Waltzing with Shakespeare:
the Choreographer’s Challenge
by Dr. Stuart Hopps, Choreographer for film & stage, Vice-President EDC
I didn’t intend my title to be provocative: rather it is an ironic view of what it is that I do!
My first encounter with the Bard was at School: Stratford Grammar School; and let’s be clear, I mean the one in East London, and not the one in Stratford-on-Avon! I played a very small part in JULIUS CAESAR, I think the role of CASSIUS. Also whilst at Stratford Grammar it was compulsory to attend The Theatre Royal. It was there that I saw my first ‘Modern Dress’ production of HAMLET, directed by the Legendary JOAN LITTLEWOOD. It was only years later that I realised what an influence her Productions had on me.
By the time I had reached the Sixth Form, I had been promoted to Lead Parts and I scored a particular hit with the part of the Fool in KING LEAR. You see, I hadn’t told anyone, not even my parents that I was taking a dance class, but my movement invention as the Fool, somewhat let the cat out of the bag! From the age of fourteen I had become a pupil of HETTIE LOMAN, who had been a pupil of RUDOLPH LABAN. I later discovered that JOAN LITTLEWOOD had also been one of his pupils along with HETTIE at his Studio in Manchester.
I decided to go to University in London so I could continue to study with HETTIE and in the Sixties, I read an Honours Degree in Spanish, with French and Romance Philology. It was whilst I was at King’s College that I met up with DEREK JARMAN, and more of DEREK and working with him on his film of Shakespeare’s TEMPEST, later.
But for me, the most important event in the Sixties, was my visit to the Prince of Wales Theatre to see MARTHA GRAHAM (in ’63), following her triumphant season at that year’s EDINBURGH FESTIVAL. When the curtain came down on ‘ SERAPHIC DIALOGUE ‘, my world had changed.
After the performance, we went backstage and we filed past her, magnificent in her JOCASTA make-up and costume. Although still at KING’S, I realised after that performance, I had to get to the United States and study Contemporary Dance. My LABAN training had given me a great deal: particularly creative tools; but I knew I needed a stronger dance technique.
The ‘ AMERICAN INVASION ‘: as I called it in my LABAN LECTURE of 1996 had begun!
Following MARTHA, came many other wonderful American Modern Dance Companies: MERCE CUNNINGHAM, PAUL TAYLOR, ALVIN AILEY, JOSE LIMON, ALVIN NIKOLAIS. Quelle richesse!
These amazing choreographers made me also want to Choreograph. So with some financial backing from my cousin Richard and a Bursary from the ARTS COUNCIL, I took myself off to New York, auditioned at various institutions and ended up at SARAH LAWRENCE COLLEGE, upstate New York, to study CHOREOGRAPHY with another dance legend, the extraordinary BESSIE SCHONBERG, after whom the “BROADWAY BESSIES” are named!
BESSIE was a genius, as her many other students including MEREDITH MONK, CAROLYN ADAM and JEROME ROBBINS, will testify. She taught this most complex subject and brilliantly: and “yes”, it can be taught! But not by everyone. And I don’t want to digress, but I have to admit I’m a little sceptical of what is being taught in its name at the moment in many of our dance institutions!
Besie taught us to think like artists: to be critical and objective about the work we produced. She stressed the importance of THEATRICALITY: Brechtian and Shavian, as well as making us aware of the PROGRAMMATIC. We did site-specific choreography as well as choreographing ‘in the round’: hugely helpful when I came to work in film. She helped us develop the all-important ‘OUTSIDE EYE’. Studying with her was hugely inspirational and I graduated with a MASTERS DEGREE IN FINE ART in 1969.
I returned to the UK with a very positive ambition and although the journey wasn’t always easy, I feel that I have been blessed with a great deal of good luck.
