An Interview with
by Stuart Sweeney
Image of Rafael Bonachela by Tim Meara
Rafael Bonachela has been performing with Rambert Dance Company for 11 years, excelling in work by a wide range of choreographers from Cunningham to Christopher Bruce. Making dance is also a passion for Rafael and Stuart Sweeney interviewed him soon after his appointment as Associate Choreographer at Rambert.
1972: Born in Garriga near
A. I didn’t go to dance school until I was 16, but even when I was a child I was always playing with rhythm and making steps for my friends. Eventually my parents said, “Look, we have to send you to a dance school in Barcelona. You can’t spend all day in the street dancing.” It was when I came to the London Studio Centre a few years later that I had the first opportunities to make work formally and I created a solo for myself and a group piece. I saw one of my old teachers a few days ago who said that from the beginning he knew that choreography was my thing.
Q. How important has Rambert Dance Company been in your development?
A. It was very important to be in a company where there is a high level of creative nurturing and continuous renewal. Also, when I joined Rambert, I had the chance to work with many, many choreographers and see the way they work. At first I was shy about making pieces and I missed the first chance of a choreographic workshop. But when I had been there a couple of years Christopher Bruce took over and I was in his office straight away saying I wanted to make something. It was the first time I had used professional dancers and Christopher suggested that “Three Gone, Four Left Standing” be performed at Sadler’s Wells. I was very worried about that exposure, but he said, “I see some talent and I want to put it on stage so that you get that experience.” So I had extra time to work on the piece and he coached me a little bit. That push gave me greater confidence and from then on I was choreographing whenever I could.
Q. Which choreographers have influenced you?
A. Sue Davies, Merce Cunningham and Wayne McGregor are big influences and, like them, my work is movement orientated. Christopher Bruce gave me a lot of encouragement and I admire and respect his work, but I don’t see much of his style in my own dances.
Q. Tell me how your “Linear Remains” came about.
A. I’d just made a piece for a short Rambert season at the Linbury and then afterwards had some free time. So for three weeks I was just playing around in the studio, but at the end of the period I told Christopher that I might have a piece. He saw a run through and we agreed I should carry on working, but without formally programming it. I continued after the summer break, bought some costumes and then the piece was added to the programme at Sadler’s Wells. However, a day before the opening I lost a dancer and it was going to be taken out. The dancers said, “No way! You’re going home and learn the part.” They had been working so hard and they could see I was devastated. So I did my homework and it went on stage and a lot has flowed from that. William Baker, from Kylie Minogue’s creative team, saw “Linear Remains”, which lead to me working with her.
Q. For Kylie’s “Fever” tour, did you have to change the way you work and your movement vocabulary?
A. I started the process by making a vast amount of phrases, solos and so on. For a week I had this group of dancers, some were from my background and a few were not and I came every morning with my camera and made steps, steps, steps, which is what I usually do. The big difference was that I was given the music - so it wasn’t collaborative. And of course it was a pop concert with a lot more constraints because of the set, the many entrances and the fact that there was a singing star as the centre of attention. But they wanted me to push the limits of what can be done in pop and move away from the traditional synchronised routines, with men and women looking pretty. So, it was very me, but another part of me.
Q. Can you see yourself doing more of this type of work?
A. I’m very proud of “Fever” and if the right things come along then I’ll do them, but not just for money or celebrity. I was asked to do something like the Fame Academy and also a workout video, but they didn’t feel right for me.
Q. Your latest work for Rambert “21” is complex, with many dancers, projection, silhouettes and a commissioned score. Did it seem like a big challenge?
A. It happened one step at a time; I never start with a complete idea of how a piece is going to be. I decided that I wanted to collaborate with Alan Macdonald, who designed the “ Fever” tour and the film about Francis Bacon, “Love is the Devil”. Then we thought about getting Kylie involved, but in a totally different way. It all came about because of my past year and ideas about celebrity - the people waiting outside a hotel for hours and hours for an autograph and the huge stadiums full of adoring fans. This was all new to me; I’d never even been to a pop concert before. I wanted it to be interesting for Kylie and one day she brought along a poem, which we incorporated. The piece slowly became what it was out of conversations and collaborations.
