Jules Cunningham talks choreography, energy dynamics and m/y-kovsky

Phrases by Stella Rousham

In preparation for my interview with dance artist and choreographer Jules Cunningham final Saturday, I made a decision to take heed to Stravinsky’s The Firebird and Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto, No.1 – two canonical classical items of music that inform Jules’ upcoming double-bill m/y-kovsky | fireplace fowl at Sadler’s Wells subsequent week.

While I’ve usually perceived classical music as a logo of status and elitism, chatting with Jules launched a brand new lens by which to navigate this seemingly impenetrable style. Reflecting on their very own choreographic processes and inventive journey, Jules shared with me the intricate connections between the self, the on a regular basis and private expertise that may be discovered inside classical types. Initially made in a pre-pandemic world, Jules additional voiced the complexities of choreographic energy and collaboration, that has include bringing fireplace fowl and m/y-kovksy to the stage this month.

SR: Would you be capable to briefly introduce the 2 works: m/y-kovsky and fireplace fowl.

JC: In November, I shall be performing two exhibits. m/y-kovsky which was first made in 2019, and fireplace fowl, made in 2020. 

The m/y-kovsky piece is a quartet I made to the First Motion of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No.1. It was initially made for Art Night, which is sort of a visible artwork, principally efficiency, platform that occurs in London. I take heed to a variety of classical music, like on the radio. I had undoubtedly heard this piece of music earlier than. However once I heard it in 2019, I actually preferred it. I began questioning: Why am I drawn to that music this second? What’s it about in me that wants to hook up with this music on this second in time? I wasn’t feeling very properly on the time. It was kind of it this factor that I’d go into listening and imagining. I began listening to it each day.

fire bird is a solo. I’ve been desirous about fireplace fowl and the music for greater than 10 years, earlier than I even began to make issues. Round 2012 I used to be dancing in Michael Clark Company in New York. They did this Stravinsky programme. Originally of the present there was a video projection of Stravinsky conducting the finale of The Firebird. I don’t assume I ought to actually say this, however the projection was the very best half. All the remainder of the present was nice. However that basically caught with me. I assume I’ve at all times related that music with that a part of my life.

SR: I’d love to listen to a bit extra concerning the motion of the 2 items; did you have got sure methodology or strategy for devising the motion?

JC: fireplace fowl may be very a lot me. It’s all of the actions I’ve ever achieved contained in my physique. I feel it was about discovering the place totally different elements of me may come out or the totally different ways in which I transfer or wish to transfer, can come out. The motion additionally got here from instances I’ve been requested to bounce in ways in which really feel past me or I felt like I needed to drive it out. So I assume it’s additionally about sensation, issues that may really feel very inside or non-public.

It’s additionally associated to my psychological well being. What actions or methods of being in your self that you simply masks as a result of it’s not socially acceptable. What are these impulses? How can that be within the work? The making course of was really fairly mysterious. Typically I’d don’t know how a sure second or motion had occurred.

That was actually totally different to m/y-kovsky. On this piece, it was really very clear to me what the motion was as I went alongside. The Tchaikovsky is an enormous orchestral piece; it’s actually excessive.

With the precise course of of creating the dance, I made it actually shortly. It’s fairly dense. A number of actions in it. The entire course of felt like listening. I really feel just like the music advised me what to do; I didn’t assume forward, it was actually sequential. The sequences match with totally different bits of the music, as a result of the music is damaged down into quick sections, with a repetition of the sooner sections.

Picture by Christa Holka.

SR: How did it really feel taking, as you stated, very grand orchestral items of music and taking part in with them on this inventive means; personalising and queering these actually iconic, classical types.

JC: Folks usually really feel that classical music might be actually elitist. Oh, ‘it’s not for me’, it’s ‘mental’ or ‘posh’ or no matter. While you take heed to Tchaikovsky or Stravinsky, there’s sounds in them which might be relatable to sounds that we hear on a regular basis. Particularly in London, there’s a variety of development – drilling, banging and site visitors. We simply consider them as like nuisance and sound air pollution. However in case you broaden what music is, it’s actually all of the feels like that, which we hear each day.

I work with an individual referred to as Joyce Henderson, who has labored with Complicite for a very very long time. We’ve thought lots a few means of being, pondering and listening that doesn’t separate the technical or structural points of dance or music from on a regular basis expertise.

I assume I can even clarify the title of the piece, m/y-kovsky. The work I made earlier than m/y-kovsky was a chunk I made referred to as m/y. This title comes from this guide referred to as The Lesbian Physique by Monique Wittig. After I was making the quartet, that guide was very a lot nonetheless in my head. Additionally, as a result of it rhymes with Tchaikovsky, I feel it may need been a little bit of a joke – bringing the ‘my’ into the Tchaikovsky music. The m/y can be about breaking open the self and magnifying it.

