Dynamic Dance Music and Film


Artistic Directors on Physical Theatre

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Bath University student Rosy Copping chatted to artistic directors Jim Ennis and Jess Cohen in an exciting interview about their ideas on dance and physical theatre:


Could you tell me briefly a little bit about Earthfall?

Jess: Yes, we’re a physical dance theatre company. We create devised work which we tour nationally and internationally.

Jim: We tend to work in cross-disciplinary media, so we’ve always used film right from the outset, we’ve always used live music, we’ve always used text, and the basis, the core of all that has been physical movement or dance.


What do you understand by the term ‘physical theatre’?

Jess: It depends on which perspective you are coming at it from. We actually like to call ourselves ‘physical theatre’ because the expectation of an audience, when they’re coming to see a piece of dance, does not match what we present on stage.  However, if they come from a theatre background, they think that we are very much ‘dance’.  We prefer to be categorised as ‘physical theatre’.

Jim: For us it’s to do with a body and making a physical communication in a space to a spectator. cardiff-met-2

Jess: Dance, for me, is defined when there is no narrative. I think that the communication of narrative, partial narrative or even emotionality changes a dance piece into something which is moving towards the spectrum of theatre and physical theatre.

Jim: We deal with discreet or fractured narrative, so I suppose that we come from a postmodernist table really, where things are broken down or unfinished and you move on to the next phase. We make deliberate shattering in our work.


What is your devising process like? How do you come up with ideas in your work?

Jess: About 90% of our work has been based around some social issue or humanitarian issue or an exponent of an art form which isn’t dance; something which is relatable to individuals, but also within a kind of world context as well.

billyJim: We start with a series of ideas or just one idea. From that we start to assimilate information. We read a lot. We write down a lot of ideas and we acknowledge previous work we’ve made, because we also are conscious that our work is evolving. Then we bring the company together and hand them the ideas on sheets of paper. We give them films to look at, we give them books to read and research .We try to get active almost immediately. Generally we start in an empty space with a dancer/performer and a musician. The live music and movement start off with an improvisational theme and then we start fishing out the elements, the essentials of that development. Often we give some days for the group to ‘bed in’ if they haven’t worked together before; there is a dynamic in working together.


How do you feel that your methods in creating physical theatre would differ from those who were specifically creating ‘dance’ or just theatre?

Jim: We have a co-creative process, we introduce a creative democracy. We’re very much open to change from the performer’s input and we’re not absolute choreographers: everybody choreographs.


So you like to work as a collective?

Jess: Yes, and through improvisation we can find really interesting movement that you can’t even imagine before you try it. Sometimes we’ve got to lock those down on film, because alexnone of us can remember how we got there, but the camera can, so then we can reconstruct from that. So we’re like editors: directors and editors.

Jim: It’s a dialogue, there’s mutuality to it and that’s really important for us. The important thing in our process is to locate the honesty within the performer,  so that they can expose who they are, or the essence of the material they’re trying to deal with; their relationship to it.


Do you think that the difference between physical theatre and dance is all in the perception, or do you think it is more about the technique and style?

Jim: Some definitions of physical theatre come about because the performers were not trained as dancers, so their technique is either different, or comes from a multitude of different disciplines; they are using their bodies in a way which is communicative physically in a performance situation, but recognisably not with a dance technique behind them. We tend to use people who are trained in dance, because that gives them a much larger vocabulary of possibilities when they execute our kind of work which is non-traditional dance.

Jess: We look for people who are dance trained, but have an open approach of how to move; if they’ve done martial arts for example, as well as dance.


Working on Chelsea Hotel in Salisbury

Jess: Well there is a difference isn’t there? Four companies that categorise themselves as ‘physical theatre’ are Earthfall, DV8, Volcano, Frantic Assembly. Frantic and Volcano are from a theatre background; DV8 and Earthfall are from a dance background. They’re all categorised under Physical Theatre, but you can’t say that it would be only the dance ones that can call themselves ‘physical theatre’ or only the theatre ones because there’s a difference.

Okay brilliant, I think that’s everything, thank you! 

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