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Royal Danish Ballet's Next Generation

Dancer & Choreographer Louise Midjord

by Kate Snedeker

May 2006 -- Royal Theatre, Copenhagen

Louise Midjord, a senior member of the Royal Danish Ballet’s corps de ballet, has emerged as one of the company’s newest choreographic talents. Over the last few years she has choreographed a number of ballets including versions of “The Little Match Girl” for the South African Ballet Theatre and the Hans Christian Andersen Gala Show in Copenhagen, “Water”, as part of the Nordic Choreographers Evening (NOKO) and she is now working on a new piece for the upcoming Mozart Evening. I had the pleasure of sitting down with her a few days before the end of the 2006-2007 season to talk about her work, past, present, and future.

How did you get started in ballet?

I started quite early. I think I was five years old when I started taking lessons. It was mostly just because I was always dancing around at home – doing little shows for my parents and family. And so they thought, ‘OK, let’s take her to ballet class’. So I started [classes] - just once a week. The teacher there suggested that I apply for the school here. I didn’t really think about it much, [but] I think my parents were a little bit in doubt whether they thought it was a good idea.

Then I got in to the school here. I was six when I started, so it was really early. It wasn’t like something I chose or I thought I wanted to be a ballerina, it just sort of happened…

And how did you begin choreographing?

Seven years ago was my first time doing a little piece for a workshop in here. [Choreographing] was something that I had wanted to do for quite a long time, but hesitated mostly because I was insecure about it. I could just feel when I was in a studio working with another choreographer that all the time I would just want to say ‘I don’t want to do it like that, can we do it like this?’ And I thought maybe a little bit too much…had too many ideas for what I thought would be better or nicer to do, and so that’s why I decided to try and give it a go myself.

So far I have only worked with this company, and that has been commissioned [work]. I would like to start trying to work with other people and going out.

For the commissions, what kind of structure or guidelines are you given?

It’s been quite free. I’ve done two pieces where it was the Hans Christian Andersen year, so each had to be, of course, a Hans Christian Andersen story. Then often it’s very much the time limit and sometimes music can be a factor also. Other than that it’s very free I think.

When you are first working on a piece, do you sit down beforehand to think it out and then come into the studio?

Yes, I think a lot about it at first and have a kind of a story or maybe it’s not a specific story, but some kind of…

Concept?

Yes. And I also do quite a lot of work in the studio by myself before the dancers come in. Part of it is being afraid of just going into a room, and people standing there expecting you to come up with something. But also I think it’s nice just to have something to go from; you can always skip it, but you have some starting point. But also, as dancer, I like it if the choreographer is somehow prepared, so that you don’t feel that you are coming out of completely nowhere. Sometimes you just feel like they are just grabbing in the air to find something.

Where do your choreographic influences or ideas come from?

That’s really difficult. I think it’s just as much from things I see that I don’t like, as things that I really like. [Sometimes when] you’ve seen [a piece] and you’ve been really influenced by it, you are afraid that you are going to do kind of a copy of it. But even if I’m trying to do a copy, it turns out to be completely different because you just can’t do it any other way but your way.

Of course there are some choreographers that I really like. I love Mats Ek and Naucho Duato. And I am going to Israel this summer to visit with Batsheva -- I really like Ohud Naharin’s work. I think it’s mainly the modern dance world that I look up to, but of course I’ve been very much influenced by the classical dance also…just in a different way.

I also read a lot and watch a lot of films. I really like films. I think a lot comes from that. And then the music is a really important part. But it’s more when the actual work starts that it comes a lot from the music.

And the music…

I’ve always picked the music first. I need to have the music -- it’s really important for me. I feel like I can’t start something if I don’t know the music. And it can be really hard to find the right music because sometimes you actually don’t know what you want, but you know all the things that you are trying are not right.

For the NOKO piece I had new music made. I was really happy with that…[but] it’s also a chance to take, because you don’t know what you’re going to get. We [Midjord and composer Sune Martin] worked a lot together. We talked a lot about it a lot before, and then every time he did something new we would sit and listen to it. He would make 30 seconds, I would come listen to it and we would talk about it. I would, from the beginning, explain to him about different ideas and different sections and atmosphere that I wanted.

How do you explain this to a musician…?

