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Pari Naderi: Getting Under the Skin

Richard Alston Dance Company

by Donald Hutera

October 2001 -- The Place, London

Pari Naderi, of the Richard Alston Dance Company, was all set to get a law degree. Dance had just been a hobby, since she was twelve. But, she says, "I loved jumping around so much. When it came to the crunch, I figured my brain would still be here but my body would only last for a few years." The verdict? Dance won.

Between 1989 and 1992 Naderi majored in English at the Roehampton Institute, but she also trained in dance. After a year with the National Youth Dance Company she sought further training at London Contemporary Dance School. Eventually she worked independently with Javier De Frutos, Gary Lambert, Charles Linehan, Henri Oguike and Colin Poole. She joined Alston in 1998, having been attracted beforehand both by his work and that of Lloyd Newson's DV8 Physical Theatre.

What a contrast in motive and method! But not so far-fetched. Naderi brings an innate sense of drama to Alston's work, communicating directly and immediately through his most abstract-seeming movement. "He's quite closed about the subtext of a dance," she reveals, "if there is one." We talk a bit about Alston's 'English reserve' and the extent to which it permeates his dances. Naderi dubs him, not without affection, 'an Old English boy.' Alongside that is an emphasis on craft which can make great demands on his dancers. "The big challenge," she says, "is just to keep on top of it physically. Very few choreographers have more jumps per minute." She is referring especially to the virtual Alston signature piece Roughcut, quite a contrast to his more introvert dances and one requiring considerable stamina. "Exhausting, but brilliant fun" is how Naderi pegs it.

"Richard's primary driving force is music," she continues. "I love his musicality. He has strong ideas from the start of the rehearsal period, having studied and lived with the music for a long time beforehand. Naderi concedes, however, that it can be difficult if you don't happen to like the music chosen as his choreographic springboard. Then it's simply a matter of the music 'getting under your skin. It gets easier to do."

Music is, pardon the pun, instrumental in the learning and retention of dance steps and moves. "You can count it, sing it, or a combination of the two," Naderi says. "In rehearsals a lot of people go 'la la la,' because singing is more naturally in the body than counting." Despite dancers' much-vaunted 'muscle-memory' and choreographers' use of videotape, bits of movement are lost or changed during rehearsal simply because of forgetfulness. This doesn't seem to throw Alston unduly. "Whatever you feel comfortable with is more important for him," Naderi says, "as long as you make it your own."

Like actors with their lines, dancers can lose their place in the choreographic text. There is a safeguard, of sorts. "If you blank onstage," Naderi confesses, "your body keeps on moving till you remember where you're meant to be." When that has happened, so far as she can tell, Alston hasn't noticed.<

This interview was posted by Stuart Sweeney on behalf of Donald Hutera and first appeared in Dance Umbrella News.

Donald Hutera writes regularly on dance and arts for The Times, Evening Standard, Time Out, Dance Europe, Dance Magazine (US) and Dance Now. He is co-author, with Allen Robertson, of The Dance Handbook.

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