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In conversation: Anthony Missen of Company Chameleon

The Shadow is a new piece of theatre by Company Chameleon, told through dance and movement. Using Carl Jung’s model of ‘the psyche’, the production explores ‘the shadow’ – that dark, hidden part of ourselves.

Alexia Pieretti interviewed choreographer and director Anthony Missen, ahead of the show’s premiere.

Q: Tell us a bit about the show and what audiences can expect?

AM: The show is about those unconscious aspects of personalities. We all have three faces. We have a public face which is built on societal expectations. We have a face we show friends and family, and then we have a face we don’t show anyone, and this is believed to be who we truly are. Things we get conditioned with that push who we really are into the unconscious. We can’t act in some ways because of pushback. These are the inferior parts of ourselves, the primitive, the unadapted. It isn’t all dark, though. There are positive aspects, the childlike, noble. What I’m basically doing with this piece is bringing all these ideas to the front and playing with reality and fantasy.

Q: Where did the idea come from?

AM: I’ve kind of always been interested in questions around the human condition and how people work generally. I guess we’re conditioned. We have to live in society. Society has unspoken rules that negate all the other things going on for people. We’re all living dual lives. If the floodgates were opened for everyone, the result would probably be chaos and anarchy, and society wouldn’t function. Sometimes we make sly comments that aren’t in line with how we’d normally behave. It always finds its way out. Nobody’s pure and good. We all have both aspects. In trying to satisfy those other parts of ourselves. That’s why people watch horror films or play crazy computer games. I’m interested in people and what goes on in their minds. All that stuff that gets pushed to the back.

Q: What’s the rehearsal process like? How long has it been?

A: The process begins two years before we get into the studio. My research began two years ago, which was all kinds of reading about psychology and psychoanalysis. I’ve had to learn about all kinds of tools psychoanalysts use to get at stuff that would normally be buried, which is quite a vulnerable thing for people to do. There was a lot of learning I had to do before I could begin this process. The full process with the whole cast began five weeks ago. We did word association, metaprogramming, and we asked: ‘What is it to be primitive?’, ‘What does unadapted mean?’, ‘What does inferior mean?’ It’s a process that involves trust, courage, bravery. My big job then is how to get it to be readable for an audience. We had so much material but we had to ask how can we make this a coherent and understandable piece?

Q: What is the process of choreographing a dance, like for this show?

AM: Is it more of a collective effort or do you do it all beforehand? It’s a collective endeavour in that everyone contributes to the creative process. I’m sourcing from them and their experience.

Q: So, you’ve taught in many different countries. Have you picked up anything from the cultures in these countries that influenced your own technique or ideas?

AM: Oh yeah! Constantly. I’ve been from huge theatres in big capital cities to Bedouin communities in the desert in Israel to small towns in South Africa. All of these things inform my process. Some is about new practice. Things that are normal and acceptable and conventional here aren’t in other cultures. To burp after a meal here would be unacceptable, but in other countries, it’s a sign that you appreciated the meal. It also makes me ask what is the universal for everyone? Dance requires no words. It’s a form everyone can understand and recognise. It’s a universal language. Once you feel like you know everything, you’re in trouble. I’m always trying to gather and learn in all sorts of ways and keep my mind open. I feed all of that straight back into all the work I do.

Q: What made you realise you wanted to do choreography?

AM: I started dance at a local youth’s dance theatre as a young person, and it was kind of an aspiration there. I thought, one day, I’d like to tour the world and come home and create a company for Manchester because Manchester didn’t have that. I’ve seen over the years drain from the city because there’s so little work here. I wanted to create something the city could be proud of. It’s my city. I’m a proud Mancunian. I wanted to attract people internationally. We have dancers from all over the world that come and join us. It’s grown into something I never thought it could have. I’m really proud of what we’ve achieved and its continuance to grow and flourish

Q: What tips would you give to any aspiring choreographers?

AM: Follow your nose. Don’t be too concerned about what other people are doing. Find your voice, uniquely. What makes you unique, your voice. Always consider the audience. You can make the flashiest moves, but if it isn’t readable, if you haven’t considered the audience, it’s not going to connect with people.

Q: What do you think the main thing audiences will take away from the show is?

AM: I hope they will spend a moment reflecting on their own shadows. It’s a real and present thing for everybody.

The Shadow is playing at HOME, Manchester from 22nd-23rd November, and then continues its tour around the UK.

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Tags: choreography, collaboration, Company Chameleon, home, HOME Theatre, interview, movement, psychoanalysis

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