During a career which spans nearly 45 years, I’ve been fortunate enough to choreograph over a dozen Shakespearean plays for the stage and my Shakespeare films include:
THE TEMPEST — 1979 DEREK JARMAN
MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING: 1992
LOVE’S LABOUR’S LOST: 1999
AS YOU LIKE IT: 2005 — all directed by KENNETH BRANAGH
OTHELLO: 1995 — OLIVER PARKER
TWELFTH NIGHT: 1995 — TREVOR NUNN.
More than once, I’ve had the opportunity to revisit a play several years after having worked on it. That’s one of the positive things about growing older; you sometimes get another go at a Classic. For example, I’ve worked on four different versions of CARMEN — but I’m not here to talk about my life in Opera: although in 1982, I did work on VERDI’S “MACBETH” at the MET in New York with Sir Peter Hall.
So Plays for the Stage:
THE TEMPEST (several versions)
AS YOU LIKE IT (twice for the Royal Shakespeare Company) 1985 2005
THE TAMING OF THE SHREW (The R.S.C.): 1985
A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM (The Royal Exchange and Edinburgh Festival): 1988
HENRY THE EIGHTH (R.S.C.): 1983
JULIUS CAESAR (at School and for the R.S.C.: 1983
KING LEAR (in which I played the FOOL).
THE SCOTTISH PLAY (R.S.C. 1983)
I suppose the most important thing for me about the genius of Shakespeare, is the timeless nature of his plays, and their openness to interpretation and re-interpretation.
We Know that he himself was very fond of anachronism: as when in ANTONY and CLEOPATRA, the Egyptian Queen commands: “Let’s to Billiards.”
It will be of no surprise to you if I tell you that many of the productions with which I have been associated have not been set in the time of Shakespeare, and, consequently, characters were not dressed in Elizabethan costumes. This, as you can imagine, can provide quite a challenge for the Choreographer when clearly the text and action suggests the 16th Century.
For example: in Trevor Nunn’s film TWELFTH NIGHT, set in the 19th Century, the scene between Sir Toby Belch, played by MEL SMITH and Sir Andrew Ague-Cheek, by RICHARD E. GRANT.
” What is thy excellence in a galliard, Knight?”
” Faith I can cut a caper.”
” Why dost thou not go to Church in a Galliard and come home in a coranto?
I decided that the key to the scene lay in exploring Character : they are ‘Show-Offs’ and two highly competitive ‘Clown’ figures. I believed that the function of the scene was to show how really ignorant they are of dance terms, and that this would produce the comic effect required. They simply bandy dance terms about, without really understanding what they mean. I believed it was the sounds of these ‘Terms’, which provided the clues for the action.
So ‘GALLIARD’ sounded ” gallant ” and Sir Andrew could take great strides and maybe a big jump or two!
‘CAPER’ sounded like a ‘Frisky Step’ — some fantastic ‘Strut’.
‘CORANTO’ sounded like ‘running’ and Sir Toby could perform some ‘Tripping’ steps.
Well I didn’t get them waltzing, but I might have taught them a ‘Quick Step’! In the end we weren’t too far off!
It had also helped that I had studied the Court dances of the Elizabethan period with the masterly MICHAEL HOLMES. He taught us :
and that scandalous LA VOLTA.
I was therefore able to exploit my knowledge of these dances, without having to get my actors to spend hours trying to learn them accurately.
At this point in my life, I find I am often being asked to mentor young choreographers, either by The Arts Council or by Dance UK. I am currently working with KIT HOLDER, a dancer with The Birmingham Royal Ballet.
I always encourage young choreographers interested in period dances, to research ARBEAU’S Orchesography (1588) and translated by CYRIL BEAUMONT. I also always recommend MAY I HAVE THE PLEASURE by BELINDA QUIRY published by Dance Books in 1987 and reprinted in 1993.
Dear BELINDA always used to call me “Hops Scotch,” I think possibly because my name was Hopps and I was Associate Director of Scottish Ballet at the time, but maybe it was just to be naughty which was her wont, bless her!
