In two weeks time, an internationally-acclaimed piece of physical theatre shall be hitting East Lothian. The Mumble managed to catch a few words with multi-award winning choreographer, Thomas Small.
Hello Thomas, so where ya from & where ya at, geographically speaking?
I am born and bred in Dundee, a pure Dundonian through and through. At this very moment, I am in Ibiza enjoying my holidays after a very busy Summer term.
When did you first realise you you could dance?
I realised I wanted to direct productions early on when I was about 13 years old and I used to boss my friends around to create shows. Then contemporary dance really got into me and I decided to study it to become a professional. Still, my interest was not in performance but in choreography and direction.
Where did you study the art of dancing & how did it go?
I was very fortunate to receive local support to study in one of the world leading institutions, the London Contemporary Dance School, The Place, where I studied under the tutelage of leading experts from all corners of the world.
What does Thomas Small like to do when he’s not involved in dancing?
I love walking my dog Molly, meeting friends for cocktails and karaoke, and just lately I am getting the exercise bug with my personal trainer.
Can you tell us about Shaper/Caper?
Shaper/Caper is a charity based in Dundee. The company makes dance-theatre productions that tour nationally and internationally, as well as delivering an impressive creative learning portfolio, with just one of our projects reaching 7,000 primary school children per year in Tayside. We work with people of all ages and abilities, from babies to 101 years old (our oldest dancer, so far!) and are known for our site-specific and mass participation work. We are lucky to have robust and long-lasting partnerships with organisations such as NHS Tayside and the McManus: Dundee’s Art and Gallery Museum. We are also regularly supported by Creative Scotland, CashBack for Creativity, and Leisure and Culture Dundee, through the Dundee Dance Partnership.
Can you describe your creative relationship with Clore Fellow?
Creative Scotland supported my attendance to the full Clore Fellowship programme, where I was able to learn first-hand from world-leading cultural forerunners on governance, cultural policy, and insider tips such as failure, something that we tend not to talk enough about it socially, risking to recognise its transformational power. The experience and knowledge have shaped the way we operate the company and has also provided incredible network opportunities and friendships of the most disparate nature.
You guys also organise creative learning projects headed by Yolanda Aguilar. Can you tell us about these?
Yolanda is an experienced professional trained in dance and theatre, with a Masters in cultural management. She has led international creative learning commissions, and her expertise lies in working with vulnerable groups such as older dancers and those with non-traditional abilities and alternative learning pathways.
You are just about to start a Scottish tour of ‘Within This Dust’ can you tell us about it?
We are looking forward to sharing our piece with Scottish audiences after having performed at the 9/11 Memorial and Museum in New York, where the work was informed by the expert Chief curator Jan Seidler Ramirez and by Dr Lindsay Balfour’s profound analysis of the art and its context. Unfortunately, the theme of terrorism and its impact on Western and global societies continue to be relevant, so we want to engage in a dialogue with our audiences with the view to eventually effect change.
What was it like to perform at the 9/11 Memorial Museum in New York City as part of the museum’s 15-year anniversary programme?
It was the most overwhelming experience, both poignant and beautiful at the same time. We were given several private tours with access to information not shared with the general public that made our presence there just so special. It was sold-out and the museum placed a screen in the foyer so people could join us and it was also live-streamed, so the event became global. New York audiences are very immediate with their reactions and people were happy to fully disclose their emotions, experiences and memories during the post-show discussion. We also met Richard Drew, the photographer that captured the iconic image of the falling man plunging form the World Trade Centre and that was the inspiration for this work. I was very humbled by the generosity of all involved in the event, from cultural partners to audiences, as my work became the catalyst for an honest and moving conversation.
How has the show evolved since its premier to today?
The piece started in 2011 with a research and development period working with one male dancer, as at the time it was envisioned as a single solo piece of work, rather than the triptych that has become. The production now also includes a female dancer, and although this has been the case so far I am not too concerned about the gender of my artists, so who knows? This might change in the future. The show starts with the female solo in a section called Embers, then moves to a duet in S/He, and ends with the Falling Man, the original male solo. The show received Made in Scotland support in 2012 and toured Berlin and Brazil. The production has been informed by different casts over the years and by the political circumstances the world has experienced since, so it now feels like the best existence it never had.
What does the rest of 2017 hold in store for Thomas Small?
We have just finished our Business Plan with the Board, which will take our activities until 2021, so there will be more productions touring the world, and more creative learning projects to reach across Scotland. I am now making a film to support the Dundee 2023 bid for European Capital of Culture, a great project to involve the community and show that Dundee used to be well known in Scotland for its dance halls. I will be starting shortly the production phase of my new show Unwanted, a tongue-in-cheek meets psychotherapy cabaret-like space that explores failure and invites all to share and celebrate its inevitability, accepting it as part of growth.
Within This Dust can be seen at The Brunton Theatre on 21st October at 7:30 pm. Tickets can be booked via The Brunton website or calling 0131 665 2240. For further information about Within This Dust, visit www.shapercaper.com