Surreal. And utterly mesmerising. Start from the beginning please – how did the three threads – the flock and the captured sheep, the wood nymphs, and the girl in disco boots – evolve into this script? What was your initial idea and was it in response to a brief set by Random Acts?
I wanted to create a short film that explored the feeling of being lost, whether in life, love or just not knowing where you are.
Using the landscape I had grown up in, rural Northumberland, I wanted to create something that was emotional and created a sense of loss or being lost.
The idea came from a set of photos of farm animals by Amelia Prett. I was struck by the stoic nature of these animals, exposed to the weather and the elements not knowing where or why they are there; and if you contrasted this with human behaviour what parallels it could create. Between myself , Amelia Prett and the performers we devised three scenarios that would become our film.
We’d love to hear your interpretation of the narrative and about your approach – was it driven by a choreographic point of view in that it’s impressionistic rather than a linear tale.
The narrative of the film really took shape out of the desire not to make a ‘dance film’. I am used to creating for a live audience and for me as a choreographer it is the immediacy of the moving body in front of you that makes dance exhilarating. How could this audience be removed and the dance still be compelling to watch? What I didn’t want to create was a recording of dance but to use the camera in a way that the film becomes choreography and a form of movement in itself. I wanted to explore whether dance on film could go beyond just filming movement.
Suddenly the possibility to see the frame in terms of shape and movement became an exciting way to create and allowed the choreographic process to become about much more than just the body but we could use the sheep, hills, lines of the body and the landscape to explore the theme.
We Shazamed the music to find it was Italian and it resonates with the film, giving it an earthly dirge tone – One has the feeling the sheep was heading for slaughter. Did you always know this music and set the film to it?
I had had this music for years, I’d found it on an old Alan Lomax album, and thought it was really interesting, very stirring the way it is sung, but I could never find a use for it until ‘Herd’.
In rehearsal we played with lots of different music, from Marches to Opera, trying to find one that would work with all three scenarios.
I wanted something that had a strong sound that carried us through the film. As we go between the three threads I wanted the music to be a constant we stay with and that carries the audience through.
What were the main challenges of making the film?
Creating ‘Herd’ made me look at my own process and what choreography could be within a film context. It challenged me to ask how dance on film can work and I hope it provides this opportunity for the audience as well.
How would you sum up your mission…
‘As a choreographer I want to take risks, and move dance forward in a way that is engaging, to both artists and audiences. I have a solid dance base and am concerned for the technique of dance in my work; however, I have a strong theatre background also. I want to explore the whole world of the stage, not just the dance, but the space in which it exists, relationship of audience and performer, the performer and the dance. I want to create a world onstage that is full with all we feel in life; humour, absurdity, frustration, loneliness and joy. I want to dance with all of this.’
Anything else you’d like to share?
I’m currently Associate Artist at Dance City, Newcastle for 2016/17. As part of this I’ve been creating a new live piece ‘Go Away Johnny’.
Go Away Johnny is a blend of dance, theatre and performance exploring the nature of memory. Set on a giant sheepskin rug, six performers search for connection with each other, their lives lost and the memories that bring them together.
“If the moments of quiet in our lives were elongated over a longer time, what would happen?”
This piece explores the memories that come back to us in these moments, returning not fully formed but half remembered; half remembered encounters, conversations, touches.
The first phase of development for this piece began in February 2017 supported by Arts Council England. We created a 40-minute piece which premiered at DanceCity, Newcastle in March and was also shown at ARC Stockton and again at DanceCity, Newcastle.
The piece is now a 60-minute work and available to tour in the U.K and internationally in 2018. Watch the trailer here
LINK: Peter Groom