So who was Shakespeare? And as a Choreographer what helps me re-discover his plays and create the movement and dances for them?
Here I must acknowledge my personal indebtedness to a series of Workshops and Lectures which the DANCE RESEARCH COMMITTEE organised some years ago and to NICOLA GAINES, and the late MICHAEL HOLMES and PHROSSO PFISTER in particular.
So what do we know of the BARD?
I had prepared some historical background, but I feel I was well advised that it was not necessary to go into such detail for this knowledgeable audience. Personally, I love the striking picture : THE CHANDOS PORTRAIT in the National Portrait Gallery, possibly painted by BURBAGE, his fellow Actor, and I like to feel that this is an indication of what he may have looked like. I also like to believe that he was possibly born and died on the same day of the month: APRIL 23rd (1564 – 1616).
Whenever I have worked for the ROYAL SHAKESPEARE THEATRE in Stratford-upon-Avon, I always make a pilgrimage to his monument in Stratford Church which tells us he died ” ANNO DOMINI 1616 on APRIL 23RD in his 53rd Year:
“EARTH COVERS, THE NATION MOURNS AND HEAVEN HOLDS
A NESTOR IN COUNSEL : A SOCRATES IN MIND : A VERGIL IN ART”.
As a choreographer, it is important for me to find out as much as I can about the dramatist whose work I am dealing with and I was intrigued to discover that his ‘oeuvre’ reflects the difference in attitude towards the Theatre during the reigns of the two monarchs he served: ELIZABETH I and JAMES VI Scotland and I England. Even though I am choreographing for a modern audience, it is important to me to note that there was a definite drift away from ‘ Theatre as Popular Entertainment ‘, as enjoyed by the Elizabethans to the Jacobean notion that drama was a Court pastime!
WHAT OF THE THEATRES HE WROTE FOR?
When I was growing up, there was no reconstruction of the GLOBE THEATRE: (initiated by the late actor SAM WANAMAKER). It’s curious how it took an American to undertake the project! Nor was there a ROYAL NATIONAL THEATRE for that matter. We now have a clearer indication of what the Elizabethan Theatre looked like and a better insight into the production values and style of presentation of the day. It is the policy of tHE NEW GLOBE to stage the plays in ways more closely related to an Elizabethan audience.
By stark contrast, most of the stages I have worked on, at Birmingham Rep, The National, or The RSC in Stratford, offer big cavernous playing areas. So very unlike the ‘raised platform areas’ afforded by the Elizabethan Theatres, which my research tells me looked rather like a raised table — oblong in shape and that of the ROSE only 17 feet deep!
Just think that the battle scenes and dance sequences had to take place in such a confined area, compared to the huge spaces our contemporary theatres provide us with. The effects produced must have given “flatter lines” than we are currently used to.
There is no evidence that Theatres employed choreographers: members of the Company would be responsible for dance opportunities and we know that the actor WILL KEMP was often responsible for this.
Personally, I’m intrigued that in my professional life- time, the term MOVEMENT DIRECTOR has been introduced, and this is often how my contribution to a production is described in the credits, rather than by the word CHOREOGRAPHER! I remember having quite a heated discussion when I was working with Sir Peter Hall at the National about the question of my credit on THE ORESTEIA. He was not at all in favour of MOVEMENT DIRECTOR — even though the Masque work could hardly be considered ‘DANCE’. He felt that Choreographer was appropriate and that MOVEMENT DIRECTOR would indicate that I had ‘DIRECTED’ the entire production — which frankly speaking was really a movement piece. Finally, we reached a compromise and my credit simply read ‘MOVEMENT’. Had I been more experienced, I would have asked for a ‘ CO-DIRECTOR ‘ credit!
Then as now music is used a great deal in productions and our contemporary actors are often required to sing and make music and be as accomplished as we know the actors AUGUSTINE PHILLIPS and ROBERT ARMENE were. In those days, boy actors had to be able to sing well, since roles such as DESDEMONA and ARIEL demanded it.
