iam: Showing @ Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, Thu 22 Mar only

Can you tell us about a little bit about your own and the company’s history?

My wife Davina White (Creative Director for the Errol White Company) and I started the company about two or three years ago after spending the last twenty or so years touring throughout the UK and Europe with repertory companies and independent work. After being involved in other peoples’ creations for so long, we decided to focus on our own work and moved up to Edinburgh where we’d had a long association.

iam is the company’s second piece, following on from Three Works which toured in 2009. It’s based around memory and the idea of an event that changed everything for everybody in one moment so that it affects their past, present and future. I’m not going to explain exactly what the event is because I hope that the audience, through the experience of seeing the show and the transition of time, will find their own journey through the piece.

Is the show based on one particular event or is it several events specific to the individual dancers?

It comes from a very specific place for me. The idea of the event is something that’s impact changes your pathways and affects the passage of your life – and I suppose that element of it is the timeline that runs through the work. The other element of it is how the event affects your environment, the town you’re in and the people who surround you; it’s almost a tracking of the event or a documentation of it by the people around you. For instance – and this is not necessarily what the piece is about – when someone passes away very close to you the immediacy of the event is defined by that individual, but a lot of the time what’s interesting for me is the individual that’s closest to that person, almost the energy that surrounds the documentation of that event. Does that make sense? It makes sense in my strange, tiny little brain.

There’s an intriguing line in the press release which talks about “tactile lighting” – could you explain that a little more?

It’s a very adult work. Not because it’s for adults, but because we’re being very clear: we are in a theatre, this is an audience, we are dancers, we are in normal clothes, we are in bare feet. So what you see from the beginning to the end of the work is the process of time. The effect of the moment is not necessarily a linear timeline; the timeline is fractured throughout the work. What you do see is how the event affects the body, how it affects the costumes, you see the sweat and watch the body degrade over time. I think that lets the audience into the moment and makes it very much about the people and the situation. It creates a sense of immediacy for the audience, there’s the knowledge that this is happening now and not in some projected future or a false environment.

As an audience member you’re presented with eight dancers standing in front of you and you experience through the sensitivity of the body what that moment could be and how it might affect you and your life. Hopefully everyone will come away with a different idea of the show – which is exactly what I’m looking for.

The individuality of experience creates a conundrum. I don’t think you can say that the show is good or bad. A lot of people will come out of the show with their own take on what the show was about and that’s what I think the live theatre experience is. You’re not out there to tick boxes so hopefully that’s what we’re trying to do.

You said this idea was very personal to you, but do the dancers get any input into the process?

One hundred percent. The way I create work is I start with a very structured narrative. So I look at what the gravity of the work means to me then I try to deconstruct it to the point of: how do I relate that to the physicality of the body? I break it down into very specific things to do with momentum of the body as it falls through space and the proximity of the body in space. When something extreme happens, the body feels like it’s freefalling and is out of control – and there’s a disconnection between the logic of the event and time.

There are lots of ways to create a physical vocabulary that has that kind of momentum, power and speed. Also the closing and opening of spaces between bodies and the proximity of dancers creates the idea of time pressing in on us. I worked on creating sections that really gave the idea of a specific space and time which I think helps the audience to experience things at a gut level – a little like going over a humpback bridge – rather than begin told the story in a traditional storytelling sense.

I think the dancers absorb that vocabulary from me and then there’s a play between creating a new vocabulary which develops again with the duets based upon the idea of proximity and opening and closing of space. Underlying everything is the culture of my own choreographic lineage but then on top of that there’s a whole layer of other information that comes out of the rehearsal process so the dancers and their reactions are imprinted on the work.

A great deal of dance seems to be pared down to the bone – with little lighting and costume – but this work is clearly different. How do you see this show?

I think this work will be seen in very different ways by different people. There are people out there who make a career out of working within a specific field and to them this might be seen as revolting, but I think within the work I do it has a sense of history.

I’ve been involved with dance for about twenty-five years now and I’ve worked with some amazing choreographers. I think I’m harking back to a specific time when we looked at the vocabulary of the body and the virtuosity of moving in space, asking the question: what is it about this vocabulary and the opening up of the body in a way that is exciting? I hanker for those times that you go and see a show and come away without really knowing all the answers and then three days later it still resonates with you.

For me, this is a really personal thing. I think we’ve come through a generation of adopting a lot of theatrical practices, which is amazing and great to watch, but what I miss is the pure function of working with vocabulary and body signatures, and looking at the craft of choreography like William Forsythe and Richard Alston (who I know are easy to criticise but they work with the intricacy of the body). I think the difficulty for someone like myself is being given the time to work with ensemble groups because very few people do it and it’s a very difficult thing to do. I’m not suggesting that we’re hitting every single button, but I believe if we’re given the chance to develop in this way it’s an exciting proposition. I don’t wont to live in a creative community where one specific style or working practice is dominant, I want to work in an environment that can see a cross-fertilisation of ideas.

The question for me is always whether you’re willing to open yourself up to a new experience. All I’m looking for is an audience to come and see, and then form their own opinion. There are no apologies or negatives about it, it’s just an issue of taste and the audiences we’ve had so far have been very excited by the work. And why wouldn’t they be? It’s got fantastic dancers, we’re a Scottish-based company who’ve produced a show with high production values on very little budget and we’re touring the country (we started at Tramway and we’re going all the way to Inverness). I think for a Scottish-based company to have those aspirations, whether you like the work or not, should be applauded and I would applaud any company in Scotland who are brave enough to go down that route.

You can read more about Errol White Company here.