With the Project Y 2017 Tour opening this week, we talk to Steven Martin, one of our four choreographers about his career and approach to working on a project like Project Y.
Can you tell us a little about your background? How did you get started in the dance world?
I was born and raised in Fife. I technically began dancing when I was 18, but I had always wanted to dance and was always learning routines off the TV when I was younger. It was my older sister who pushed me to admit it was obviously what I wanted to do as a profession and that I should find a course. I found the Scottish School of Contemporary Dance and applied for the foundation course. I had no previous dance training and so I was not getting my hopes up. I went along to the audition, was accepted and have never looked back really.
After four years at college I graduated with a HND in Contemporary Dance, and after an audition was an apprentice for Scottish Dance Theatre between 2007 and 2008. After SDT I moved to London for six months and really focused on auditioning. I auditioned for Retina Dance Company in January 2009 and began working with the company in April of the same year. I stayed with Retina until 2014. It was truly an amazing company to work for and changed my life. I don’t think I would have become the dancer or person I am today without working with Filip Van Huffel and the Retina team.
After leaving I decided I wanted to create work more than perform, and so, along with a good friend, Aberdeen artist Katie Milroy, created KaSt Dance Company. Our mission was to give Aberdeen a professional dance voice and work with Scottish trained dancers. KaSt lasted three years and taught me a lot about the inner workings of the dance world and the sacrifices endured by artist’s choosing this particular route for their careers. It was an extremely difficult journey but I was able to create work I am incredibly proud of and work with sensational dancers.
Currently I work as a lecturer at the Scottish School of Contemporary Dance, lead Scottish Dance Theatre Youth Company and continue choreographing.
What was the transition from performer/dancer to choreographer like?
I feel like I am still in the middle of it. Choreographing has felt like a natural progression for me, as creating or learning movement material began to become less interesting (although still important) and I was intrigued more by how movement works in space. Why do some things look effective and others don’t? Can movement be enough? Is there such a thing as too much or too little movement? I also felt I had experienced so much in my life that I wanted to create. I enjoy the freedom of choreographing. When I was performing I felt a lot of pressure having to materialise what the choreographer’s vision was and would it be good enough. When I choreograph I treat the dance studio as a blank canvas. I love to watch dancers work effectively and intuitively with music. I love to play with structure of movement in the space. I love to see a finished work and learn from my mistakes and treat those mistakes as importantly as the successes. It is a transition that is humbling, full of learning and personal growth.
What interested you in working with Project Y?
Project Y is a truly amazing opportunity for young dancers. Giving them an intensive look into working as a professional dancer and opening their eyes to the tireless work that goes into creating a company work. It’s wonderful that this opportunity is offered to young dancers in Scotland.
How do you approach working on a project like Project Y? What’s your process?
I find a topic I am really interested in and then select music which for me creates an atmosphere around that original idea. I then simplify this idea to one word if possible and then use that as a start point to generate movement material and build something complex around a very basic beginning.
I try not to over plan as I like to meet the group and allow them to put their stamp on the work alongside me. I feel dancers being able to take ownership of a dance piece stems from their involvement in the creation process. I like to create a lot material myself but offer dancers the opportunity to input their creative voice.
The Project Y 2017 Company will perform The Otherside, choreographed by Steven Martin, on the Project Y 2017 Tour. Get your tickets today!