By Juliet Jacobs
Tell us a bit about yourself.
In 1997, I went off to Harvard for four years, where dancing was a huge relief from my daily cerebral struggles. Not knowing what to do next, I moved to Australia and earned my graduate diploma in Choreography at the Victorian College of the Arts. Art school wasn’t really my thing — too many artists! — so my first reaction was to rush off and get a Masters in Applied Anthropology, instead. I worked for non-profits in Melbourne for a few years.
For now, I hope I can make the two sides of my brain work together.
You founded the ‘fledgling dance company’ Balletbase yourself. What made you decide to do it?
People who know me well weren’t surprised when I decided to embark on Balletbase. Apparently I have wanted a dance company since I could talk … or dance! Maybe it’s because I don’t work well with others — I just want things done my way. Being an artistic director is great for that!
The programme for Take Flight! Balletbase’s first production, includes three contemporary ballet pieces which you choreographed. What exactly are we to expect?
Quite a lot of atmospheric pieces, pertaining to the destruction of the natural environment — which is something I feel strongly about. Hopefully there will be a few serene moments (aaah!), a few sweet moments (awww!), and not too many dancers falling over and breaking their ankles. Look out for tai chi movements incorporated into ‘Flight Risk’ (a piece about migrating birds), and multicoloured, pointed shoes in ‘Fireworks’.
What is a typical rehearsal like? Are you all Nazi-like?
I try to be Nazi-like, but all my dancers laugh at me — must be because I’m 5 foot 2. But, really, this performance is about — and for — the dancers: I want them to have fun, discover new things, and challenge themselves, without me pushing them every step of the way. A good rehearsal always includes some time spent rolling on the floor, engulfed in giggles.
Tell us about the other dancers. Where did you find them all?
The Balletbase dancers are, without exception, lovely, talented and obliging individuals. There also must be something seriously wrong with them, since they allow me to twist them into odd positions for hours at a time. I’m still waiting for them to blossom into raging prima donnas … but they’re young, so there’s lots of time.
At this point, their major obsessions are food — large amounts of chocolate play a role in our rehearsals — and where they can all buy matching handbags.
Any funny / strange stories?
On Sunday, I had a rehearsal at KLPac, where the dancers practiced, for the first time, on platforms made specifically for the performance. When we arrived, the platforms were still in the workshop, and we couldn’t lift them, so we spent a few minutes trying them out on the workshop floor.
The authorities came down to shoo us out, but not before telling us how strange it was to see dancers cavorting in the workshop. I don’t know — maybe arabesques look best when garnished with sawdust.
This is your first major production. Have you developed a healthy hatred for everyone in the arts, yet?
No, I’m still bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. So far, most people have been extremely helpful in offering advice and support, and I’ve been amazed.
Of course, the list of things I’ve learnt not to do when producing a show is longer than all of my dancers, lying head to pointed toe. Hopefully I’ll be able to redeem myself in our next performance!
Who inspires you?
Good teachers. The world can’t have enough of them. My blood boils whenever I hear someone tell me that they quit ballet because their teacher told them that they were too fat. Let’s face it, folks, this ain’t the New York City Ballet. Not everyone is cut out to be a dancer, but the size of anyone’s talent is not related to the width of their waist.
Any regrets? Or would you do it all over again in a flash? Any sage advice for people who’re thinking of heading down a similar path?
Every time I embark on a production, large or small, I know that at some point I will wonder why the hell I am doing it — and I will tell people to forcibly prevent me from ever doing it again.
But I’m addicted to being in rehearsal, and you can’t have rehearsals without a show. My advice: make lots of friends, then work them to the bone! Having been overseas for eight years, this was my main lack.
What are you up to, next?
Balletbase will be performing for the Art for Nature exhibition opening at Rimbun Dahan in May, and we have innumerable other projects in the pipeline.
(Also, the choreographers’ residency at Rimbun Dahan is also kicking off in March, with cutting-edge Filipino choreographer Donna Miranda staying in Malaysia for three months to develop new work.)
What’s irony to you?
The fact that Malaysia has two of the most beautiful, complex and diverse ecological systems in the world — the tropical rainforest and the coral reef — and most Malaysians have neither seen, nor give a hoot, about them. I guess we won’t miss them when we lose them.
If you were omnipotent for 10 minutes, what’s the first thing you would do?
You can’t overlook world peace, but I’d settle for inflicting recurring nightmares about global warming on everyone on earth.
First Published: 14.03.2007 on Kakiseni