Interview with Russell Maliphant

by Donald Hutera

October, 2003

Image of Dana Fouras and Russell Maliphant by Hugo Glendinning


British choreographer Russell Maliphant has been preparing for Umbrella 2003 with his usual soft-spoken dedication. His company has expanded to five dancers, six if you include Russell himself who dances a solo piece. And it will be playing at the South Bank for the first time after previous sellout Umbrella seasons at The Place.

Dance-goers should never pass up an opportunity to watch Maliphant himself in motion. “One Part II” is a reworking of earlier material to Bach piano pieces. In it Maliphant executes, with beautiful concentration, a vocabulary of balances, backbends, crouches, squats and the occasional one-handed flip. His dancing seems to exist in a searching, yet grounded, state of grace.

In “Two Times Three”, Maliphant has taken kinetic ideas that motivated the solo “Two”, which both he and his off-stage partner Dana Fouras have danced so well, and converted it into a trio for the splendid British dancer Anna Williams (a long-standing member of the company Ricochet) and former Lyon Opera Ballet dancers Marie Goudot and Flora Bourderon. The dance still focuses on arm extensions and a quality of liquid fluidity, but with the addition of canonic and unison movement because of the additional bodies on stage. In tandem with his regular lighting designer Michael Hulls (a man whom some feel is touched by genius), Maliphant will also be playing with different perspectives. Those articulate female bodies will operate on several levels – that is to say, one person may be moving low on the floor while another is up on her feet. Andy Cowton, another Maliphant regular, is re-working and extending his original sound score. Last but by no means least there’s a new quintet, in which Williams and the other women are joined by the latter pair’s off-stage partners, Miquel de Jong and Michael Pomero, who are both also formerly of Lyon Opera Ballet. (Dance-watchers note: Bourderon and de Jong left that company last year to work with Angelin Preljocaj.) Maliphant first encountered the two men when he was setting his intricately sculpted piece “Critical Mass” on the Lyon company. It requires strong male partnering, and these guys fit the bill.

How does Maliphant cast dancers? ‘I don’t really audition,’ says Maliphant. ‘I see people that I’m interested in and start a working relationship by keeping in touch.’When the time is right, as was the case for this season, he’ll extend an invitation to create together. The fact that the former Lyon dancers are couples influenced his decision to employ them. ‘As long as they stay couples,’ he says with a touch of amusement, ‘it could produce a really good mood for the dance.’ A key strand of Maliphant’s method is to gather movement ideas gleaned from improvisations and use them to kick-start fresh material. In the quintet, he reveals, ‘We’re using sculptural images as a takeoff point. Not that we’re trying to represent them. We’re just using some broken angles in the forearms, the hip dropping back, things I found physically interesting.’ Sarah Sarhandi, who composed the score for Maliphant’s award-winning duet with Fouras called “Sheer”, is part of the creative team along with Hulls.

Besides preparing for Umbrella, Maliphant has been working this year on a trio for the Royal Opera House. It was commissioned by George Piper Dances, the company founded by ex-Royal dancers Michael Nunn and William Trevitt aka ‘the Ballet Boyz.’ Maliphant is no stranger to them, not least because “Critical Mass” has become their signature piece. The trio will premiere early December on a bill that also includes a big new work from Wayne McGregor. Maliphant’s contribution is smaller, but choice. Joining Nunn and Trevitt is no less a personage than Sylvie Guillem. I’d spoken to Maliphant just prior to the first rehearsals in March, when he was uncertain how it would go mostly because of the broken-up creation period necessitated by heavy, tightly-organised demands on Guillem’s time. More recently, when the dance was to all intents and purposes finished, his attitude was nothing but positive. ‘It’s been great,’ Maliphant says. ‘Sylvie worked incredibly hard and took a lot of risks. She really pushed herself.’ Is it any surprise, given that she was working with one of the best contemporary dance-makers in the business?


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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