Spain and Japan play part in Scottish dance agenda

Political protest and natural disaster inform Scottish Dance Theatre’s two new pieces, says Kelly Apter

The ten dancers in Kingdom use 80 bamboo sticks and 120 pieces of rope to build a six-metre human shelter
The ten dancers in Kingdom use 80 bamboo sticks and 120 pieces of rope to build a six-metre human shelter
The ten dancers in Kingdom use 80 bamboo sticks and 120 pieces of rope to build a six-metre human shelter

IN MAY 2011, tens of thousands of people took up residence in Madrid’s Puerta del Sol square, to express their dissatisfaction with the Spanish government. It was a short but intense protest, full of hope. A few weeks later, the encampment came down, and nothing had changed – at least not politically.

For the individuals involved in Occupy Madrid, however, coming together, creating a makeshift home and sharing a vision had a profound impact. One of these people was Spanish choreographer Jorge Crecis, pictured, whose involvement in the protest has inspired Kingdom, a new work for Scottish Dance Theatre.

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“The Occupy Madrid protest was an amazing experience for me,” says Crecis. “We spent day and night in the street, trying to bring about change. There was companionship, teamwork – we were all working towards the same thing from different angles. On the last day, everything finished and life went back to normal, but something changed for the people who took part.

“The idea with Kingdom is the same. We have the experience, then it finishes in the blink of an eye. Nothing has changed in the world after this piece ends – but something in the dancers has changed.”

Although Crecis is not attempting to recreate Occupy Madrid on the Scottish stage, there will be a definite sense of communal activity. The Scottish Dance Theatre performers (looking better than ever at their recent BDE show, incidentally) will be joined on stage by 80 bamboo sticks and 120 pieces of rope. Together, the ten dancers will turn the raw materials into a six-metre human shelter. No small task in front of an audience looking to be entertained.

“The dancers have a lot of responsibility,” says Crecis. “They have to complete a series of tasks that are quite complicated, because the set almost has a life of its own. We had to be very careful and thorough during the creation, and make a series of rules: how to set the bamboo sticks up, how to step on them and how to take care of it all. But there is always going to be a certain amount of uncertainty.”

Crecis will share the double-bill on Scottish Dance Theatre’s spring tour with Olivier Award-winning Belgian choreographer Damien Jalet. His piece, Yama, is inspired by a trip to Japan, where Jalet encountered yamabushis – hermits who dedicate their lives to worshipping mountains.

Coincidentally, a trip to Asia also proved inspirational for Crecis.

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“I was in China creating a piece in Beijing last year, and I came across a very young and interesting designer called Zheng Jing,” explains Crecis. “In China, they use a lot of bamboo for constructing scaffolding and it’s fascinating to see. They build 30-40 floors of scaffolding with it.

“So I got the idea from there, and Zheng Jing helped me put the structure for Kingdom together, to make it as safe as possible but also as beautiful as possible. At the end of the day, it’s a metaphor – we built something in Spain that was very fragile but very strong at the same time.”

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Building the structure and working together as a team has already had an impact on the dancers (“for the first time I feel useful,” one of them told Crecis during rehearsal, “I’m doing something more than moving my body, I’m creating something on the stage”) – but what of the audience?

“I’m hoping that the audience will feel connected to the dancers, and see that they are feeling pain, fear, stress, responsibility,” says Crecis. “Because at the end of the day we’re all human beings and we all go through the same experiences. If you see someone crying, you want to cry, too.”

Scottish Dance Theatre has undergone a period of change recently, with artistic director Fleur Darkin bringing in new talent both on stage and choreographically. Crecis and Jalet are her first commissions for the company, and both have arrived in Dundee with a sea of images in their heads from major events in 2011 – Crecis the Occupy Madrid protest and Jalet the tsunami which devastated the Thoku region of Japan he visited.

For Crecis, Kingdom is not a direct reflection of his experience in Puerta del Sol square, or a statement about leadership in Spain or elsewhere. It is, however, political in its own way.

“Someone said to me recently, ‘you can say anything with dance – but you can’t say nothing with dance’,” says Crecis. “So I have a feeling that every single piece that is created is political, because it has an agenda, a source, an opinion and an impact. Kingdom is not political in the sense that I’m trying to put across a message or bring a government down or up. But it’s political because it’s committed to an idea.”

• Scottish Dance Theatre: Yama and Kingdom, Dundee Rep, 20-22 February; Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, 28 February until 1 March; Tramway, Glasgow, 2-3 May.