Lea Anderson: An interview

I had ten minutes with the dynamic dance legend Lea Anderson before the show The Featherstonehaughs draw on the sketchbooks of Egon Schiele started. She was pretty fluey and very kind to agree to do an interview while feeling so ill. After the interview she rushed off to film the performance from the wings….

KH: Do you have a set creative formula for creating dance?

LA: I always try to make movement that I haven’t done before and the way to do that is give yourself some extra challenge, to make it in a different way so you don’t ever repeat. Never get dancers to improvise because they’ll do the same thing…

KH: So you are not a fan of improvisation?

LA: No! People just do the same thing over and over again, its quite boring.

What I do is create a visual score, like a storyboard for a film, that’s very, very different each time. I work with the dancers and show them…It could be a set of photographs but in this case it’s the sketchbook of Egon Schiele. I think it looks like notation for a dance, so I imagine I’m a Martian who’s never heard of Egon Schiele and that somebody said to me: “Here is a lost choreographer, you’re a historian you better reconstruct his dances in the most authentic way you possibly can”.

KH: In the case of Egon Schiele are the motifs/movements from dance directly taken from the pages?

LA: Yes. I looked at it, distanced myself and I tried to reconstruct the dance. I don’t add anything or take away things I like or don’t like. That’s why I always find a way of creating a score that I then follow. I make all the rules before; I decide what the costumes are, where the lighting will be…all very much decided before. And then I just follow it and I’m not allowed to change my mind.

KH: So even if you don’t like something, you keep it in?

LA: I keep it in and think I must have got it wrong, I must re-examine it. If you let yourself get scared and think ‘oh no I haven’t done any lovely big dramatic duets’, that’s myself wanting to make something pleasing to people. So if you genuinely want to make something new you’ve got to keep a rule and stick to it, not allow yourself to chicken out and do something ‘nice’.

KH: What do you think makes a good dancer? Your company is famous for its varied dancers of all shapes and sizes.

LA: Well I like different shapes and sizes because I like the idea that in the audience you could think that could be me, even if, quite obviously it couldn’t be, but if it’s all sorts of different looking people then its more likely it could be real. Rather than having all those gorgeous thin lovely muscular people, (though there are some good looking men in this show I must say!).

Its so difficult to find people who want to work with this dance historian thing that I do, not many people want to do that, a lot of people want you to stand in front and go 5,6,7,8 and if you don’t like what I do it’s a nightmare. You have to find people that have got a visual sense, a desire to something really weird and are prepared to put themselves in a really odd place. So for me a good dancer is somebody that wants to work in the way that I want to work and is good at it.

KH: Are you worried about the impact of the current cuts of the arts?

LA: Well it’s easy to say when you have just been cut completely. On the one hand I’ve been funded for a long time, how brilliant is that, and I’m really lucky and loads of people haven’t been funded for a long time or at all. So that is amazing and I’m really pleased about that and it shouldn’t change any bitterness, you know nothing goes on forever. But, yes, I am concerned because it seems to me the dance scene is getting very conservative, I wonder if it is going to continue to get safer and safer. No one wants to put on anything that isn’t guaranteed to sell out which means that experimental work is really going to be risky. So of course its not good news and its scary.

KH: What do you think of ‘conventional’ dance narratives emerging in programs such as So You Think You Can Dance?

LA: What I call a narrative is a series of related sequences and how you relate them could make sense in a visual way. If I could explain: ‘it is somebody that has met somebody and is feeling upset because they have been etc..’ I can write it in a book. You know, why the hell aren’t we using purely visual and sound environment to describe a unique thing.  I know that when I first saw theatre or dance I was moved in a way beyond words, beyond description that only dance and theatre can do. Yeah I love words, I love reading, I love writing but that’s not the same as dancing. Dancing is quite unique.

KH: How do you generate interest in contemporary dance when it can be viewed as inaccessible?

LA: I started out in the ‘70s in a punk band then art school and all the time I was doing dance and I couldn’t find a way to bring it all together. Finally I found a way to bring it all together, to make my own dance. And the only audience I could think of was from my own experience, which was in cabaret, rock bands and punk scene at that time.

I am convinced that everybody likes dance if only they could see some good dance, because not all contemporary dance is good and speaks to everyone. So I looked for places to take the dance to. I supported bands and stand up comedians, opened art gallery, restaurants, bars…I did everywhere where people are. I think that people who go out are interested in stuff that’s going on, so if you can take it to them it speaks to them then they are going to like it. You don’t have to have special knowledge of dance to like it, you don’t have to learn it like a piece of music, just instinctively respond.

I think that if dance isn’t speaking to people its because its not getting there, its not getting to the right people or places. The only thing we can hope for in these cuts is that it’s going to make people go and examine where all kinds of dance should be and get it out there.

KH: What is next for Lea Anderson?

LA: I am so shocked at being cut and to lose the company. I can’t imagine working in any other environment, I can’t go make dance for Rambert or anyone else I just can’t. And I feel utterly unable to do anything. But I’m not stupid, I’m not going to say this is the end.

I am going to finish off the company, which is a big job with 27 years of costumes, archives, everything. I’ve got to think about what’s going to happen to the website, the films we sell…to wrap it all up is going to be enormous.

Then I’m thinking about producing a book about our life and what we have done. I’d quite like to do just a visual one that doesn’t talk about it, just shows you visually.  Then hopefully I might have kind of got over it and had a bit of time to grieve. Am I going to be a taxi driver? Looking at choreography in a whole different way? Or am I going to come back to theatre? But I won’t really know until this is put to bed.

It’s just really shocking, as you can imagine after 27 years…but, hey, lucky that we did exist and I had the chance to do it.


Lea Anderson was interviewed by Kate Hird, Razz’s publicity officer.

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