We know that Shakespeare often intended there to be musical Interludes between acts and TWELFTH NIGHT begins with music which rouses the Count ORSINO.
So let’s look at the use of DANCE in Shakespeare’s Plays.
When as a choreographer, I’m employed to work on one of the Bard’s plays, whether it be for Film, Television or the Stage, I always give particular importance to the clues that Shakespeare himself provides when approaching a ‘Movement opportunity’. These clues lay either in the text or stage directions. For example :
In A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM, TITANIA states
“Come now a roundel and a fairy song“: i.e. a Country Dance .
MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING
“Come, come we are friends — let’s have a Dance ere we are married that we may lighten our hearts and our wives’ heels “.
IRIS: ” you sun-burn’d sicklemen of August weary, come hither from the furrow, and be merry; Make holiday; your rye-straw hats put on and these fresh nymphs encounter everyone in country footing”.
Stage Direction: Enter certain Reapers, properly habited. They join the Nymphs in a graceful Dance.
STATEMENT OF BELIEF: I do not consider myself to be a dance historian and I am certainly not a purist! I believe there is no single way to choreograph and I know that choreography means different things for different people. I don’t simply reconstruct the past: rather, I like to use authentic material as a starting point and make my work appropriate to the period the particular production I am working on is set in. I also have to take into consideration, the capabilities of the cast and the time restrictions of the rehearsal period.
Here I’d like to mention my film SENSE AND SENSIBILITY which won EMMA THOMPSON her Oscar for best script adaptation. I know that in that film I wasn’t WALTZING WITH SHAKESPEARE, but it does provide you with an example of the way I work.
I knew that THE ARCHES section in the QUADRILLE was anachronistic, but my Director ANG LEE needed the camera to speed up in the Ballroom scene which involved dialogue between the main protagonists whilst they danced, as well as disruptive dramatic action between the characters: both elements always a challenge for any Choreographer.
Making the actors form Arches under which they could dance and interact was “out of Period” but provided an opportunity for interesting camera work and dramatic tension. My actors included EMMA, GREG WISE, ELIZABETH SPRIGGS, KATE WINSLET and Dame HARRIET WALTER: how did she get a Damehood? But I digress again and it’s best not to go there!!!
Although I can be criticized for being “out of Period”, That ARCHES SECTION was used as a STILL for Publicity and Posters, and unbeknown to me at the time of creation, a selling point of the MOVIE!
Choreography used to be called “The Art of Making dances”. However, as we now all know, the term also includes all aspects of ‘Movement Composition’, creating patterns of physical behaviour and the bodily responses which occur in mundane as well as dramatic situations. I’m always amused when, listening to the News on the Radio, I hear commentators refer to “Carefully choreographed Diplomacy! “
The choreographer varies widely in his or her specific procedures and, in common with many other artists, simply acts as a conduit for the work produced. The process involved may be said to represent a form of channelling and the person of the choreographer provides the starting point of the choreographic process.
Familiarity with a variety of dance and movement styles is always useful, especially when working in Film, Opera and Theatre. What prompts the need to create is deeply personal and the stimuli at the forefront of the intention may take months to formulate or be the product of an inspired idea that takes merely seconds to be born.
A choreographic artist responds: physically, emotionally, intellectually, instinctively and technically, but not necessarily in that order, to each moment of creation as it arises. Hopefully, the result is deeply personal both in style and content and the movement vocabulary used bears the author’s signature bright and clear.
I have kept all my notebooks and fortunately for me they are housed in my Archive at LABAN, now TRINITY LABAN CONSERVATOIRE OF MUSIC AND DANCE in Greenwich.
Looking at them now in retrospect amuses me and provides me with some fascinating reading which I would like to share with you.