It’s hard. Mostly we talked on a time line -- there’s an opening of maybe 5 minutes and then there’s going to be this and this and this. I very much tried to explain the mood of the dance -- it’s something aggressive. And also about tempos, should it be fast or slow. If I want to do something where there are a lot of jumps for example, then it has to be somehow a fast tempo.

How do you record or keep your thoughts from rehearsal to rehearsal?

I try to write it down, but that can be really difficult [because] I don’t really have a system. I am trying to make my own system and often if I write something down I completely understand it, but if I wait a few days, I have no idea what it is…I can’t remember it at all! Now I try to video most of it.

Do you prefer to work with lots of dancers, or to do small pieces with just a few dancers?

There’s good and bad things about both. In “Water”, I had twelve people which I thought was quite a lot and it’s really tiring. You have half an hour of rehearsal and then you just want to go sleep because you have to have such a strong energy to keep the room concentrated. But when you have a lot of people, you can with very simple things make something very interesting to look at. It just looks great with a lot of people onstage, I think. So in that way I like big pieces, but in the work process, I prefer a small [group]. When you are just a few people, you can get much deeper into what you are trying to do and talk about it. I find that more fun.

For next season I am doing something for the Takkelloftet – it is quite small – so you are not going to put 12 people there because they can’t move. That chooses for you. Also at the same time we are rehearsing “Swan Lake”, so that limits you also. So often it’s things like that that can make the decision for you. When you have this stage, you want to put more people on it.

What was it like doing the piece for the huge Hans Christian Andersen Gala at Parken?

It was a bit confusing because I had already done “The Little Match Girl” down [in South Africa]. That piece was 20-25 minutes long [and the music] was a mix of many different things -- a song from Radiohead and some Lebanese music. So I was asked to do the big Parken thing and wanted to do that story again. But this one was only four minutes, and it was different music, different dancers…completely different.

That was very strange. I was really happy with the music because I could choose whatever I wanted and I always really liked this Icelandic band called Sigur Rós. They call themselves a rock band, but it feels more like it’s classical music -- very cinematic. So I contacted them, and they said yes for making some new music. That was really great.

I had this director do this little animation movie because we had to tell the story so quickly. Then we just did the end as the dance part. I had a really good time doing it and working with these people that I admired a lot. But then sitting there at the show -- because we really didn’t know what else was going to happen that night -- I was really not happy because I just thought [the show] was awful, to be quite honest. And it was a little bit weird to be part of that.

Now that you are choreographing yourself, do you find it different as a dancer when you are working with a choreographer?

Very much. I don’t know if it’s something that shows to other people, but I think you suddenly realize a lot of things that you never thought about before as a dancer. Things that can be really bothering to the choreographer -- like marking [steps]. Often you think it doesn’t matter, but as the choreographer it’s really important to be able to see if it works or not. Also just trying to be more concentrated and not talking so much. Also trying to be more open and not afraid to try things out even if you don’t know exactly what you are doing. I really like that when I’m working with the dancers, [if] they will just go for it because sometimes I don’t know exactly what it is I want. Maybe I have some sort of idea, but it’s nice to see somebody doing something, then you can figure it out.

What have been the biggest challenges as a choreographer?

I think the biggest challenge is to have confidence. It’s very easy to get into a negative, kind of scared feeling that what you are doing is not good. I suppose you will always have that insecurity, but I think the hardest thing is to turn it into something positive. When you start something, you can easily drop into this negative kind of ‘I can’t do it, I can’t do it!’ But you try to remember that you like doing it and that’s why you are doing it.

I think the thing that has been the hardest for me to learn is talking about [the choreography]. You have to do that and [be able to] explain what it is that you are trying to do. And I find that very difficult. I feel like the way I would express it would be in dance, so it’s hard for me to tell it with words.

And finally, what was it like seeing your first piece on stage?

Scary, really scary! It was for a workshop in here, the first thing I did, and it was a small solo…something like two minutes. But I really felt very, very shy and scared and I felt completely naked. The thought of people looking at me while I looked at [the piece], I couldn’t stand it at all! So I was sort of hiding in the corner.

And I still feel a little like that. Of course you get used to it, but I feel my heart start beating and I get hot and I don’t feel comfortable about it. That nervous feeling, for me it’s always there. I get better about handling it, and not really worrying about it, but I do get that feeling.

Louise Midjord’s latest piece will receive its world premiere on November 10 as part of the Dance Mozart! Program the Opera House’s Takkelloftet Theatre.

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