Interview: Mark Baldwin: Rambert Dance Company: Awakenings


As the stage prepares for a retelling of Oliver Sacks’ novel, Mark tells us about the process from book to dance

Image of Interview: Mark Baldwin: Rambert Dance Company: Awakenings

Awakenings: showing @ Festival Theatre, 16-18 Feb @ 19:30

As their new piece, Awakenings, is about to hit the Edinburgh stage, we caught up with Mark Baldwin, AD of the Rambert Dance Company to talk about Oliver Sacks and the transition from book to stage.

The piece was commissioned by Daniel Katz how did he approach you with the idea?

The composer Tobias Picker and the sponsor Daniel Katz came to me with a proposal to transform their friend, Oliver Sacks’, book Awakenings into a dance work. Both Daniel Katz and Tobias Picker are Tourette’s sufferers so there were parts of the stories they could relate to.

Those familiar with Awakenings, either from Oliver Sacks’ book or the film might find it a surprising choice for a dance production. What drew Rambert to this idea?

Even though the poor patients had encephalitis lethargica or ‘sleepy sickness’, which meant that they were stuck in the same positions for great periods of times, the story itself is about movement. They had been stuck like this for about twenty years and were very shocked when they eventually came out of their comatose-like state to discover that they were much, much older. The idea of individual patients’ stories caught up in this situation was very moving for the Company to work on and be involved on.

This isn’t a straight retelling of the Sacks’ book. What approach has choreographer Aletta Collins taken with the story?

It’s not shown to the audience as a hospital situation and bed ridden patients, but rather the dancers have chosen one patient each and, in a way, physicalised how those patients felt.

Could you tell us a little about Tobias Picker’s score for Awakenings?

Tobias Picker is a New York based American composer. He loved the individual stories of the book, so the score is made up of these different sections, and as you listen to it various different themes unfold. Tobias tells me it’s his most ‘Tourettic’ score to date, full of beautiful sweeps and dives; a fantastic journey in itself. Listen out for the way the patients revert to their former selves as they come out of these states for short periods.

Both Daniel Katz and Tobias Picker are friends of Dr. Sacks, has he seen the production or spoken to those involved in it?

Oliver Sacks travelled from the US to come and see Awakenings in High Wycombe in October last year. We were very grateful as he had recently recovered from several operations. He said he loved it. There is a wonderful note written by him in our programme.

It shouldn’t be forgotten that there are two other pieces alongside Awakenings, Monolith and Cardoon Club can you tell us something about those.

Monolith is a brand new work, the première of which is being held in Edinburgh 16 February. It is has glorious music by Pēteris Vasks which conjures up images of tribal Nordic landscapes. The work is choreographed by Tim Rushton, who takes wonderful advantage of our beautiful dancers and their training in both classical ballet and contemporary technique. Look out for the exquisite pas de trois made for Pieter Symonds, Jonathan Goddard and Eryck Brahmania…

Cardoon Club is a feast for the eyes and ears – it’s relaxed, it’s laid back, it’s a wonderful Germanic-style revue. Follow the dancers as they conjure up the world of a 60s nightclub – smoochy, strutty, sexy. Each girl looks exquisite and the men are gorgeous too. With live music from the Rambert Orchestra, the twangy guitars and scintillating hip-wobbling beats are a lovely treat. Allow this piece to wash over you on a hot winters’ night.

Rambert has made a name for itself by commissioning and performing new works. How vital do you think it is that dance constantly seeks new area of inspiration?

The key to any longevity in the arts is the nurturing and developing of our imaginations. Our repertoire, while treasuring traditions, also looks forward and that is a wonderful and brilliant journey as our audiences and the Company discover new and fresh pastures every season. Contemporary dance for Rambert takes its template from the brilliant Diaghilev model where you introduce a choreographer to a designer and composer, producing new and original work with a fresh perspective, invigorating the Company’s repertoire.