THE TEMPEST 1981 for B.B.C TELEVISION; DIRECTOR BOB LOCKYER, MUSIC DOMINIC MULDOWNEY
SIR JOHN GUILGUID was PROSPERO : You can imagine how exciting it was to be in the presence of such an icon! Fortunately, he didn’t have to dance and many years later when I sat next to him at a dinner party, he confessed to me how “awful” he was at movement and “So unlike Dear Larry”, he added.
I had obviously counted all the bar phrases and distinguished between the “Sedate” Section and where the “Melody picks up”, where the tambour came in and the “descending” section at the end. Then I plotted the action of the Dance Sequence:
1). Entry of the Women: could be a cannon: movement changes of direction.
Chasing each other, catching and turning.
2). Easy hopping steps together: with HETTIE ARMS which “firework open.”
3). MEN ENTER: Strong jumps and leg kicks to join the women
4). Promenade with the women turning them on the 4’s into line up.
5). Strong Accents leading to
6). HOPPING Sequence
So very different from the TEMPEST I did with DEREK JARMAN in 1979. Instead of the usual MASQUE at the end of the play with IRIS,CERES & JUNO, Derek had decided that we should have one Goddess and had invited the famous American Jazz Singer ELIZABETH WELCH to perform an amazing rendition of STORMY WEATHER accompanied by 50 dancing sailors, young men Derek had found at a disco, and I got them to perform a sort of uptempo running dance, homage to the CORANTO!
I was teaching at LABAN at the time, and persuaded DEREK to let me add a couple of young male dance students to the mix, thus ensuring that they could at least be relied upon to remember the steps, lead the Disco Lads, and anchor the sequence. I seem to remember Tony Thatcher was one of the LABAN lads!
HENRY THE EIGHTH 1983 was my first Shakespeare production for the Royal Shakespeare Company. The Director was the wonderful HOWARD DAVIES. I had a real ‘run-in’ with the Costume Designer DEIDRE CLANCY on this Production. She got into a terrible state when she saw that I had the women thrown down onto the floor in their beautiful oatmeal-coloured Elizabethan Costumes. This well-known but less frequently performed Play offers the choreographer two very challenging sequences.
The first came when the young King Henry, in disguise, bursts in on CARDINAL WOLSLEY’S House Party and choses ANNE BULLEN (later to become his second wife) as his dance partner. The late and great RICHARD GRIFFITHS was my Henry, a big man who I persuaded to do my warm ups and go swimming to get fitter!
DEIDRE protested about the Costumes being ruined, “They will have great difficulty getting to their feet in those skirts and bodices,” she cried. I had to explain that that was entirely the point. The director and I wanted to demonstrate how Henry and his band of men had abused the women and I’m afraid DEIDRE lost her campaign to protect her costumes. It was not to be the first run in I had with a Costume Designer!
The Music for this sequence was a Tango with a Kurt Weil feel composed by ILONA SEKAZC. Shakespeare really understood how to make “Dance Opportunities” further the plot!
Notes from (1) HENRY’S TANGO
In order to give the sequence a Period Feel, I made the Actors stand back to back, with arms spread horizontally, to also give a Tango feel.
INSTRUCTIONS to myself in my note book: Cut the funny step backwards; Check the 5 Bar Hold; Actors should not step back in the “grovel step”; Too many turns before women are thrown to the floor.
(2) VISION SEQUENCE in Act IV where Queen Katherine of Aragon lies dying: “Enter, solemnly tripping, one after another Six Personages clad in white robes, wearing on their heads garlands of Bays and golden vizards on their faces ; branches of Bays or Palm in their hands. They first congee unto her, then dance. The first two hold a spare garland over her head; (and this action is repeated by the other two couples) At which — she makes in her sleep signs of rejoicing — and so in their dancing they vanish, carrying the garlands with them.)
My first film with Sir KENNETH BRANAGH, who directed and played Benedick alongside his then wife EMMA THOMPSON as Beatrice was MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING. They had already started shooting in Tuscany and they were looking for a choreographer and I had been recommended. What clinched my getting the job was the fact that I spoke a little Italian, though not as good as my French or Spanish. So my language skills gained at King’s College, helped enormously in rehearsal. I kept a record of my first conversation with Ken in one of my Notebooks.
