People Profiles

Timothy Gordon - Choreographer, Eugene Onegin

Do you think that spending your formative years on the other side of the Tasman had any influence on your choice of career?
It was more a combination of the people around me at the time and what was going on in my life that directed my choices, and which influenced me to take a certain path. I was already drawn to the theatre and to music, but this was greatly enhanced by my cousins, Roland and Yvonne Everard, who were living in Sydney at the time and performing at the Tivoli Theatre. I absorbed it all.

What was the pivotal moment in your life when you knew that dance was going to be 'it' for you?
I made a conscious choice at the age of 16 to leave school and become a full-time student at the Halliday Dance Centre in Haymarket, Sydney, opposite the grand old Capitol Theatre and situated among a collection of exotic Oriental grocery shops. At the time I had had enough of the limited attitudes and opportunities within the school system and knew that dance would be something to get me right out of it!

Touring Europe under the auspices of the Nederlands Dance theatre must have been a fantastic experience for a young man. What were some of the highlights?
The Paris season of Stravinsky's Les Noces at the Chatelet Theatre, where Nijinsky and the Ballet Russes had decades before premiered their infamous repertoire. Then there were the outdoor performances in Italy when it rained buckets and the stage was flooded, making it difficult to dance! The audience would stand around, umbrellas afloat, chattering loudly above the unrecognisable rendition of the musical repertoire which was being played by a possibly inebriated orchestra. The dancers at Nederlands Dance Theatre were - and are - simply extraordinary due to the calibre of the choreographic leadership and invention the company has attracted.

Do you think that your passion for teaching and choreography was a natural progression from being a dancer?
In my case, yes. I had my fair share of injuries and had to stop performing in Ballet Frankfurt. The American choreographer William Forsythe gave me the go-ahead to start coaching/teaching and experimenting with composition in the company in a very encouraging and liberal way. Improvisation had been a strong part of the Forsythe work and it helped me form a base for my own choreographic vision.

Please tell us how you came to be such a passionate advocate for the Alexander Technique.
The technique is essentially the most powerful tool for change - in terms of the way we do what we do and how we can go about things with ease and co-ordination - that I have come across and as such it has had a major effect on my teaching and choreography. I first came across it while I was in Perth at the West Australian Academy of Performing Arts. It had such an amazing effect on the drama and musical theatre students that it made me wonder what it could do for dance students and teaching practices. I went on to study the technique here in New Zealand before completing my diploma in Switzerland in 1998.

Dance is considered by many to be an international language but on the practical side of things, how important is it for a dancer intent on an international career to be multilingual if not bilingual?
While dance can often transcend the boundaries of language it can be useful to know a little French; not just for classical ballet, but also for contemporary dance choreography and techniques because so much of the associated vocabulary comes from that particular language. A good understanding of French grammar is even more of an asset if you are going to be working in Europe for any length of time. Some understanding of German can also be helpful. However, using one's powers of observation to absorb information is probably the most important thing, given that dance is such a visual art.

It does seem that dance transcends the boundaries of language. In classical ballet the principal language of communication is French. A lot of these words and phrases are used across the board into contemporary dance choreography and techniques as well. A dancers prime ability and skill is their sense of observation and it is paramount to develop the ability to absorb information that way, dance being a visual art. Most definitely it is an asset to have as many principal languages as study and time allows. Mainly for accessing the culture you may be interested in working in. Of course when you do work in different countries under an employment contract, you get the opportunity to learn as you work, which is no doubt the best way to enjoy the experience. Personally, I found German and French to be the most helpful whilst in Europe, although both need a good dose of grammar to be of real value.

On your return to New Zealand in 1993, did you find it a very different place to the one you left? If so, can you tell us about some of the changes you noticed?
My family left New Zealand when I was a child, thus I can really only reflect on the changes between 1995 and 2000, which have been significant. In dance, these changes include the emergence of a strong development in tertiary and academic environments and the appearance of a number of new dance companies and festivals of the arts which have been born and established over this period.

Since Manon in 2001 and before your recent appointment as dance choreographer for New Zealand Opera's next production, Eugene Onegin, what else have you been involved in?
I held the position of programme co-ordinator of dance at the University of Auckland for four years from 2001, then spent a year as the director of City Ballet in Queen Street in 2005. In 2006 I established Company Z Dance with a group of talented dancers, creating numerous new works that were performed around Auckland and in Hamilton. The following year the AUT University Dance Collective was formed with me as artistic director, supported by the generous patronship of Emeritus Professor Hilary le Mieux. And I have recently returned from teaching in Tokyo before starting work on the choreography for Eugene Onegin for the NBR New Zealand Opera.

After so much experience in the world of contemporary dance, how do you feel about traditional dance such as that in the ball scene in Act III of Eugene Onegin, which has a reputation for being one of opera's most magnificent creations?
This, of course, has to do with director Patrick Nolan's vision, but I am prone to rejuvenate the traditional response by having a more inclusive vision of time and place within the formal dance atmosphere that the opera suggests. In this version the choreography is set on singers, not dancers; this in itself will give the choreography an authenticity and realism not usually presented in such an opera as Onegin.

What advice would you offer to aspiring dancers in this country?
Look at the big picture, the global view and identify a choreographer, team or project with whom or which you could be a dynamic player and go for it with all the gusto you can muster. Be realistic and also be interested in other people's work. Security is hard to find; be prepared for the in-between times.