Dancing Partners at The Lowry on 22nd and 23rd Jan, features two choreographies by Company Chameleon’s Anthony Missen. Along with Chameleon’s Hands Down, the programme features I Went Out On A Summer Night, created by Anthony as part of a commission by Norrdans, a touring dance company in Sweden. We catch up with Anthony to tell us more.
How did the commission come about?
I was offered the commission as a result of developing a relationship with Norrdans through Dancing Partners, which began back in 2013. Aside from the performances, I led educational activity over in Sweden, including workshops and professional classes for all the company dancers.
Whilst there I also created a promenade piece, which moved around the different spaces of a museum in Härnösand, Sweden. It was a chunky piece of work with ten of their dancers. As I was only given a short space of time to make the piece, it involved working with Norrdans quite intensely. All of these things, as well as seeing the work I made for Chameleon, gave them a very good idea of the way I work choreographically. Following on I was asked to teach professional class and was subsequently approached with the commission to make a new work for Norrdans’ next season.
What appealed to you about the commission?
A major appeal was for my own personal development as a maker; the dancers at Norrdans are fantastic, they’re very versatile, and I knew that as individuals they’d be open to being challenged in order to make and create something new. The opportunity also offered me the chance to experiment, and the freedom to take more risk. As the commission was outside Chameleon’s work, I could adapt and try out new approaches to making work, which was very exciting.
I also found the nature of the commission interesting. Norrdans is responsible for the dance offer for the whole of the North of Sweden. It was essential that the finished piece was adaptable – sometimes it would be performed in a theatre, sometimes in a school and other times in halls. The challenge of creating something that worked across different contexts appealed to me.
What did you like most about working with Norrdans?
The people are great, they’re really open, friendly and hard-working. The company’s ethos is also similar to Company Chameleon’s – they care about access and engaging new audiences, and like us, they take their work out and build an education programme around it. Quality is also important to them and retaining quality no matter what the performance space – whether it’s in a rural setting in front of one man and his dog, or in a packed theatre auditorium in a major capital city!
As part of the commission, there was also the opportunity to collaborate with very talented artists who were new to me. This included working with Norrdans’ in-house design team and playing about with ideas and sketches for set design. They also have an amazing state-of-the-art lighting equipment that we don’t have here in the UK. It was brilliant to sit down with the Lighting Designer and find out what you can do.
Tell us about making the piece and your time in Sweden?
I was in Sweden, working with Norrdans, for four weeks in total. It was important that I went in there prepared and could hit the ground running. Before I arrived, I’d carried out hours and hours of music research, character development and storyboarding – writing and drawing out ideas for scenes. By the time I arrived, I knew exactly who the characters were, what kind of energy they had, how they might see the world and how they related to each other. Also, the scenarios that might occur between them.
The first sessions with the dancers were focused on a series of improvisations and partnering work to get to know each other more, and create a feeling of safety and non-judgement. When the vibe is right in the space, then the best creative things happen.
From there on, the process was a mix of me teaching material and giving the dancers tasks to generate movement material.
Where did your idea for the piece come from?
I was listening to Late Junction on BBC Radio 3 and I heard a traditional Finnish folk song called I Went Out On A Summer’s Night. There was something about the title that really struck me as interesting, so I began to ask further questions around it – who was going out? Where was that person going to? What would happen when they get there?
This was essentially the starting point. It led me to the idea of creating a piece with four characters in a really isolated place, where all they have is what’s in their heads and not much else. To an extent, the piece is an amplification of their psychologically meanderings – their fears, desires and fantasies.
As the story unfolds, all the thoughts that are in the character’s heads are taken out and put in the space on stage, the result is a piece that’s a bit dark and a bit scary, even threatening and violent at times, but it’s also very tender and beautiful.
I Went Out On A Summer’s Night will be performed by Norrdans as part of Dancing Partners at The Lowry on Fri 22nd and Sat 23rd Jan, alongside Hands Down by Company Chameleon and pieces by Thomas Noone Dance, Spain, and Spellbound Contemporary Ballet, Italy.
Watch a short video about I Went Out On A Summer’s Night, including an interview with Anthony here.