I asked Ken what period he was setting the film in and he answered, “between 1750 and 1850.” For those of you who are historical dance specialists — a hundred years provides a very wide range of possibilities.
When asked what he thought the feel of the dances should be, he responded,”It’s ROMANTIC SWISH “!!!! “Lusty,rough, vivid and very free. They are peasant types and I see lots of ‘ whirls ‘ “
The wonderful film score composer, PATRICK DOYLE, had written a version of ‘Sigh no more my ladies” and Ken said it was ” PUCINNIESQUE”, and the big dance at the end of the picture was the grand finale to the film, lasting some six minutes. Six minutes of choreography is an awful lot of screen time, by the way!
I devised a series of pattern dances for 200 Italian extras as well as the cast, who he gave me to rehearse first. Then I was given four hours with the extras in a car park on the Estate where we were shooting out in Tuscany. It was shot with one camera, a steady cam, a heavy apparatus which the camera man carries on his back, and there was to be no ‘cut’. We had only two hours to shoot the sequence because of the angle of the sun, which would affect the quality of the light, so important in cinematic work. It was an amazing experience, and very often it was the steady cam operator who had the problems, rather than the choreographer! The camera man, wearing his camera, fell over twice and the ‘Bucket Lift’ taking him up above the roof tops at the end of the sequence, got jammed! What a day!
When the shoot was over, Ken asked me, “How the Hell did you do it?” but that wasn’t quite his turn of phrase. The answer was that I truly didn’t know. Suffice it to say that I replied that I felt that the GODS had been with me!
I have often asked myself, whether I put myself consciously in a state of preparedness of the body and the mind — a kind of trance, which will allow the ideas to flow? I certainly need to erase any memory of preceding work, so as to start with a blank page. I try to leave my personal luggage outside the Rehearsal Room door — a broken heart, a sick mother, a tax bill unpaid! But I am only human and sometimes life’s problems impinge! Then I have to remind myself that my concentration has to be total, the work has to come first and I am responsible for all those colleagues in the rehearsal space that day and the buck stops with me!
It’s always difficult to be objective about one’s own work, but I’d like to think that I place emphasis on:
SURPRISING USE OF GESTURE
UNEXPECTED RHYTHMIC PATTERNS and
MOVEMENT CHOICES WHICH DEVELOP CHARACTER, THEME and PLOT.
Each movement elicits its own range of responses and the selection process seems to happen naturally and organically for most of the time! Inevitably, there is the possibility that a passage of the work will present its difficulty which can result in a halt to the proceedings. I have heard authors refer to these moments as “getting stuck” or “Writers Block.” There is no single cure for such an eventuality! I simply have to work through it and I find keeping a notebook with me at all times is de rigeur! I often have my best ideas in the bathroom or wake in the middle of the night with what appears to be a good solution at the time, but just as often is not!
The single most exciting Shakespeare film I have ever worked on was undoubtedly LOVE’S LABOURS LOST in 1999. This biggest adventure of my career to date started with Ken calling from Los Angeles and leaving a message on my answer-phone. He said, “I’m working on this little project and wondered whether you are free and would be interested?” KEN’S idea was to do it as a “Hollywood musical” with songs by COLE PORTER and IRVING BERLIN, notably:
LET’S FACE THE MUSIC AND DANCE
THERE’S NO BUSINESS LIKE SHOW BUSINESS
CHEEK TO CHEEK
JUST THE WAY YOU LOOK TO-NIGHT
to name just four. It was suggested that I keep a diary and here are some extracts which I hope capture the atmosphere and, in some way, illuminate the process.