Q. Tell me about the process with Benjamin Wallfisch, the composer of the score for “21”.
A. I went to his studio and he played me a lot of material and I would say what I liked. In his first full draft there was only one part I didn’t like and that had been put in to try out, so he wasn’t surprised. Some things came in much later such as Kylie’s poem. He came to rehearsals and he saw the first section of dance before he composed the music, so it gave him ideas. It went backwards and forwards and that’s how we made it happen.
Q. Overall, did you achieve what you were looking for in “21”?
A. Yes, it means a lot to me and I do think we achieved what we wanted to do. I don’t make work which tells the audience what to think. Rather I am more interested that they sense and feel things they may not be able to articulate. Different people have come out and got totally different things out of it. And sometimes they have seen things that I didn’t even think about and that’s wonderful. I like work that is choreographically complex and I think I have moved ahead with “21”. I love putting nice steps together on stage, but this was about collaborating with other artists and having a parallel concept running alongside the choreography. The projection of Kylie gave another dimension to the ideas about illusion and celebrity and was visually interesting to me. Next time I might just do pure dance.
Q. Some critics enjoyed “21”, but others were scathing. Does it worry you what they say?
A. I’m doing the work that I want to do. I’m not thinking specifically about what people will like or not like, but work that will be relevant to me. Nevertheless, you have to be open to all sorts of reactions and criticisms. If a newspaper reviewer is constructive about why they don’t like it, then you can understand their point of view. But sometimes it gets really personal and you wonder, “What have I done to you?” So I may get upset, but I get on with life. I haven’t always had great reviews, but I’m still working and choreographing and I guess that’s the key point. Actually with some critics, if they gave me a good review, I’d be worried, because they hate everything I love.
Q. You’ve made some dance pieces for film. What interests you about this medium?
A. You can work in a different way than you would on the stage and that’s interesting and I enjoy collaborating with other people. I made my second film, “The Kreuzer Sonata”, with Tim Meara and we really connected. I’d love to carry on with film, but it’s not easy. At Rambert I just need a studio and the dancers, but with film you need a lot of other stuff to make it happen. I have another project with Tim, “The Furies”, based on Robert Browning’s “Porphyria’s Lover”. We’re trying to see if people are interested and if anyone would like to hear more about the film proposal they are welcome to contact me (email@example.com).
Q. You’re recently been appointed Associate Choreographer at Rambert. What differences will that make for you?
A. It took me totally, totally by surprise. The last Associate Choreographer was Sue Davies, but that was ten years ago or longer. I was at a stage when I was thinking that I had to focus on choreography and put dancing in second place. I was getting offers from outside to make work and as a full-time dancer it wasn’t possible. I’ve been here all my professional dance life, but I was thinking that I would have to go free-lance. This was very difficult for me as I’m very positive about the way Rambert will go now. Mark Baldwin, our new Artistic Director, has fitted in very well and there is a new energy and excitement. He is creating a strong consciousness for the present in the Company. Then, out of the blue, Mark told me that they wanted me to be Associate Choreographer and I almost fell off my chair. It’s a dream come true! Mark is keen that I carry on dancing, although it may mean that I perform less. For instance, next Autumn I will make a piece for Transitions and I’ll miss part of the Rambert tour, which wouldn’t have been possible before. For me the appointment means that all my hard work has been recognised and that is the greatest satisfaction I can get.
Q. Do you still enjoy dancing?
A. I enjoy it very much and
that was one of the sad things when I was thinking of leaving. So this
new arrangement is perfect. For instance, I’ve just had the chance to
dance in a new commission, “Adult Toys” by Karole Armitage and that was
great. She is a very passionate choreographer who really believes in what
she does and that’s so contagious.
A. To keep on with choreography, that people enjoy seeing my work and never mind the critics! I dream of having my own company eventually, maybe in Barcelona, but that extra responsibility can come later. For the moment, doors are opening here and I’m very happy in London with my new job and my friends. I love the weather and the beach in Barcelona, but making dance comes first.
This interview first appeared in Dance Europe magazine
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