I’m interested in how a dance evolves over time, including the changes that may happen the longer it’s inhabited by the performers. In light of that, can you say where "Grand Junction" is now as opposed to when it began its life?

CL: It began life as a musical collaboration with Julian Swales using cyclic acoustic guitar samples. Its stage life began as a work in progress in The Thessaloniki Festival, with an improvised lighting design created by me and my technician, Karsten Tinapp, as the piece was being performed. For the premiere I worked with Finnish lighting designer Mikki Kunttu, using only white lights. The lighting and the costumes changed from darker shades to lighter and so did the floor colour, which started out as black. It was a question of taking out extraneous things, keeping the essential. There’s so much you can do working within self-imposed controls, like using solely white light.We ended up playing with degrees of white, and the direction of the lighting. The simplicity doesn’t detract from what’s going on onstage. Generally it supports what is happening, while at other times its role is more dictatorial. Greig and Andrea have grown into their roles. They have more fun with it by working off each other. Certain aspects have become more solid. But the fragility in the live performance has remained real. The piece is unsparing. It demands a lot from them. However they try to pace the performance, they always end up exhausted at the end, guaranteeing the decay of the choreography.

DH:What’s happening in "Disintegration Loops", realising that we’re talking before it’s been finished?

CL: This new piece is to do with saturation, sounds washing over the performers, the dancers appearing small. I suppose it’s come out of “Grand Junction”, in an oppositional way. At the beginning it feels overbearing and continuous. It’s not designed to be comfortable or easy on the eye, but things change and the relationship between the performers and the music becomes more harmonious, simpler and less dissonant. This is more powerful than the pulling of all the switches.

DH: How did you select the music for it?

CL: I started researching a long time ago. At one time I was listening to a lot of music from the time of the Crusades. I played around with it on a sound desk, mainly for fun; I’ll have to get back to that. Later on I discovered William Basinski’s Melancholia recordings of tape loops of piano fragments that are repeated until they disintegrate. For the rest I contacted Tony Herrington, Editor in Chief of The Wire magazine, who came round to my house with stacks of CDs. I was looking for a ‘wall of sound’ to begin the piece, to contrast with the more atmospheric and ambient sound of Basinski’s compositions. I was looking for the unusual and got it.

DH: Do the dances surprise you as they’re being made, and as they exist after they’ve been unveiled to public scrutiny?

CL: I suppose my work is to do with my own identity. Each piece is a statement by which I stand or fall. But what happens in the studio constantly surprises me and often shifts the direction of the piece. Mistakes are good because they’re unplanned. The dancers’ contributions are often very personal and original.What I choose to follow its emotional resonance. I also find that often something minute can be magnified and developed as a choreographic theme or, conversely, just left as a detail. Sometimes I’ve been horrified by how things turn out in performance and go back and make changes. Most people don’t even notice.

DH:What’s the most instructive thing you’ve learned of late about what you do as an artist?

CL: To work in two blocks of time, with a long break in between, allows some distance for reflection and change. It’s like an installation I saw at an Ilya Kabakov exhibition at the Roundhouse some years ago, called ‘How to make a decision’, which was solved by ‘You take a horse up the stairs’. You create a distraction to turn your attention away from the matter in hand. You don’t think you’re thinking about the piece, but all the while it’s happening, hidden within your own mind.

DH: I wonder what impact young Oscar will have upon you as, to use Rosemary Lee’s word, a ‘maker’.

CL: I imagine that it’s the practical aspects that will change. He’s only four days old and tonight is his first night at home. You’ll have to ask me later.

*******************************

This article first appeared in the Spring 2003 edition of Dance Umbrella News

Donald Hutera writes regularly on dance, theatre and the arts for
The Times, Time Out, Dance Europe, Dance Now and Dance Theatre Journal.
He is co-author, with Allen Robertson, of The Dance Handbook.

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