Interview with Paul Lightfoot & Sol Leon
Can two heads be better than one in the world of dance?
It's certainly what Paul Lightfoot and Sol Leon aim to prove as they use the collaborative process to create some of the most exciting work in contemporary dance today. Partners in real life as well as in theatre, they have combined their energies and their imaginations to come up with some dazzling pieces for the internationally-acclaimed Nederlands Dans Theater 2.
'It's a natural division of talent but we never talk about it, we never plan anything,' says Sol, the Spanish half of the partnership, a wonderfully intense, exciting, sparky Mediterranean personality who provides the perfect foil to her partner's English, though no less enthusiastic, style. 'It's like having a person inside the brain without talking about it.' Paul seems to be in full agreement as he adds: 'We don't lay any rules down or anything.
'But then comes the story of their latest work, the incredibly theatrical Sleight Of Hand, and a clear demonstration of how even the closest partnership doesn't always work in complete harmony. For with just two weeks to go before opening night, Paul decided that something wasn't quite right - and insisted that the whole project start over with a new musical score! 'There were many ideas about this new piece,' he explains, 'generally, you start chucking out what doesn't fit and with this piece we had a huge turnover in concept.'
One thing that Sol was certain she wanted was two gigantic figures who would loom over the drama in a way that might be seen as either paternalistic or threatening. 'I was very inspired by the film The Others,' she says. 'It was that idea of which world is the real world. I am very inspired too by people and families so I had to have these two big people on stage.'
Another source of ideas, Sol admits, is the silent cinema that both she and Paul admire. 'Silent movies are brilliant,' she says. 'We are very inspired by silent movies. If you look at them, we are very close to that style of acting because when they cannot speak, they express themselves physically. In silent movies you can touch the technique.' So far so good, the combination of ideas - including the added inspiration of images from playing cards which gave the piece its title - seemed to be going as well as any new work can in the rehearsal room. 'Then something terrible happened! Sol laughs as she recalls how Paul decided that one of the most important elements of the piece, the music, simply wasn't working as they had intended. 'And when he is stubborn, he is very stubborn!'
Paul picks up the story: 'Necessity is the mother of invention. We sat down and put together what we had made - and Sol was silent. But we had to do it. It's a chemical combustion of ideas.' So out went the original choice and in came Symphony Number 2 by Philip Glass, a composer who provided the inspiration for an earlier piece, the haunting Postscript. It would prove to be a tough challenge, not just for Paul and Sol but also for the young dancers of NDT2, who suddenly found themselves facing a whole new set of dance challenges. 'But we always push them,' Paul says. 'They are really unbelievable.' And Sol adds that the dancers, most of whom are still in their teens, are not only happy to take on the challenge of new work at short notice but also want to be a part of the creative process.
'They really enjoy it so much,' she says. 'And I ask them: 'Please I need your help. This is the moment right now.'' It helps, of course, that NDT2's dancers come from the best sort of background, boasting the sort of training that makes them among the finest young dancers in the world. 'I am coming from a country where everybody is a natural dancer so I know what it is to be free and I adore it but you cannot be a contemporary dancer if you are not top in classical,' Sol insists.
'I'm sorry but I believe in that completely.'
John Highfield, March 2007