With the Project Y 2017 Tour opening this week, we talk to Theo Clinkard, 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 loved to improvise as a child, but I actually studied classically and following 5 years full time training at Elmhurst Ballet school, I was accepted to the Royal Ballet upper school. At this very moment, I also discovered a passion for contemporary work that took me on a different path. I graduated from Rambert School in 1996, but I already started working with Matthew Bourne at 17 when I was still training. We had worked together at the National Youth Dance Company and he invited me to perform Nutcracker! at Sadler’s Wells. After dancing with New Adventures and a few other larger companies including Wayne McGregor, and many smaller projects, I set up PROBE, a dancer led repertory company, together with Antonia Grove. Following 5 years working in partnership, I decided to set up my own company and I have been making my own work for 5 years now. Choreography is currently my main focus, though I still perform for other people now and then as well as teaching and designing costumes.
What was the transition from performer/dancer to choreographer like?
I had made lots of work at school and enjoyed the process, but once I graduated I had so many influences I got a bit lost and instead focused on performing. By 2010 I had lost my best friend in a car accident and my mum to cancer and I decided to stop waiting to be brave and instead just embrace life and take risks. I invited some friends into the studio and applied for a small grant. I had taught already for about 10 years so I was used to ‘running’ a studio, but with a 13 date tour lined up for my very first group work, there was a huge amount of pressure and a very public learning curve. I set out to not necessarily make work that related to the processes I had been in as a dancer and sought to understand what kind of questions were being asked there and now by my peers internationally. I have been in a journey of letting go of the idea of my own dancing body as a tool or stylistic map for others and have fallen in love with appreciating difference and what each individual brings to the room.
What interested you in working with Project Y?
I love Scotland and the lovely people I have met there. I worked in Glasgow for many years as a designer (Opera North, Cryptic, Untitled Projects, Scottish Dance Theatre, Adrian Howells) and I have always enjoyed the open and friendly nature of everyone I came into contact with. I have a passion for supporting younger minds that are focused and hungry for information and this combination seemed perfect for where I am in my career. Making work with youth dance companies is often a great chance to test new ideas and experiment for the fact that ‘diving in and having a go’ is acknowledged part of the fabric of learning.
How do you approach working on a project like Project Y? What’s your process?
This really depends on who I am with, where I am and where my mind is at in the moment. I love to listen to the themes that come through my life and to be able to respond to them in the moment. I actually don’t have a formula and I don’t plan too much in advance as I love to notice what the feel of the room is and to be guided by the dancers and by my own gut. I have some simple initial tasks that enable me to see people and I take it all from there. It’s almost as if the first few moments of a creation, before I know too much, enable me to feel like I am an audience member experiencing these particular people inhabit the space for the first time. I try to absorb everything I can before diving in.
The Project Y 2017 Company will perform Alert to the voices of others, choreographed by Theo Clinkard on the Project Y 2017 Tour. Get your tickets today!