By Rachel Kennedy of Dance Informa.
It was a pleasure recently meeting with choreographer Daniel Jaber and discussing his latest projects and creations. Sitting in the Adelaide Festival Centre foyer café, he shared the origins of his double bill Reassessment (which will be presented August 6-9 at Space Theatre at the Adelaide Festival Centre), his love for classical ballet and his hometown.
Chatting with him, Daniel’s genuine nature, honesty and openness became evident, as did his love and passion for creating contemporary work using the classical ballet language. Here are excerpts from our conversation.
How did your first choreographic work Too far again, not far enough come about?
“I’d just been in Berlin for 18 months; I was highly stimulated by all the people I got to work with and dance with over there. I’ve always been curious about making my own work so I applied for a little bit of funding to play in a studio for a while and this was the outcome.”
Why did you decide to put Too far again, not far enough and Agile together in a double bill?
“Well, at first I didn’t know how they would work but I knew that Agile was a short piece. Agile deals with gender, concepts surrounding gender and body image. Too far again, not far enough… deals with concepts surrounding gender normalisation and gender and coercion… so this thread linking gender from one piece to another I found quite profound… as one is talking about a single person, a man, and the other is talking about classical ballet dancers.
One work is really quite dark and provocative and the other work is kind of fun and a little bit anarchistic. It seemed like all the ingredients were right for the right balance of light and shade contrast. And the moment I considered it, it seemed right and there was no turning back.”
What’s unique about your work?
“I think that contrast is quite unique, I feel like it’s unique. I’m taking ballet to a new context. And letting it be known that ballets don’t have to be about princes and princesses and they don’t even have to be stories. And that ballets can be really, really challenging. And that this technique which is so formal and historic has got a purpose and relevance for new choreographic work and work that speaks to a contemporary audience.
But I think second to that is the dancers that I’ve collected for my projects over the last five years. What were we called? The rebels? The ballet rebels? You know, dancers of different ethnicities, dancers of different colour, dancers of different body shapes and types, dancers of all sexualities. And being all inclusive and an equal opportunist in the world of ballet I think is our thing and that’s what I want us to be known for – that company that says ‘you can be a ballet dancer, no matter how big, short, whatever.’ That anyone can do it and that ballets can be made about any subject.”
What is so special about Adelaide for you and what does it have to offer that other cities don’t?
“I enjoy the space. I enjoy the space I’ve got to work on my practice and not be oversaturated and overwhelmed by cultural or creative trends. My experience in big cities is that I get the privilege of seeing so much that it begins to inform what I believe I’m interested in. In a place like Adelaide, it’s quieter. We get enough shows; it’s good. We’re catered for, but there’s also space to be left alone and to think, ‘What do I really want to say with my work?’”
In terms of you taking over as artistic director of Leigh Warren & Dancers (LWD), are the dancers you work with going to be a part of the work you make there?
“Yes, absolutely. We’re an interesting group… we found each other because maybe we don’t exist in other dance cultures so well, but we exist really well together here like this. And it’s been a long process for all of us to be okay with that actually, and to have confidence in the fact that we are ballet dancers, because there has been a lot of criticism from peers and the industry that maybe what we do is not contemporary enough, maybe we’re not pushing the boundaries in that sense, but we do. It’s just I think when people hear the word ‘ballet’ they get an idea it’s kind of 70’s neoclassical work and it’s easy, but it’s not easy, it’s not convenient. It’s a real challenge and we love it.”
What do you think your key to success is and what advice do you have for aspiring choreographers/dance students?
“This is such a good question, especially for dance students… If I was to give any advice at all, it would be: Remember dance is subjective, not everyone’s going to love it. Always, always be yourself when making your work and never ever make work that you think an audience wants to see and never make work that you think is going to get you money or is going to get touring or any of these things because you might be surprised.
Don’t compromise it. If you want to make neoclassical work, make neoclassical work. If you want to make folk work, go and do it. Have people that mentor you and that you listen to but also know that you don’t have to take everything on board.”
In one sentence, how would you sum up what you would like the audience to get out of Reassessment?
“I just want people to leave the theatre feeling like they’re changed and feeling like they look at the world in a more open way.”
Photos by Tim Mason.