Home ArtsDance Alan Cumming Uses Dance to Get at the Truth of Robert Burns

Alan Cumming Uses Dance to Get at the Truth of Robert Burns

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Glasgow — It rains, thunders, and flashes of lightning. A melancholy melody fragment emerges from the commotion, and a lone silhouetted figure appears on stage, moving his upper body in a meandering circle, arms entwined, and gesticulating in slow, contemplative fashion. He then walks forward, spreading his arms and giving a mean grin. “Here I am,” he announces.

Scottish poet Robert Burns was embodied in the one-man dance theater show Burns by Scottish actor Alan Cumming. Coming to the Joyce Theater on September 20th.

Conceived by Cumming and choreographer Stephen Hoggett and premiered at the Edinburgh International Festival in August, “Burn” is an unlikely hybrid. It was words.

why do you dance why burns?

Cumming answered some of these questions in a video interview in Aberdeen just days after the Glasgow show. Scotland travel series With actress Miriam Margolyes. In summary, he loves a challenge, loves dancing even more, and has been considering taking on another physically demanding role since reprising his MC role in ‘Cabaret’ eight years ago. I was. (He won a Tony Award for this performance in 1998.)

“I was 50 when it ended in 2015,” he said. “It made me sad to think I’d never have fitness like this again. It’s over. Then I slowly started thinking, No, I have one more left.” I put it in space,” he added.

the universe replied. In 2018, he went backstage at the Joyce Theater after seeing “The Tenant,” choreographed by Arthur Pita, partner of his old friend and flatmate Matthew Bourne. While chatting with Pita, Cumming was introduced to Joyce’s executive his director, Linda Shelton. “She asked me if I had any dance ideas,” Cumming said. “Yes!” he replied.

He was thinking about Burns at the time, he said. “Burns is everywhere in Scotland. Statues, milk bottles, boxes of chocolates. He’s like wallpaper in Scottish DNA. But we don’t really know who he is.” Somehow, in that moment, two things merged in my mind: Burns and dancing.

He told Joyce’s team that he wanted to create a dance theater production about a poet with choreographer Stephen Hoggett. However, he neglected to mention that he hadn’t asked Hogget yet.

“It’s true,” Hogget said in a video interview from New York. I was having dinner when I asked him what he thought of the idea. “I said it sounded great and he should do it,” Hoggett said. “He said, ‘Good, you’re doing it too.'”

Cumming wanted to work with Hoggett, he said. Physical Theater Group Frantic Assembly) and has extensive experience working with actors. “He brings that energy and aesthetic to his more commercial work,” Cumming said.

Cumming and Hoggett began a residency at the National Theater of Scotland, producing shows with the Edinburgh International Festival and Joyce. According to Hoggett, their initial idea was to examine the identity of Scottish men, but Kirsten McKee, professor of Scottish literature and director of the Robert Burns Center for Studies at the University of Glasgow, suggested they After talking they completely changed their focus. poets. McCue suggested reading his letter and the research of colleague Moira Hansen, who claimed Burns may have been suffering from bipolar disorder.

“They led us to his mental health, his relationship with patron Francis Dunlop, the not-so-sexy but glamorous stuff.” He proves to be much more fragile, brilliant, obsessed with the rich at times, a bit stalking with women, and often depressed.”

The men began working on moves that evoked Burns’ mental state, and in the process “began to examine what Alan’s body did and didn’t do,” said Hoggett. I wasn’t going to learn,” he added. one step basic ballet vocabulary.

Instead, they did exercises on some of the contents of the letter: farming, writing, joy, love, desire, depression. “What happens to his body when he uses farm tools? What is his joy like, where does it come from?” said Hoggett. “What does it feel like in your body to be inspired?”

Each day, they warmed up for an hour and then tried different exercises. Together with Vicky Manderson, who choreographed the piece with Hoggett, they created the material and constructed the movement phrases.

“He’ll try anything,” Hoggett said of Cumming. “I encouraged him to really feel if something was right for his body.”

It was hard physically and mentally. “It’s sheer pain,” Cumming said with a frown. “It was intense.” He added that going into rehearsals and having no structure was also scary. “Stephen is used to just making up in his room,” he said. “But actors love scripts!”

When asked if he had difficulty memorizing the movement sequences or if he ended up memorizing an hour of choreography, Cumming put his head in his hands. I’ve been thinking about it. He said. “But, of course, getting the memory of muscle movements into the body is something else entirely.”

He learned that to tell a story in his own body, “you have to think differently and have the story touch you in a more non-linear and visceral way.” I felt very vulnerable and that’s what I want to be.”

And gradually he became more confident in himself. “Exercising zoning to the themes that the show was focusing on gave me more confidence about my body and the storytelling. ”

He said he also realized he was playing both Burns and the Alan Cumming that people know. “I ask people to see me in a different way, and to see the characters I play in a different way.” The form really helped tell the story.

Early on, Cumming and Hogget wanted to use the genre-defying music of Scottish composer Anna Meredith. “Then she came to some workshops and saw how forensically we treated her music and she sent me a lot of stuff that had never been released before. rice field.”

Recollections of those workshops include “doing a lot of mostly Scottish country dances, with professionals who came to work with men,” Meredith said, “of the show. I loved the ambition,” he said. Burn. According to her, the score consists of both pre-existing tracks and older, sometimes experimental work that “hasn’t found a place.”

“This is a mix of acoustic and electronic,” she said.

Working with Meredith to shape the score also helped create the structure of the show when the men reunited at Cumming’s home in Scotland last summer. I was reducing The topics we felt were important in telling who Burns was,” Cumming said. Raised on Burns’ farm. start writing. relationship with Jean Armour (who would become the mother of 9 of her 12 children); Relations with Mary Campbell and others. His poverty, depression and love for Scotland and its stories and themes.

“Labeling ‘Burn’ as a dance might stretch the point.” Mark Fisher wrote to the Guardianadding that Cumming nevertheless “dared to put himself in an unfamiliar place.”

As Pointed out by multiple reviewers, the show doesn’t have many of Burns’ famous poems. Instead, Cumming and Hogget focus on the autobiographical content of Burns’ letters, capturing Burns’ emotions through their words, digital projections (Andrzej Goulding), dramatic lighting (Tim Ratkin), and occasional stages of her magic. It evokes the ups and downs of life. The manuscript and dress rise from the floor to materialize the character.

“When Alan turns 90, he can recite a poem by Burns in a rocking chair under a spotlight,” said Hoggett. “And he can do it admirably. But we wanted to go a step further and do a show about the guy and how the movement reveals the realities that words tend to hide.” is.”

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