Coyrphée Halaina Hills will be making her choreographic debut this month as part of our Bodytorque.Technique season. She spoke to Jane Albert about choreographing on colleagues, realising visions and working with Ratmansky.
Have you dabbled in choreography before?
I did a bit as a kid in choreographic competitions but I wouldn’t really consider that “dabbling”. What’s really led me to do Bodytorque was working with other choreographers and being inspired by what they do – the creation of movement and how something develops. Also whenever I listen to music, whether it’s the MSO or SSO or my iPod, I’m always seeing something, visualising movement, wondering: what sort of movement would work with it? Where’s the tension? Where’s the beauty? I hope I can bring the vision to life.
Tell me about your work, Mode.L.
[Pronounced "Mode-El"]. “Mode” is a synonym for technique and “model” as in the model dancer. The style is quite angular and neo-classical. My dancers are in pointe shoes so it’s quite classical, but there’s definitely some 21st -century movement to it. My music was composed in the 1920s so it’s very abstract. I’ve looked at artists like Kandinsky and Mondrian, movements in art that were about total abstraction, which is where I’m going with my piece. My dancers are in tunics (leotard with a skirt for the girls, boys in a unitard), with hair in a bun. There’s no obvious relationships, no story, it’s what the audience can make of it. I’ve chosen three girls (Ako Kondo, Jessica Fyfe and Benedicte Bemet) and two boys (Christiano Martino and Jack Hersee).
How did you choose your music?
I’ll have to credit my boyfriend [conductor Dan Carter] with that! I went through a series of chamber works with him and chose Stravinsky’s Octet for Wind Instruments. It will be performed live in the pit, which I’m very excited about.
Does anyone assist you or guide you with the choreography?
Fiona Tonkin, our ballet mistress, often comes in and talks to the choreographers about how it’s looking. It will be interesting, to be on the other side, talking to [Artistic Director] David McAllister about a piece I’ve created and my vision for it, and to have his perspective on that will be a really curious thing.
How do you feel about choreographing on your colleagues?
I’m quite looking forward to it actually! I’ve chosen my dancers because I see something in them, because I want to push them, I want to give them an opportunity. I see these dancers in class every day, I know their strengths and weaknesses and I want to make them look good. I’m not sure where the line will be drawn where they say, “I don’t like it” and I say, “Too bad I’m the choreographer!” I think it will be quite a collaborative process.
Is there a particular choreographer who has inspired this piece?
Probably Kenneth MacMillan. And working with Alexei Ratmansky on Cinderella ... my god, he’s a dream! The experience of working with him was incredible; he’s incredibly precise in what he wants and the vision he has, and he’s willing to push and push until he gets that. And he’s lovely. And I love the style of his movement – everything goes somewhere. So having that experience leading into Bodytorque has been perfect, you couldn’t have asked for a better lead-up. Except that I’m incredibly busy, and that’s hard.
Was it tricky balancing your first choreographic outing with performing in the Cinderella world premiere?
Absolutely. I have to compartmentalise my life. Each day I timetable my life in my head, allowing time to think about things. Cinderella has definitely taken up a massive chunk. I’m also studying a Bachelor of Communications (PR and business) and I have an ethics essay due on Monday so that’s taken up some time that I didn’t really anticipate. But I do it to myself!
What do you hope the audience gets out of Mode.L?
I hope they see something that surprises them. I don’t want them ever to check their watch. I want them to be engaged with my piece, I want it to keep moving and not get too repetitive. I want it to finish and for them to say, “that was a really cool experience of movement”. Because it is abstract, it’s not a beautiful pas de deux. I don’t think they’ll be emotionally moved but I do think there’s the possibility of them wanting to see it again. I want them to want to see it again.
What do you think of the concept of Bodytorque?
I think it’s a great chance to experiment, a great opportunity to expand your artistic style and develop something with enough pressure to force you to do it and force you out of your comfort zone, but without the pressure of a mainstage production. It’s testing the waters, and that’s fantastic. But it’s the real deal, people are paying for this.
You’re using projected dance notation?
Yes, I’m using Benesh, which is taught at the Royal Academy of Dance in London. Two of the dancers here are learning it. It’s a dying art, we don’t have a notator in the company at the moment. A lot of people ask me about it, how you write and read it. It’s a really novel way of showing movement on paper. And it also fits with my whole idea of abstract movement, abstract visual components, because it looks like strange stick figures.
Will you be nervous?
Yep! I’m not sure whether I will sit in the audience, that’s something I’m definitely leaving open to decide on the day. I might choose to sit backstage because I feel more comfortable back there. I’m nervous because I have high hopes. I visualise movement all the time when I hear music and I’m really curious to see whether I can actually take it from my head and give that information to other people, create it.
See Halaina’s vision realised when Bodytorque.Technique opens at Sydney Theatre on Thursday 31 October. Five performances only – hurry to get your tickets!