Theatre in Wales

Commentary and extended critical writing on theatre, dance and performance in Wales

Let’s Dance

Diversions latest production uses the music of Janis Joplin to explore the turbulent world of love. Cathryn Scott meets company director Roy Campbell-

“Raw, energetic, raucous, loud, powerful, emotional,” is how Roy Campbell-Moore describes the music of Janis Joplin. “She was one of the great live performers of music in the Sixties, her energy and new sound typified and inspired a new generation,” he says. “That hunger for life, that breaking of traditions made her a liberated woman. She stimulated then and she stimulates now.” With such a passionate response, it’s easy to see why the co-founder and artistic director of Diversions, the dance company of Wales, is using Joplin’s music as inspiration for the group’s latest production.

And perhaps his description of Joplin goes some way in summing up the company itself; since it was formed in 1983, Diversions has grown from a small-scale touring company to one with an international reputation, performing new pieces choreographed by Campbell-Moore, and commissioning and premiering modern dance works by some of the world’s most exciting choreographers.

Campbell-Moore describes Tough Love, which is currently touring Wales, Ireland and London, as an “exploration of the triumphant and turbulent world of love, where emotions, passion, joy and pain are played out on a stage set against a backdrop of bluesy, ballsy rock’n’roll”.

However, he’s keen to point out that although Joplin’s music provides the accompaniment for the show, the musician herself isn’t important. “It’s her music and she energises the piece, but Janice isn’t a character in it. It isn’t about her life,” he says. “But we do want the dancers to feel as hungry and passionate for life as Janis did.”

And watching the four female and four male, young, attractive members of Diversions entwined in sometimes seductive, sometimes vulnerable visualisations of the music, it’s evident they do.

One such dancer is 23-year-old Leanne Lappin, Diversion’s most recent recruit and currently the company’s youngest member. Originally from Northampton and a graduate of the Northern School of Contemporary Dance, Lappin echoes Campbell-Moore’s sentiments, adding a particular fondness for the director’s method of choreographing the show.

She explains that rather than having to learn a host of movements dictated by Campbell-Moore, forming the show was a process involving the whole company. “Roy would give us a theme and get us to discuss our personal experiences relevant to it,” she explains. “We then had to respond to it physically and he would place it to a certain piece of Janis’ music. Without even realising it, we were forming the show.

“Our opinions counted; our ideas were heard too,” she continues. “They’re not always used but they’re at least heard – it’s great to have an input.”

Campbell-Moore adds that he “relies on the responses of the team to visualise my ideas for me to make it work. Without such an enthusiastic and creative response I couldn’t even begin to work”.

Unlike many professional dancers, Lappin didn’t start learning to dance until she opted to study the subject at GCSE level. “I didn’t start until I was 15 and modern dance is what I was introduced to,” she explains – most professional dancers start by the age of nine at the latest. “I’d never been to a ballet or anything at that point – I didn’t go to one until I was 18.

She says that although ballet is great for learning technique, she was attracted to modern dance because she likes to move and feel energy. “With modern dance you can use more of yourself. You’ve got more freedom and no steps to follow – people in contemporary dance need to have strong vision.”

Lappin says part of the reason she started dancing at such a late age was because her family couldn’t afford to send her to lessons as a child. “I had to learn through school,” she says, which is one of the reasons she finds the community work Diversions undertakes so rewarding.

During their two annual tours, Diversions spend half their time working with schools, colleges, and community dance groups in National Curriculum-related workshops where participants learn about dance techniques and how an initial idea is developed into a finished piece.

“It’s good even for those who are not interested in dance. You don’t have to be a dancer to enjoy a Diversions workshop,” says Lappin. “It’s funny to see people’s idea of contemporary dance changing after the workshops. Especially the boys, who don’t realise how physically challenging it can be.”

In 1999 Diversions was recognised for its contribution to the community and its visionary repertoire by being awarded the status of ‘Wales National Performing Arts Company’ by the Arts Council of Wales.

“That accolade, that privilege, is an incredible achievement for all the people who have put 20 years into this,” says Campbell-Moore as he talks excitedly about possible future developments when the company takes up residency at the Wales Millennium Centre in 2004.

“We’re one of the biggest dance companies in Europe, so let’s hope with the added resources and the quality of work to match we’ll be fully equipped to represent Wales if Cardiff becomes the 2008 Capital of Culture.”

This feature first appeared in Big Issue Cymru and is reproduced here with their permissiona and our thanks!

author:Cathryn Scott

original source: Big Issue Cymru
26 March 2003


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