It keeps you on your toes. sustaining a permanent
contemporary dance company in“.~ ~- .V
Scotland. Ellie Carr meets Neville \ Campbell. an energetic Englishman who‘s determined to rise to the occasion.
In Scotland. football and contemporary dance have a lot in common. No. really. Fans ofeach live irr hope of a decent result from the local purveyors of their sport/art. but more often end the evening crying into their beers/white wine over another disappointing performance. In dance it's down to lack of funds and loss of faith. In football it‘s a dearth of decent footballers and loss of faith. In the end it comes down to the same thing. Nothing ever really happens because nobody really believes it will.
Enter a new player on the field. The dance-field that is. .Neville Campbell ~ ex-director of Leeds' funky all-black. all-male Phoenix Dance Company and Turnbuka. Zimbabwe Dance Company has just relocated to Dundee and taken over the reins of Scotland's only permanent contemporary dance company — Scottish Dance Theatre. He's been in the job two months — throwing together the ensemble‘s launch tour in record time — but already he appears to be kicking ass. He's walked into a company which in its previous incarnation as Dundee Rep Dance Company was dark for over a year and down the tubes for longer. and an environment where people
Neville Campbell: putting his hands together for the new Scottish Dance Theatre
are painfully aware that new dance ventures tetrd to
. have the life~cycle of a fly. lle refuses to let the pundits grind him down.
"l'here‘s always somebody otll there waiting to trip
i you up or sat there waiting to watch you collapse again.‘ says (’ampbell taking a breather mid-
rehearsal. ‘\\*ell if it‘s anything to do with the I'm going to make it work. I have to.‘ asserts the man whose quiet. easy denreanour hides a steely determination for the task ahead.
‘I see the role of this company as an arnbassador'ial one.‘ he continues. '1 think it‘s important that Scotland has a contemporary dance company that can go out 7 go down to lingland. to Wales. to liurope and beyond.‘
It‘s been a long time since anybody talked that big about the company that many believed had gone into permanent demise. but Campbell is not inclined to think small. lle's well aware ofthe financial strait- jacket his born-again company is in the 96—97 SAC budget has been set at L‘ l -l(),()()() compared to Scottish
Ballet's £2.l2|.()()() ~ but it‘s not the first time he's been up against the odds. His previous outposts _ Phoenix and Tumbuka — were both small companies with big remits and little in the batik. but companies to be reckoned with. ‘lt‘s really the same story here.‘ he remarks. ‘()kay. we've got a studio and we‘ve got facilities. but the funding isn't really adequate.‘
Compared to other contetnporary companies like Rambett — with 32 dancers -- and to Scottish Ballet « with a core squad of 40 -- the new SDT can afford to etnployjrrst six dancers full-time. ‘l‘d like to take on more dancers.‘ says Campbell. "l‘here's a lot of pressure on the six dancers. y'know. It's a lot of work. They've got to be very versatile. The work is challenging. and it's very physical. There‘s a danger of overworking your dancers when there‘s so few.‘
Clearly not afraid of stepping on anyone‘s toes even this early in the game. Campbell is vocal on the issue of Scottish Ballet's long-time monopoly on the nation's dance-funding cake. "l‘r'aditional forms of dance like that will always survive and will always be supported by the elite. Plus. they can almost command sponsorship. Small ventures like us get sttrck becatrse we can offer so little back.‘
For now though, the SDT team (none of whom. incidentally. are Scottish) appear to be more than getting on with the job. With orin weeks to go. they're drum-rolling up to an official opening night at Dundee Rep where they‘ll unleash a programme of four brand-new pieces — each one a Campbell creation. ‘l'm trying to make it as diverse as possible.‘ says the laid-back director. carefully adding a footnote that says SDT's frrture will be ftrll of guest choreographers and dancers who make their own work.
‘l've tried to do the jobs of four different choreographers so it doesn't jrrst look like an evening of work by Neville Carnpbell.‘ he laughs. ‘My work's unpredictable anyway. It's always accessible, physical and colourful. but in terms of style . . . my creative energy is just constantly changing.‘
Human fit/es. Soul/Isl) ])(UI('(’ Thea/re. SI Brit/('3‘ Cert/re. Iidinburg/r. Thurs l5—Su/ /7 I’d); their on tour:
John Steinbeck may have named his novel Of Mice And Men after a line from a Burns poem, but for Kenny Ireland, directing a new production of Steinbeck’s own adaptation for the Iloyal Lyceum, the title’s origins are beside the point. ‘It should be called Of Mice And Women,’ he says, ‘because they’re the two things that get killed in it by men petting them.’ Set during the American Depression of the 19303, it tells the tragic story of two men with ambitions of owning their own farm, despite the odds which are clearly and painfully
Kenny Ireland: Godfather of Scottish
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happened,’ says Ireland.
stacked against them. ‘It’s about civilisation, and reminding people that we should be progressing towards a better one, even though that’s still not
In this way Of Mice And Men sits alongside the likes of the lyceum’s last production, The Steamie, in that its day-to-day humanity is much greater than it at first seems. ‘You can’t put forward a piece of theatre that’s talking about homelessness and poverty now without taking a strong political standpoint,’ Ireland argues, ‘but audiences are rejecting ideology at the moment, so rather than present a polemic, the best way of getting through to them is by giving them something they can empathise with.’
Part of the reasoning behind the production is what Ireland sees as Scottish actors’ natural feel for Americana. ‘There’s an affinity there that has something to do with being
brought up with all these movies which they’ve been acting out since they were kids.’ True enough: De Niro and Pacino are role models for
the current crop of thespians, while Ireland cites Brando and Steiger as his own early acting heroes. ‘I think every Scottish actor would like to be in a cowboy film,’ he expands. ‘In pieces like this you can see actors having a good time, which often produces great work.’
The question remains, though, why Steinbeck wanted to adapt it for the stage in the first place, minus the ‘goddams’ and ‘bastards’ from the book (now restored). Ireland’s answer harks back to Brando. ‘I think he was made an offer he couldn’t refuse.’ (Neil Cooper)
Of Mice And Men, Royal I. yceum Theatre, Edinburgh, Thurs 8 Feb-Sat 2 Mar.
58 The List 9-22 Feb I996