Interview: Rambert – How can Picasso be a starting point for Dance?

Ahead of Rambert’s visit to The Lowry in September, we took the opportunity to chat with three of their dancers about the company’s latest work, The 3 Dancers. Based on Picasso’s masterpiece and the love triangle that inspired it, Brenda Lee Grech, Miguel Altunaga and Daniel Davidson took time out from rehearsals to tell us more about the work, how they prepare for a performance and what they plan to get up to in their summer holidays.

The 3 Dancers, Daniel Davidson, Brenda Lee Grech, Miguel Altunaga (c) Stephen Wright
The 3 Dancers, Daniel Davidson, Brenda Lee Grech, Miguel Altunaga (c) Stephen Wright

Brenda: For me, the most interesting thing about this piece is being able to use Picasso’s painting as a starting point. Although the piece is not an actual depiction of the painting, it was great to be able to go to Tate Modern and see it in the flesh. It’s always a little nerve-wracking starting work on a new piece, but this made it all the more exciting… I mean, it’s Picasso!

Daniel: In the painting the three dancers are intertwined with one another – it almost looks like a struggle. Didy Veldman, the choreographer, took this and asked us to experiment with trying to see what movement is possible when you can’t let go of each other. It starts with this tension between the dancers.

Miguel: We’re using our bodies and imagination to take Picasso’s painting somewhere new. It’s really interesting for me as a performer to think how I can create movement that’s as vivid and alive as the painting.

Daniel: To help create a Picasso-like world, the movement is quite angular with sharp angles and hard lines rather than being soft and fluid. The set and lighting also help to create a sense of Cubist fragmentation. As well as our trio, there are three more dancers in the cast who represent our ‘shadow-selves’, our darker thoughts and desires.

The 3 Dancers, Daniel Davidson, Brenda Lee Grech, Miguel Altunaga 2 (c) Stephen Wright
The 3 Dancers, Daniel Davidson, Brenda Lee Grech, Miguel Altunaga 2 (c) Stephen Wright

Brenda: The music has different elements to it with some Spanish influences. We’ve worked on different sections and have started to bring these together but we’re not at the end of the process yet. We have another few weeks of rehearsals after the summer break. I’m really looking forward to seeing where it goes.

Daniel: Didy is very free as a choreographer. She has a specific idea of what she wants but she’s free in that she’ll suggest a movement and ask you to try and emulate it. She’ll then ask you to go away and work on it yourself before moulding what you’ve come up with to fit with her vision of the piece.

Brenda: I always like it when the dances feel so different. We’re also performing Dark Arteries at The Lowry which has the full company and an entire brass band on stage. The 3 Dancers has a much smaller cast of six. When you have a lot of performers together it’s exciting, but a smaller cast helps to create more intimacy.

Daniel: Dark Arteries is pretty epic. It’s nice to have such a balance. Each piece will have a very different atmosphere.

Miguel: When preparing for a performance, I used to have a few rituals but now I only have one: breathing. I perform breathing exercises to connect myself to the piece and to the present so I can be in the moment. Breathe, observe, connect, stay calm and enjoy would be my mantra.

Brenda: I really enjoy putting my make up on. I sit with all my make-up laid out in front of me. It puts me in the zone. I’ll also have headphones on and listen to music. Usually an hour before the show I’ll go out and start warming up on stage or in the dressing room. At the 15 minute call I’ll put my costume on and, that’s it, I’m ready to go.

Daniel: You might not think it, but I eat a big meal beforehand to give myself some fuel. It’s a hard evening of work. At The Lowry I’m dancing in all three pieces so I’ll need some carbs! I’ll then have a stretch and a warm up. I’ve got hair and make-up down to about 10 minutes. I’ll put my costume on at the last second – I feel like that’s the last bit, the finishing touch.

Miguel: We have four weeks holiday over the summer before we come back to continue rehearsals for The 3 Dancers and head out on tour. I’m not going home to Cuba but I will be going to Spain so I want to eat lots of good food, rest well and enjoy the sunshine.

Daniel: I like to have a couple of weeks of doing nothing. Let my body rest, get a lot of sleep and let everything find itself again.

Brenda: Beach! Sun! But most importantly, I’m looking forward to spending time with my family.

Don’t miss The 3 Dancers as part of Rambert’s triple bill for The Lowry from 30 September to 2 October.