Sunday 28th FEBRUARY: 1999
The first days shoot on any movie is always special. The atmosphere was charged and the tensions were obvious. We started with the ‘Swimming Pool’ section of FANCY FREE. Twenty synchronised swimmers in the most delicious figure hugging gold lamé lycra costumes and gold petalled swimming caps were joined by our four principal actresses. A host of crew, camera and sound people with all their equipment, and lots of scaffolding crowded into the swimming pool attached to Ken’s home.
I had never been involved in “the first day’s shoot” in any of the 14 feature films I had shot previously. I wondered whether there was any superstition attached to the precedent it might set up?? In fact, the actual first set-up shot went well and got us off to a good start. It was an important ‘cut-away’ shot in which our line of girls turn rhythmically one after the other, face the camera and dive into the pool.
It was an ambitious day’s shoot, with six ‘Set – Ups.’ The cameras had to be re-set each time, along with the lighting; this can take hours. Ken came up with an alternative to the story – board under-water sequence which did not involve our principal actresses. It saved time and proved immensely effective. It involved the Syncro Team making intricate underwater patterns and appearing as mermaids encircling each other.
The penultimate shot had to be re-thought, since we could not capture the kaleidoscope top-shot moment which we had rehearsed, in the rectangular frame which the camera provides. Our choreography was circular in shape, leaving too much of the frame empty. At this point, the swimmers coach, CAROLINE WILSON, came into her own and was most helpful. We were already out of time and the tension was rising. Ken suggested an alternative idea and she and I quickly devised a different sequence which would fit the frame. Caroline lined the girls up in two rows of seven and one of six which created a staggered effect and they performed a circular sequence in their own orbit, and the finale was a dIVE known as a Dolphin which leaves one leg extending out of the water which we all thought most effective. This was not as rehearsed but it filled the required amount of music which we had and, given the constraints of time, provided an excellent solution to our problem.
Apart from one actor, ADRIAN LESTER, and ALICIA SILVERSTONE, whom I could tell had done some ballet, none of the other actors had any dance training and my Assistant (ELAINE TYLER-HALL ) and me most certainly had our work cut out! Ken wanted to work out the routines in advance and so I hired eight dancers to be the stand-ins! I worked out the steps and the camera shots on them and once Ken had approved the choreography, we taught a simplified version to the actors. But I had to adapt that material to suit the abilities of our actors, and quickly too.
The line of the body comes second nature to a dancer, but not all actors have that kind of physical awareness. Also the dancers would cover more ground and so often when we had worked out the camera angles and came to shoot, the actors didn’t always reach their required marks. It was a tough process for the camera men as well as the artists.
Curiously, the most testing production I have ever worked on which obliged me to research authentic Elizabethan Dances such as:
and LA VOLTA
was a production I did in Tokyo in 1993 and later revived in ‘95. It was a Spanish play called CONTRADANZA, directed by NURIA ESPERT, with a KABUKI Company, starring THOMAS ABURRO BANDA, the famous ‘ONEGATTA ‘ playing the role of QUEEN ELIZABETH THE FIRST. I had a twenty-minute Ball sequence interspersed with dialogue (all in Japanese) to choreograph which was a challenging and thrilling assignment.
TAMASAN’S Elizabeth was superb and the entire Company had enormous respect for the dances which they learnt and performed with great flair, conviction and élan! As KABUKI trained actors, they had great movement skills unlike so many of our British actors who don’t receive such a rigorous movement training.
There still remain many more of Shakespeare’s plays which I have never worked on, such as MEASURE FOR MEASURE, COMEDY OF ERRORS, THE MERRY WIVES OF WINSOR to name but three! However, I have to admit that at this point in my life I have set myself new challenges. I have created a one-man show “MY NAME IS MARGARET MORRIS” about her life and work which I performed at the EDINBURGH FESTIVAL and I have just finished the draft of my first novel. Consequently, at the moment, I’m just not sure my choreographic aspirations are sufficiently well charged for me to do justice to what I consider to be “the genius of WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE! ”