In-Nocentes: An interview with Michael Keegan-Dolan
Michael Keegan-Dolan is an award-winning contemporary choreographer, and is currently the guest artistic director of the National Youth Dance Company. The company will perform the world première of Keegan-Dolan’s new creation In-Nocentes at Sadler’s Wells on 7th April, accompanied live by the Southbank Sinfonia; the production tours the country in the summer. In-Nocentes showcases a fascination with instinctive, spontaneous movement and the bravery that comes from the innocence of youth. It explores innocence, not in the sense of weakness and fragility, but in the bravery and boldness of throwing oneself into the unknown, into the face of danger.
What first inspired you to create this new work? Was it an issue, a theme, an experience?
It was a memory. I stumbled across an old notebook that I’d taken on a trip to South India in 2005. In it I found a quote accredited to William Blake, scribbled in red ink. It read: Innocence – In-Nocentes – In Harm – “Openness to the injuries risked in a full life.” – William Blake. This touched on a quality that these young dancers had in bucket-loads – the ability to dance without any regard for the consequences. We can easily lose this quality through training and then spend the rest of our creative lives seeking to reclaim it.
How have you tried to capture the experience of youth through choreography?
Each of the 40 NYDC dancers carries a rich narrative of his or her individual experience of youth. If you don’t impose too heavily on their natural way of dancing this narrative speaks volumes every time they move. I have never been in a rehearsal room so full of diverse experience and energy.
What has it been like working at Sadler’s Wells?
Sadler’s Wells is the dance capital of the world. Working there is like walking through your favourite park in Paris or visiting your favourite art gallery in New York.
Why did you choose to set the production to Max Richter’s music? How important do you feel the piece is to the work as a whole?
The music is the bones on which the piece hangs, and the compositional and structural brilliance of Max’s piece is just delightful. I actually made several musical propositions to the NYDC group, and this was the piece that the dancers went for. The choreography of the work sometimes goes with the music but also sometimes pushes against it, which creates tension. On the night of our première we will be accompanied by a live orchestra, the Southbank Sinfonia led by Sian Edwards
What has been the biggest challenge for you in creating this production, and why?
Time – or the lack of it! I would love to have more time working with the dancers. On the other hand, time limitations bring with them a certain type of tension, which is also interesting.
What has it been like working with the young dancers at the NYDC, and how is their experience of youth different from your own?
It has been just brilliant working with the NYDC dancers. Once we agreed that we could trust one another, the process just took off. Their experience of youth is very different to mine but at the same time very much the same. I didn’t have an iPhone – but I did have cool shoes and a fierce haircut!
What challenges does the age difference between you and the dancers pose?
None at all – I feel like I’m 18 most of the time.
As a choreographer, who has been an influence whilst creating In-Nocentes? And in general?
I have some fantastic people working with me on this production, like Rachel Poirier (my partner) and James O’Hara, both highly skilful and experienced artists. They feed the dancers every day with useful wisdom and have really enriched the whole exchange. I have also had some very wise and inspiring teachers in the past like John Evans and Shandor Remete.
How does it feel following in the footsteps of previous NYDC guest artistic directors? What new ideas are you hoping to bring to the company?
It feels great – like being a part of a very exclusive club! I don’t know if the ideas I bring are new or not – I suspect my way of working has been around for thousands of years. But I always strive to work where two opposing energies meet, one being disciplined restraint and the other wild creativity. These two energies are old friends and feed off each other.
How do you feel the NYDC helps support and promote young artists?
I think in the years ahead, when we see the quality of dancers working in the UK and beyond, we will see the long-term influence of NYDC, in the depth, quality and wellbeing of dancers out there. The organisation is a wonderful resource and I can’t find words to express my regard for NYDC director Jane Hackett and her wonderful team.
Photos: Jane Hobson
In-Nocentes is on at Sadler’s Wells on 7th April 2016, further information or to book visit here.