We're delighted to publish the first interview with Mark Baldwin, following the announcement that he will succeed Christopher Bruce as Artistic Director of Rambert Dance Company.
Interview with Mark Baldwin,
the new Artistic Director of Rambert Dance Company
by Stuart Sweeney
When did you first hear the news and has it really sunk in yet?
I heard definitely on Tuesday evening [two days before]. The selection process had gone on since January or February and in all I attended four meetings and that gave me some time to get used to the idea. It’s almost sunk in and today [the day of the announcement] was crucial as I met the dancers. I wanted to speak to them in a way that they would understand where I was coming from and to make some sort of first impression. It’s a very beautiful Company and I’ve been keeping a low profile because of the way that rumours spread in the dance world. So it was very nice to see them working in class and what a fine bunch of dancers they are, quite incredible.
Going back to your own time as a Rambert dancer, what are your strongest memories from those days?
There is something quite thrilling about being a dancer – having work made on you and just the thrill of being in a theatre and performing in a fantastic place where anything can happen. If you’re a lover of dance, a black stage with some dancers on it is a wonderful thing. Sometimes when you’ve done a season you can look back and feel that you were able to push yourself completely and see yourself improve technically and in your performing skills and also forming a logic about how you hear the music.
And of course with a company you go abroad and we went to Egypt and I remember looking at the Pyramids and thinking, ‘Dance has brought me here.’ Meanwhile we all got stomach bugs!
One remembers some conductors and other wonderful people you worked with. I used to do ‘Pierrot Lunaire’ [by Glen Tetley and back in the Rambert repertoire recently] and that is a very difficult piece to do and a couple of times I can remember the whole thing being quite electric and really working.
It was 10 years ago when I stopped coming here although I have been for the odd rehearsal since then. So it was quite strange when the train stopped at Stamford Brook station and I had to make myself get out of the tube and follow the route that I had followed many years ago.
Over the past decade you’ve made work with various companies around the world with and of course your own Mark Baldwin Dance Company.
I’ve been building up this relationship with the Royal New Zealand Ballet. I was there last year for about 3 or 4 months and we did a big project with a local Maori group as they have a tradition of concert parties and the ballet toured with the concert party and it was a huge success. It’s a small country and it’s very difficult to get people to go to modern work and yet we had full houses. So it was thrilling to work on.
I also had my own Company for 8 years and I won a South Bank Show award for my last show. We commissioned a piece ‘The Bird Sings with its fingers’ and that paid me back in diamonds. Even though we were a small project funded Company, we managed to establish a relationship with an orchestra and it was a great thing to do. So in a way this artistic venture came to a crescendo with that show. I’d worked with some of those dancers for a long time and in a wonderful way they knew how to express themselves through my work. It was important, as the show before that wasn’t so great, so it was very nice to leave the Mark Baldwin Dance Company having done a show that I was very, very happy with artistically.
It’s also a tradition of Rambert to work with live music with their excellent Musical director Paul Hoskins, but isn’t it very expensive?
I’ve just been speaking to Paul and we’re going to meet next week to talk further. One of the things about this job is to persuade people that these things are valuable for all of us and I need to get out there to raise some money for them to continue the regular use of live music.
I read that Christopher Bruce’s farewell performance will be in November. Is there going to be a hand-over period?
I suppose it’s started now, but we haven’t decided when I’ll start full time and I’ve got commissions to fulfil until the 22nd November. The farewell to Christopher will be a sad occasion, but we’re opening up to all kinds of exciting things, in the tradition of Rambert.
One of our team has just reviewed the Rambert performance in Brighton. She commented on the wide range of pieces on show, with works like Christopher Bruce’s “Ghost Dances” and “Cheese” by Jeremy James. At Sadler’s Wells recently we also saw Jiri Kylian’s “Symphony of Psalms” and, in contrast, Lindsey Kemp’s "The Parade’s Gone By". One of the national critics commented that the rep was too wide and there was a need for a sharper focus. What’s your view?
I believe that the repertoire needs to stay as wide as it can. Sometimes when Directors take over companies the repertoire ends up reflecting their work. I want to bombard the dancers with a very wide repertoire, but within that I’m hoping that we find a voice which says, ‘This is Rambert Dance Company, you can’t find this anywhere else in the world. We do our stuff in this particular way, we have particular pieces that are made on us and are special to us.’ That’s what I’m very much looking for.
Can we expect to see your own work entering the repertoire quickly?
