Thursday, August 10, 2006


The Cathy Marston Interview

a Trafalgarsquareblog exclusive

‘Sultry, sunny… and sexy’ is how Cathy Marston’s performance ‘Spell’ - which unfurls to the songs of Nina Simone - has been described for this coming Saturday at the Trafalgar Square Festival.

The Guardian
called her ‘one of the hottest young choreographers around’ and many in the media world following the festival can’t wait to see what she has in store for us.

Trained at the Royal Ballet School; her company, The Cathy Marston Project, uses contemporary ballet to set the stage alight.

We caught up with Cathy who had just finished a very busy day of rehearsals for both the Festival and her company’s tour in autumn. She spoke about next Saturday’s performance, about facing the ghosts of Ibsen and on how height doesn’t matter if you want to be a ballet dancer…

A lot of your performances are structured around narratives, what are the stories going to be about for ‘Spell’?

They’ll be very simple, very direct and eventually they’ll all come together in a mixed story-finale. It’s a cycle: boy loves girl, but he’s with someone else and the girl likes someone else anyway... it’ll be a bit like a soap opera.

The four dancers performing are Charlotte Broom, Matthew Dibble (see picture on left), Martina Langmann and Dylan Elmore (see picture further down on right). The costumes are especially designed by award winning fashion designer, Bora Aksu.

Why are you using Nina Simone songs?

I’ve always wanted to choreograph some of Nina Simone’s songs because she is one of my favourite artists - and in the summer, it’s a lovely opportunity to use them in a place like Trafalgar Square.

A lot of my work has been quite serious, like 'Ghosts' (more on this later), so here’s an opportunity not to take ourselves too seriously and just have some fun with it.

What songs of Nina’s did you finally decide on?

Well, we’ve taken on quite a tricky compilation of her songs because the performance is only supposed to be 10 minutes. And when you get down to it, fitting a number of songs into 10 minutes is actually quite hard!

We came up with a cycle of four songs starting with ‘I Put A Spell On You’ which, if you listen to the lyrics, is obviously a very possessive song. It then goes on to ‘Take Care of Business’ - a quite naughty song, and then on to ‘Don’t Explain’ which is about a woman who, despite being wronged, says to her lover, ‘hush don’t talk about it, you’re mine I’m here, but I don’t want to hear anymore’. The last song is ‘Why Keep On Breaking My Heart’, which is a kind of upbeat finale that sums up the whole little medley - a summer-like rhythm that’s just fun!

What makes this performance different to any other performance you have created?

I’m aware that it won’t be for a ‘dance audience’, so there’ll be a lot of people watching who perhaps haven’t been to a dance performance before. So I want to do something that will not put people off dance, but instead will actually make them interested to see more.

How did your involvement in Trafalgar Square Festival come about?

I once did a choreographed piece on a beach at Bamburgh Castle in Northumberland.

I think that at first, the Trafalgar Square Festival organisers were really interested because that piece had been choreographed for the open air. Then they saw a couple of my DVDs and decided they would like me to be involved in the Festival.

How do you come up with your ideas?

They are very much inspired by the music I am using, whether it’s from music that I want to work with or from music that has been given to me through a commission.
I also try to have a handful of projects going on at once, so I never get bored with any one of them and I don’t risk getting repetitive either.

Who and what are your influences?

I suppose that, choreographically, coming from the Royal Ballet School, one would be Kenneth Macmillan. I also picked up a lot of different influences in the six years I was in Europe, from people like Jiri Kylian and Mats Ek.

Theatre and literature are a big influence as well. I try to absorb as much of these mediums as I can and that definitely affects the sorts of stories I want to tell.

What has been the highlight of your career so far?

The highlight of my career? Oh my goodness! Well- I was very proud of the piece I did at the Royal Opera House, ‘Ghosts’, based on the play by Ibsen. It was a fantastic group of dancers and collaborators working on and off it for about a year and a half. And all of this happened at the same time that I was setting up my own company, which was very exciting as well.

Didn’t Ibsen’s great-great granddaughter come to see it?

Yes, Nora Ibsen came over to watch it and we were asked to put on a part of the piece for the opening performance at Oslo City Hall last January.

Ok, one final question…. is it true you have to be a certain height to be a ballet dancer?

No, not at all! OK, some companies have certain ‘tastes’. For example, Dutch companies tend to have quite tall dancers, but the ballet world in general is very mixed.

I just hear those stories about these little kids, who train and train to be ballet dancers and then when they grow up they become too tall and so they’re no good.

It depends where they’re trying to go. I mean, they might be too tall for one company or one school, but then they can try another place. I think it’s just that people get stuck on the Royal Ballet… and maybe for whatever reason, the Royal Ballet is not the place for them, but they can always try somewhere else.

Well I’m 6’1”, so I thought I would have had no chance…

Well, who knows… maybe you could have been quite good! But remember, being a ballet dancer is just as much about your mental attitude as well as your physical attitude. If you want to succeed in this business, you have to put in a lot of hard work.

It was a pleasure to talk to Cathy Marston and her enthusiasm for what she’s doing was inspiring. Other than the Trafalgar Square Festival performance on Saturday, Cathy is also getting ready for her first national tour with ‘The Cathy Marston Project’ in Autumn 2006.

'The Cathy Marston Project' is at the Royal Opera House on 27th September, you can buy tickets here.

Photographs by Adrian Weinbrecht.

I always thought Nina Simone songs would suit this kind of thing. Thanks for interview, will make sure to see her on Sat.
Cool interview M, I'll definitely look out for her.
Thanks Maxim, I'm in London on Saturday... do you know what time it will start?
It makes you realise the level of quality of this festival. I probably wouldn't bother to turn up if I hadn't read your interviews and comments. I'll try to be there to see Cathy now. Thanks.
Will definitely be there on Sat. Good interview, interesting links. Keep it up!
What a fascinating interview! The bit about the height of the Ballet Dancers was revealing. I also llove the fact that Cathy is doing her dance to some of Nina Simone's songs - 2 great diva's rolled into one!
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