Dance Manchester talks to….
Kevin Edward Turner, Co-Artistic Director of Company Chameleon
Company Chameleon’s Co-Artistic Director sat down with Chris Connolly to talk about his past, choreographic honesty & self-expression…
CC: Company Chameleon was founded in 2007, but really it all began when you met Anthony Missen. How does it feel looking back at how far you’ve come?
KT: What does it mean to me when I look back? I mean, yeah, the dream started about 20 years ago when Anthony & I first met at Trafford Youth Dance Theatre. It was always a dream of ours to go away, do professional training, dance with different companies and eventually come back to Manchester to set something up – which we ended up doing 9 years ago, in 2007. So it was kind of a childhood dream. But when I look back at how far we’ve come & what we’ve achieved in those 9 years, it’s unbelievable to be honest. If you would’ve told me at the beginning of the journey what we would be doing now; touring the world, getting really great reception for our work, then I’m not too sure I would have believed you. So when I look back, I’m first of all surprised, & second of all I’m proud of what we’ve been able to achieve here in Manchester with the company.
CC: Your new production, Witness, comes to The Lowry next week. What’s it about?
KT: Witness is the name of the evening’s production. There are two parts to it that are both quintets. The first part is a piece of choreography called Words Unspoken that myself & Anthony made in 2012 with a Spanish company called La Mov. Now, La Mov is a contemporary ballet company so that piece in particularly was a partnership. We were trying to make a bridge between our work – which is very dance theatre, quite contact driven & contemporary – and their work, which is neoclassical. So it’s a nice opener to the piece. It’s 20 minutes long and looks at ideas to do with secrets and memories and things we don’t readily share. So that’s the first part of the programme. The second part of the programme is Witness which is a 55 minute piece. Witness is a piece about mental health, but more specifically, my journey with Bipolar and how I had a crisis with that round about 3 years ago and the piece charts that. But it’s not just about what happened to me and the impact it had on me when I had a breakdown, but also of the impact that it had on my loved ones as well, so you know, it’s called Witness because it’s what I witnessed both real and imaginary, and what my loved ones witnessed and what the audience will witness.
CC: You’ve been very open about the experiences that shaped the creation of this work. Is that new to you or does every piece you create come from such a deep rooted personal place?
KT: I think when I look back at the rep & the work that we’ve created over the years, I think most of it comes from a personal experience of something and I think the reason we do that is to try to unlock big ideas. I think a great way of doing that is by going through your own personal experiences. When I think back to the first piece that was created under ‘Company Chameleon’, RITES, that was a piece created by myself & Anthony. That was about coming of age, about what it means to be a man & the initiation rites up to that. Also, more broadly about masculinity in general. That very much came from personal experience, so yeah, it is part of the way we make work. And the reason why I was so transparent about what has happened to me is because one of the reasons for making witness was to bring awareness and highlight the issue of mental health, because silence is a killer. Suicide is the biggest killer for men under 45 and anyway I can contribute towards the discussion or debate around mental health can only be a productive and constructive thing to do. Also, on a personal note as well, the reason why I’m also sharing my story is to let people out there who are struggling know that it is possible to find your way out of an impossible situation because there were many times I felt I was unable to get out and I hope that people see me doing this and making this work and hope this can be the same for them.
CC: You play your own character, so to speak, what’s it like reliving that part of your past?
KT: A few people have asked me that and, you know, sometimes it’s very emotional and sometimes it’s very challenging but at the same time I think it’s quite cathartic because it allows me to see how far I’ve come. When I was ill I don’t remember the timeline, I don’t really remember what happened. I have flashes of images or really obscure feelings. So in the research process I had to go back and interview my loved ones to build a picture of what happened during those times. Things that I did, things that I said, how it made them feel, how it impacted on them. So, yeah, I did ask myself ‘do I want to put myself through it?’, but it also gave me the opportunity to apologise and take responsibility for my actions. Even though my loved ones had already forgiven me as they knew I was unwell.
CC: Chameleon has grown into a national & international critically-acclaimed touring dance company. What does the company stand for & what does being an Artistic Director mean to you?
KT: I think the company is about trying to make work that is relevant, that’s about the human condition. I think the company is about making work that emotionally involves people and engages them. We hope that the audience will walk away from our performances thinking and feeling differently than when they went in and hopefully spark a different train of thought or a conversation from being inspired by what they see. Now, being an artistic director. What do I think that stands for? I have to wear many hats. I have to be an administrator, project manager, producer, choreographer, performer, teacher. So, you know, it’s a complicated role being an Artistic Director. It has many facets to it, but I enjoy that. I enjoy the diversity, it made me have to learn some new skills as I’ve gone along that are very different from the creative aspect of what I do. But I think the most important thing for an Artistic Director is to have a vision and to create the circumstances to allow that vision to become alive and active.
CC: From a personal point of view, why do you create & perform dance?
KT: Well, for me, making work is the best way I can express myself. I get a huge amount of enjoyment from the process of making and performing. But ultimately what’s behind all of it is trying to find a connection with the audience and if the work and my performance in the work can help contribute towards the audience member having a better understanding of the subject matter and to experience something really authentic and honest, I feel that I’ve done my job.
CC: And finally, going back to Witness, it certainly shines the spotlight on mental health. Is that the main reason for making it?
KT: I think that is definitely one of the main reasons for making Witness. To highlight and bring awareness towards mental health issues, but also it’s something significant that’s happened in my life and I suppose it’s something that’s happened to a lot of people. Whether it’s happened to them personally or to somebody that they know. I think it’s something that is often not spoken about and I think it’s something that is still a taboo subject. So I think part of my job as an artist is to try to be relevant and try to tackle issues such as mental health in order to stimulate debate and contribute towards the debate. Also I felt if I was able to be courageous enough to share my story, then it would hopefully inspire other people to share their stories, too.
BOOK TICKETS: www.thelowry.com/event/witness
This is the end of the Autumn/Winter Witness tour. See it again in 2017…
or watch Witness: Behind the Scenes
Interview by Chris Connolly – DM’s Marketing & Social Media Co-ordinator