“Folks usually really feel that classical music might be actually elitist, however there’s sounds within the music which might be relatable to sounds that we hear on a regular basis.” ~ Jules Cunningham.

SR: Initially, m/y-kovsky and fireplace fowl have been made and carried out individually. Now, at Sadler’s Wells, they’re going to be carried out alongside one another. Does that really feel totally different?

JC: I’ve but to seek out out. I feel it’ll work! Particularly with the assistance of the individuals who work with me carefully. I additionally assume you have got an intuition that it’ll be okay. They’re each actually totally different items, actually totally different worlds. Perhaps there’s a connection by the classical music.

After I’m performing them now, I’m pondering lots concerning the time I first made them, which was earlier than the pandemic. The place was I and what I used to be desirous about at the moment? But in addition, the place am I now doing them once more? The entire the world is totally different, I’m totally different. I’m working with totally different dancers and never dancing in m/y-kovsky this time. That is first time that I’ve not been in a piece that I’ve made. It feels really very nice to see it from the surface, I really feel like I can do a bit extra work with it. But in addition I discover it extra demanding to not be in.

SR: I assume as a result of there’s a lot extra you’ll be able to see?

JC: And I feel with nervousness, at the very least in case you dance, you kind of get by it. However in case you’re not….there’s much more occurring in my head. I feel [being on the outside] additionally makes you concentrate on or query that weirdness of energy that may occur between the choreographer and dancers. It will possibly so simply be manipulative. Even to have the ability to say: Okay, are you able to do that? After which, the dancers simply do it. I discovered it a bit bizarre. I used to be like: Oh my God, why would they do it? Why would they wish to do this? But in addition, I’m actually amazed and grateful for them.

SR: It have to be fairly warming to see folks desirous to do one thing that you simply’ve created. However then there’s, as you stated, all these energy dynamics and questions round possession.

JC: I don’t ever wish to take that with no consideration. As a result of I feel, a few of my experiences as a dancer, actually simply felt like I used to be a physique. Any person simply desires my physique to do issues. There’s no care in any respect for the one that’s doing the factor. It feels actually vital to maintain acknowledging that this can be a individual having an expertise. To acknowledge the entire self of the individual. By no means take with no consideration what that individual is giving. 

SR: Would you be capable to clarify among the costumes and the concepts behind the scenic points of the piece.

JC: In fireplace fowl, a lot of the set is that this a thread that connects throughout the stage and creates a kind of internet construction. I labored with Tim Spooner, an artist and designer, who got here and helped me make the thread a bit stronger and extra seen. I feel the online was about creating a house. Perhaps a spot of security. But in addition entanglement, feeling trapped in what would possibly really feel like dwelling. The totally different sections of the online additionally take the thought of various rooms or totally different elements of the self. In your self, there are some elements or rooms that you simply don’t actually wish to go into.

Picture: Christa Holka.

There’s additionally a video projection onto the again wall. This got here from an artist that I collaborated with referred to as JD Samson for Artwork Night time. I assume [the projection] was about bringing her into the piece and the way she expresses her gender identification; it felt vital that she was in it by some means.

For m/y-kovsky, there’s probably not a set. Initially, we did it in fairly an enormous corridor in Walthamstow. That was fairly a special area from a theatre area, as folks have been watching it on all sides, relatively than simply the entrance. In that means, the piece is just not a spectacle. It’s extra like us at work, doing this factor. 

SR: Have you ever had expertise collaborating with artists and designers earlier than? Or was this one thing new for you?

JC: I’ve labored with each costume and set designers earlier than. Collaborating is tough. I feel as a result of I do a variety of stuff in my head, I don’t at all times have phrases for it. When issues make sense to you, you don’t should articulate them to another person. The method of collaborating, and making an attempt to be a greater collaborator, has been about making an attempt to speak higher. It may be exhausting generally to say what you assume, what you need or don’t need. It’s a really specific form of relationship. I’m nonetheless making an attempt to grasp and making an attempt to be higher at it. 

SR: It’s actually fascinating pondering of collaboration as a relationship that you simply’re at all times understanding and negotiating. It’s vital to speak what you need or don’t need, however then generally realising you won’t even know what you need. And that’s fairly an fascinating factor that may come from collaboration, as a result of it actually does throw out all of those questions that you need to confront.

JC: I feel it’s scary as properly, as a result of I at all times really feel like there’s a sure notion of: Oh, I ought to have my shit collectively, I ought to know what I would like on a regular basis. It’s fairly weak to say, really, I don’t know, or to say, I need assistance. Perhaps not for everybody. However I feel for people who find themselves not males, it may be exhausting to say what you want.


Don’t miss out on Jules Cunningham & Firm’s double-bill efficiency of m/y-kovsky and fireplace fowl at Sadler’s Wells, from 10th – 11th November 2022. Discover extra data and ticket reserving here.

For the most recent updates on Jules Cunningham, their firm and work, take a look at their Instagram.