3 February 2009
Interview with Cass Mortimer-Eipper and Tim O'Donnell. By Emma Sandall.
Cass and Tim have both choreographed pieces which are appearing in Ballet at the Quarry this year. Cass's piece, It Is, was first created for Strut's season Short Cuts in October last year. Tim's work, Door No.1, was created for WAAPA last year and was entered in the National Choreography Competition in Melbourne.
Emma: you both had pieces in the Quarry season last year. How does this year's experience differ?
Cass: I feel there is a huge difference. For a start I have had a chance to reflect on last year's experience and over the course of the year, I have paid more attention to the choreographic process. I think I have learnt a lot about how to get what you want out of your dancers and with this piece I certainly tried a new approach. This piece was very specific to the dancers. It is very stylised.
Tim: the main difference for me this year was reworking a piece for the West Australian Ballet dancers as opposed to creating one for them from scratch.
Emma: both of your pieces this year were "born" outside of the company. How difficult has it been to adapt them for West Austrlian Ballet?
Cass: I think what I created for the dancers I used last year was quite easily transferrable to the dancers here. I drew inspiration for my piece from the original dancers I used and that is how the piece came together. You can make small concessions when you reset a piece on other dancers. Fundamentally the style of the piece is the same but you adapt the choreography slightly for different dancers.
Tim: I have had to let some things go in reworking the piece for West Australian Ballet. There was a certain style to the WAAPA dancers which flavoured the piece. I have, however, gained other things. I feel the piece is more graceful now. It has taken a new path. Rather than the title being Door No. 1 it could be Door No. 1 / 2. I have also had the chance to change certain things I never liked in the original.
Emma: how do you find the Quarry venue as a backdrop to your work?
Cass: I find the setting quite challenging due to the fact that you have fewer lighting possibilities and limited capability for theatrical effects. There is a limited lighting rig and the entries to the stage are not very subtle. It is a very beautiful spot but such a beautiful venue can interfere with the desired effect. I am, however, very curious to see how my piece will work at the Quarry this year and there have been definite improvements made to the venue.
Tim: I like the openness of the Quarry. For my work this year I think its a suitable venue. I like to be out of a conventional theatre. if I had a choice, however, I would put my work on in a warehouse...
Emma: how difficult is it for you both to work with your peers as their director as opposed to fellow dancer?
Cass: I do not find it difficult. I think I am growing in confidence. I really enjoy the role of choreographer/director and I don't find the transition from dancer to choreographer strange at all. One problem is that I have too much empathy for the dancers at the end of a long day. If you have rehearsals at the end of the day you totally understand how tired the dancers are feeling and it is difficult to be too much of a task master. You have to have diplomacy when they are your friends as well as your dancers.
Tim: with certain dancers it is difficult because I feel I have no right to be telling them what to do and how to do it- I respect and admire them as artists so I feel it is tricky to ask more of them. you have to be diplomatic. But I am naturally a loud mouth and I have no reservations being in front of a group of people. Also, I feel there is support from the dancers for me as their peer.
Emma: yourselves choreographers, do you feel you draw inspiration from other choreographers or does your inspiration come from other areas of your life?
Cass: I have definitely been inspired by the works of other choreographers but more from the knowledge of what works and what doesn't. Its not that I am inspired to reproduce something in the same vein. I wouldn't necessarily want create something similar to the works I like but what I see I use as information. It helps me understand the possibilities of the medium and also the handicaps. I would also say that I draw a lot of inspiration from film and music videos. Certain film scenes and how they are edited to music are extremely choreographic. I have learnt a lot from studying film effects.
Tim: unfortunately in WA we don't get the chance to see a lot of new work. We are somewhat isolated from that. I am definitely inspired by other choreographers but I would say that I am inspired by all aspects of life- exhibitions, music, movement. Door No.1 came about entirely from the inspiration of one movement. I created the piece from the feeling of that movement. It would be wonderful to collaborate with other people on a project completely from scratch- someone to create the music, someone to design the sets- however, I'd always like to have overall control. It would be wonderful to have a composer in the studio with the dancers manipulating the score on request.
Emma: beyond this season where do you both see yourselves going with your choreography?
Cass: I am definitely inspired to pursue a career in choreography and there are many different avenues for that. At this point in time I am not sure which avenue will suit me best. I am certainly ambitious and what I seek is satisfaction and ultimately success. Creatively what you want is more opportunities to play with different mediums and different dancers. I am acutely aware of how much a piece is more than just movement and to go further you need a budget. If you want to play with ideas for lighting, sets and music you need to be able to collaborate with other creative people and you need the money to do so. I am looking next to be able to create something I see as a more substantial, more multi-faceted work and then I want to do another and another....
Tim: my main aim at the moment is to build up a repertoire of work. I want to get a number of works out there. It's always difficult to find space, time and dancers although it has been easier in the last couple of years. Ultimately I'd like to make the step from being a full time dancer to being a full time choreographer. I don't want to spend too much time in the grey area juggling both. I want the opportunity to create works often and I want the opportunity to create on different dancers in different places. I find it very inspiring faced with new people. It is full of surprises.