Finding the freedom to play

Finding the freedom to play

In Fabulous Beast Dance Theatre's new co-production of The Rite of Spring at the London Coliseum, Olwen Fouéré plays a crone with mysterious powers. This is her second time to work with choreographer Michael Keegan-Dolan, in the kind of role that allows her to transcend everyday reality. 'That's what the theatre is there for,' she says. 

The attraction for me of working with Michael Keegan-Dolan is that his approach is holistic. His emphasis is on the body, on a spiritual process, and on transformation, and he attempts to marry all of these things, the way theatre in ancient times might have done.

His rehearsal process is rooted in daily discipline: we have four weeks of living and working together, starting with yoga at seven a.m. and continuing till six or nine o’clock in the evening, eating together during the day. The emphasis is on being fully in this environment, with no distractions.

The creation of the work is an open, collaborative process. Michael has clear demands, but he welcomes you in as another artist. So, while I might contribute, he remains the auteur. There’s a lot of improvisation, and it’s very satisfying to be a part of. And he’s surrounded by people in the company who treat this development work with real respect: they believe in the process.

With The Rite of Spring, Michael had done a huge body of work before the rehearsals started. He had gone through the score in detail with the conductor, David Brophy, and had marked out the beats. For me, as I’m not a dancer, it was a period of watching and learning in rehearsal. I don’t have the vocabulary and background to know exactly why a sequence worked or didn’t work, but I could still contribute.

the_rite_of_spring_006-1.jpgThe role of the Cailleach [a non-dancing role] felt crucial to the piece: she is both supernatural and human, and has a connection in myth to Demeter, and winter goddesses. The Cailleach is a magical force, and once that has been invoked, she sets the Rite in motion. She’s a catalyst for the sacrifice at the end, which is not a literal sacrifice: it’s a death and rebirth, suggesting that you can transform reality. And then she leaves, as she’s no longer needed.

I am attracted to these roles that allow the freedom to transcend everyday reality. To me, that’s what the theatre is there for. I never think in terms of character, but only in terms of energies or forces that work through us. Anything can be embodied in the theatre: it gives us the liberty to play.

When I’m preparing for a role like this, I’m dependent on strong internal forces. I don’t consciously construct this, but if I had to describe it, I’d say that it involves some visualisation, using imagery, and a kind of kinetic concentration. I’ve always believed in the power of internal forces, of an internalised energy that goes beyond a particular acting method, beyond emotion.

The next role I’m creating has a similar mythic dimension: she’s a woman who has been buried in salt for aeons, since the destruction of Sodom. The play is called Sodome, Ma Douce, by a French writer, Laurent Gaudé. I stumbled on the text in Paris and knew immediately that I wanted to perform it.

As part of a new development project I’ve set up, called The Emergency Room, I approached Lynne Parker to see if Rough Magic would be interested in collaborating. I received a bursary for the Arts Council for this, and for the idea of The Emergency Room. Lynne Parker is directing it, and we’re using my own translation – although I wasn’t sure about that at first. But I got some excellent and very generous assistance from Vincent Woods on the text.

It’s going to be produced in March, and we’re putting the design team together now. It’s exciting for me to have a degree of creative control over this, and I hope it will have a long life.

In conversation with Helen Meany.

The Rite of Spring, a co-production with English National Opera, continues at London Coliseum until 28 November.

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