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Organic Chic

- Interview with Yolande Snaith

by Donald Hutera

 

Yolande Snaith has spent the past two decades cultivating a multi-layered, collagist aesthetic like nobody else’s. ‘There are choreographers who work closely with the structure of music, ‘ she says, ‘but that’s not me. For me choreography is definitely a visual as well as a physical process. It’s a weaving together of images. I’m dealing with objects, sets and costumes as elements in space. They’re as much on the choreographic palette as the energies and timing involved in working with dancers.’

Snaith’s newest work, Jardin Blanc, has been incubating for the last two years. The piece features five dancers. Casting was to have been finalised at the beginning of May, after which there is a research and development period prior to rehearsals in August for an October premiere. What is known for sure are the identities of the production’s off-stage team. Chief among them is Sharon Marston, a visual artist, whose interests have taken her from jewellery to fashion to lighting sculpture.

‘Sharon makes extraordinary structures out of plastic tubing, polyurethane, nylon and silk, folded and pleated,’ Snaith enthuses. ‘Some are woven out of fibre optic strands. Some of the interlocking, repetitive forms are incredibly big. They look like plants, or futuristic chandeliers or lampshades. They can be portable and even wearable.’

‘We’ve been exploring where Sharon’s work mutates between the different roles of set, lighting and costume,’ Snaith ontinues, adding that theatre/garden designer Miranda Melville’s set ‘will provide a context for Sharon’s objects to inhabit.’ Fellow collaborators on Jardin Blanc include composers Jean-Jaques Palix (who has worked with Umbrella artist Philippe Decouflé) and David Coulter, and lighting designer Chahine Yavroyan.

Snaith describes the focus of their combined skills as the creation of ‘a white, futuristic garden landscape.’ The movement she and the dancers find will reflect Marston’s structures, with human behaviour as the nub. ‘What does it bring out of performers to inhabit this amazing world?’ Snaith asks rhetorically. ‘My work is fundamentally about constructing, evoking and exploring imaginary worlds which the performers inhabit.’

‘A Parisian hat shop. Chocolate boxes. Silk. Gardens, of course. Lots of garden smells.’

Alice in Wonderland has been a common point of comparison for Snaith’s brand of live performance. She doesn’t mind. In fact, she herself has used Lewis Carroll’s texts as a creative source, although not in any obvious or direct ways. The films she
used to see on television as a child may’ve had an even deeper impact. Snaith mentions The Sound of Music, The Wizard of Oz and Mary Poppins and their respective protagonists Maria von Trapp, Dorothy and Poppins. ‘Women with suitcases and little shoes,’ Snaith reflects. ‘Young girls getting seduced into another reality, and the puzzle of trying to get back home again. I must’ve absorbed something about those characters deep into my psyche. Or is it just an archetypal female thing?’

Asked what Jardin Blanc would smell like if the show had a smell, Snaith replies, ‘A Parisian hat shop. Chocolate boxes. Silk. Gardens, of course. Lots of garden smells. The over-all flavour is chic and organic at the same time.’

Good answer. Perhaps it’s best to try and conjure a poetic metaphor than specify what something that is yet to be made will be about. ‘I never have pieces worked out in my head,’ Snaith avows. ‘The whole process of collaborating in the studio with the dancers is the making of the work, not me dictating it. I’m holding the reins, guiding, shaping, moulding, selecting, suggesting, enticing, pushing, and pulling the material out.When I look at the end result I go, “That’s what I was smelling six months ago.”

*********************************

This article first appeared in the Autumn 2003 edition of Dance Umbrella News

Donald Hutera writes regularly on dance, theatre and the arts for
The Times, Time Out, Dance Europe, Dance Now and Dance Theatre Journal.
He is co-author, with Allen Robertson, of The Dance Handbook.

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