Former Company Z Dancer Benny Ord on life and work as a dancer in London
In this short interview, Timothy Gordon asks former Company Z dancer Benny Ord to speak of his experiences and observations now he is an artist with Wayne McGregor’s acclaimed Random Dance.
BENNY ORD: I first came across Wayne’s work when I watching a documentary on the Royal Ballet while I was a student. It was this really old scratchy recorded-from-TV video which was barely decipherable but I had the instant impression that it was something I was interested in, so I went and looked him up online. I loved the angularity and distortion of the body. I also thought there was an interesting paradox in its use of traditional dance technique in amongst a kind of dislocated visceral rawness. The work seemed like something that was going to become hugely influential, very much of its time with a progressive drive. I also saw Wayne as carrying on a wonderful tradition of collaboration in dance as in the manner of Diaghilev and Cunningham.
- BENNY: I think I was very lucky to have had extraordinary teachers and managed to pull together a reasonable technique drawing from both Classical and Contemporary traditions in a relatively short time, considering I started dancing very late. Physically I related to Wayne’s way of moving, I felt some kind of intrinsic tendency to move my body in that way – the hyperextension and heightened articulation. I think the teachers I had also encouraged a sense of enquiry in moving and therefore a sense of intelligence, risk, and experimentation that hopefully comes out in my dancing, and I think Wayne is attracted to this in dancers.
- BENNY: I joined the company last year during the making of the piece UNDANCE. I don’t think anything can prepare you for working in the studio with Wayne. It was both exhilarating and terrifying. Wayne likes to work at speed and from a place that is very charged energetically. Also he likes to make a bank of raw material from which he then takes from to structure the piece. Perhaps only a quarter of the material is actually used in the final work presented to the public. So on a daily basis there is a huge amount of movement to retain. With UNDANCE, Wayne was collaborating closely with Mark Wallanger who was setting tasks for both Wayne and the composer Mark-Antony Turnage. Mark was working from the List of Verbs by Richard Serra and the photographs of Eadweard Muybridge as inspiration. So Wayne would enact these action verbs (e.g., to roll, to throw, to dance) through his choreography or set us an improvisational task around one of these verbs.
- BENNY: The company tours most of the year. It seems to be the way it has survived financially for so long. We go to both glamorous and unglamorous places. Sometimes we’re in exciting places like San Francisco or Amsterdam and sometimes we’re also in small town places in maybe Germany or France. It depends what has been booked. It’s certainly a great way to get to see the world, I feel very lucky to be able to do that with my job.
- BENNY: My own practice is continually evolving, so I suppose that is a simple way of keeping relevant – having the curiosity to keep feeding in new information as well as discarding what’s no longer useful. I’m still new enough to the company to be trying to put my practice into context; i.e., finding what the best possible preparation for the work is while at the same time still finding room to follow my own more personal lines of interest. Wayne’s work can be very, very muscular and aspirational, so finding a balance between doing and undoing is challenging but interesting.
- BENNY: London is very much ‘sink or swim’. No matter what you want to do, a million other people want to do it too. The first time I came it was an adventure, the second time I came it just seemed like very hard work. I think I survived in the early days when I was between jobs by making sure I put a rigorous daily structure in place for myself which would include going to class, conditioning and sometimes finding a space to improvise, etc. It’s a fantastic thing to live in a great cultural centre like London. I try to exploit that as much as I can while I’m here and see and experience as much work as possible.
- BENNY: I think that dance in NZ is ready for change or regeneration. It seems like the time for a new generation of dance makers to escape the mantle of the older generation and have a place to develop their work, which may not need that same sense of the grandiose or dramatic in order to be worthy of interest. I can see momentum building for this. Because NZ is small and dance so marginal I think that it can suffer from a lack of differing perspectives. There is also the danger that in its sheltered-ness a kind of arrogance arises in artistic communities who are rarely challenged and who often have a somewhat oblique relationship to work from the rest of the world because their experience of it is often second hand (through film footage, books, etc). But I also think that NZ is a wonderful place to make art. There is a huge imaginative space and freedom of spirit that one has living there. You are in many ways away from the weight of European history and class.
- BENNY: It seems to me that dance will always be most fundamentally an art form that exists in time and space. It stands in opposition to the dominant social and economic system of our time in that it cannot be so easily commodified as it is not an object. Because of this I really see dance at the forefront of what artists in many forms are trying to do with their work. Merce Cunningham described dance as like trying to pin jelly to a wall. It is famous for its ephemeral nature. I like work that admits to this fundamental prognosis.
- BENNY: Consumption. This seems to me be at the root of many issues facing the world. I think it is always important to stay informed and to stay critical. It is expected of us as consumers to passively and ignorantly swallow the garbage we are bombarded with. I believe in the punk tradition of ‘do it yourself’ – make your own culture and make your own community.
(Edited by David Griffiths)
- Wayne McGregor / Random Dance:www.randomdance.org/
- UNDANCE – review: www.guardian.co.uk/stage/2011/dec/02/undance-review-sadlers-wells