Fake Pill vs Real Pill: Suzy Willson talks to us about Dance and Medicine

Over 21 years, Suzy Willson has created an extraordinary body of work that has pushed the boundaries of choreographic practice. After training with legendary theatre and movement teacher Jacques Lecoq in Paris she created CLOD ENSEMBLE with composer Paul Clark, creating award-winning, movement-based performance work which ‘defies categorisation’.

In this interview she talks to us about CLOD ENSEMBLE’s latest work ‘Placebo‘ which comes to The Lowry Thu 11 – Sat 13 October.

How would you define CLOD ENSEMBLE’s work?

A review of our first ever show in 1995 described us as ‘resisting categorisation’, and although we didn’t deliberately set out to do that, we still seem to. Over the course of the last 20 years our pieces have been described as; physical theatre, dance theatre, music theatre, dance, live art, public art, immersive, inter-disciplinary, cross disciplinary, visual, experimental, site specific, sci art!

What was the inspiration behind Placebo? What sort of themes does ‘Placebo explore?

The medical world has been using ‘fake’ pills and treatments for centuries, but there has only recently been serious scientific study of how the placebo response works, or serious consideration of the ethics around it.

We were interested in why, when a person is given a treatment considered ‘fake’ or ‘inactive’, they can still experience an improvement in health. Why are red pills, amazingly,  often more effective than blue pills in pain relief? How can someone’s health be improved after ‘fake’ surgery?

At the heart of our piece is this simple idea that how we dress something up or package something (whether its a sugar pill, a person, a dance, an idea, a tune) can radically change how we feel about it.

CLOD_Placebo_2336 Credit Camilla Greenwell (Lead Production Shot)_LowRes

What will the audience experience?

At the beginning of the show the audience are welcomed into an observation room and told that the dancers will be conducting a series of scientific experiments to find out what might make them feel better.

Choreographic phrases and musical material are repeated many times, but re-contextualised or reformulated – the music is the packaging for the dance and vice versa. Sometimes the piece echoes familiar movement languages (from ballet, street dance) and musical styles (baroque, clubby dance tracks, movie scores).

The performers in the show are all from very different dance backgrounds and so bring very different movement languages to the piece, which I really enjoy. The design is bold and colourful and the music is compelling. The piece is should speak to people interested in music, fashion, theatre, visual art and in the medicine.

This is the first time you have worked with a fashion label. How did the collaboration with Art School London come about? What are they contributing to the production?

Costumes for Placebo have been designed by pioneering unisex fashion label, Art School.

As designers Art School challenge boundaries and expectations all the time this seems perfect for a show exploring the placebo effect, And they are very interested in the relationship between fashion and performance. We have really enjoyed working with them.

CLOD_Placebo_2084 Credit Camilla_LowRes

How does this piece fit with the company’s award winning Performing Medicine programme?

Clod Ensemble has a long-standing interest in science, medicine, and the role of arts in health-care. Performing Medicine is a programme of arts-based training and development for healthcare professionals in the UK.

The ideas we are exploring in the show and the season are of interest to health professionals – many of whom have been involved in putting the season programme together.

‘Placebo’ comes to The Lowry Thu 11 – Sat 13 October.  For tickets and more information visit the website or call box office on 0843 208 6000.