Not for a while, as I think it’s my job to find a repertoire before I start doing my own work. When I’m sure about the direction that the company is going, then I’ll know how to fit myself into that and of course I’ll know the dancers really well by then. My stuff is based on music and mainly new music and working with composers. I’m very lucky that they have their own orchestra here. Let’s be honest, one of the reasons I wanted to do this job was that a year or two down the line when I do my own work, I will know how to take advantage of this marvellous resource that we have here.
What will happen to the Christopher Bruce works?
They will be leaving the rep slowly. Christopher says he wants a rest and I think he should do that, but of course I’d love to leave an invitation for him to come back and do things when he’s ready for it. I hope he doesn’t leave it too long as the dancers are still fresh from doing a lot of his pieces, so they understand the work. We’ve had one discussion about when he might come back to do something for us. The prospect of finding big works to replace “Ghost Dances” and “Rooster” is quite daunting because when you’re touring, the theatres and the audiences know those works and yet we have to replace them somehow. I’m going to have to spend a lot of money on advertising and spread the word to the public about the new works.
One of the other traditions of Rambert that I admire a great deal is the choreographic workshops and the encouragement of dancers in the Company to make work. Is that going to continue?
Marie Rambert always bullied her dancers to choreograph and if she thought there was a choreographer in the Company she would get them involved. Hopefully we’ll be able to keep that tradition going and give the dancers who want to choreograph the support and encouragement that they need. It should come from the round. That is, thinking about the design point of view and from a musical angle as well as choreographic structures.
I really hope that we can not only take dance ideas ahead and forward, but also musical and design ideas. It’s a big task, but it’s in the tradition of Ballets Russes. The idea that the elements which make dancing a thrilling experience in the theatre, namely dancing, design, music, choreography, all of those things are strengthened when they are in combination with each other.
That fits in with the comment in the press release that the Board were impressed with your plans for collaboration with other art forms.
That’s it. The dance world is not that big, especially when you think about the 10 million people who have been to see Tate Modern in the last two years. That is an amazing statistic and it’s a pointer that people want to see new work and we want to give it to them in the best form possible.
Does new technology have a strong place in the future of the Company?
I’ve always used technology to make my work before it gets to the studio. I used to use the Life Forms software and I use high digital cameras to catch movement and help me refine it. It remains to be seen how people want to use that on stage. These tools have all been developed to help us heighten what we do, but we have to be careful that we’re not going to rely on them to do the work for us.
I made a dance CD-ROM as far back as 1994, so I have a good background in this area. My instincts are that it can be wonderful, but actually at the end of the day with an empty stage and a brilliant dancer on it, you don’t need anything else. That human thing still thrills me more than other stuff.
Rambert is a medium sized business and there will be a lot of decision making to be done with some 50 employees. Is that a daunting prospect for you?
No it’s not really. I do have the benefit of my time at Rambert as a dancer and I have worked with large companies around the world, so there are aspects that I understand, even if you haven’t been in the office everyday.
I think that one of the reasons why they may have chosen me is I do have knowledge of the detail of running a company. With a small company such as my own you get to see how to make something from almost nothing. The learning curve for this area was really steep at first because you’re struggling with financial issues the whole time if you’re an ambitious project funded company.
When I went to the Rambert interview I did angle it in the direction that I understand business. I spent a lot of time examining the draft accounts with one of my best friends who is a Professor of Accounting at Reading University and another who is a City Editor. So, it’s not as foreign a language to me as people might expect.
When I met with the Executive Director, Sue Wyatt, she understood that I understood what she had to do because of my own personal connections with the business world. Everything I do has cost implications so I wouldn’t dream of doing anything without running it past Sue first. Let’s be honest, I don’t think that you can be the Artistic Director of a company unless the relationship with the Executive Director is on a very firm footing. We’re going to be doing this together.
Rambert has Prudence Skene as Chairman of the Board and if anyone knows about arts business it’s her. I’m also blessed because I have Stephen Brett as my Associate Director and he is wonderful and very organised and does a great job. That’s what made the job attractive for me that these people were in place and that I’m able to rely on their expertise to give me firm advice when I need it.
Where would you like to see Rambert in 5 years time?
I’d like to see Rambert with a repertoire that they can truly call their own. A repertoire that was made on and for and by the dancers. I would like to see us have several pieces in the repertoire from the Company’s back catalogue, because they are complete works of art that are worth reviving again and again. That the whole thing smacks of brilliant originality and that says things about the times we live in now in Britain.
[This message has been edited by Stuart Sweeney (edited July 12, 2002).]
<small>[ 02 February 2003, 05:13 PM: Message edited by: Stuart Sweeney ]</small>