BWW Interview: Movement Director Shelley Maxwell Talks EQUUS
Shelley Maxwell doesn't stop. Born in Jamaica, trained in Cuba, practised in New York, and based in London, she has turned heads as a choreographer and performer, in contemporary dance and musical theatre.
Now, Shelley has taken on Equus with English Touring Theatre and Theatre Royal Stratford East as its movement director. I talked to her about the brilliance of Equus, what a movement director does, and what's good in London.
Why is everyone so excited about Equus?
It's because it's such a bloody brilliant play. Equus, the play itself, is such a well-written piece of theatre that, when you translate it onto the stage, it just has a life of its own. It breathes such a huge life that you can't help but get pulled into the story.
You're the show's movement director - tell us a bit about that
When I work with actors, I try not to "Five, six, seven, eight" them. I try to understand the essence of the scene, or the play, and I try to have a good conversation between the actors and myself to develop a creative exploration and culminate in a creative, physical language.
How does the audience see the creative language?
With regards to Equus, the elephant in the room is the horses. My approach is to deviate from what's been done before, but not run away from it. I'm looking beyond what's literal and straightforward, trying to figure out the essence of what is a horse at the emotional level, and translate in a way that will help the audience sit with the story of the horses.
Equus itself surrounds this tragic event, and for me it's about the impact of this event on the community. How do we move on? I think it is so relevant to now, that idea of recovery, of rebuilding.
What's something the audience should look out for - an artistic decision that you're really proud of?
The creative team are working very tightly together, and I think at the end it will be about the marriage of the set design by Georgia Lowe, the lighting by Jessica Hung Han Yun, and the score by Giles Thomas. They're very much in the room for this process, and we're really working on keeping it together tightly, as a unit, as a vision, guided by Ned Bennett, the director.
For me, it's the soundscape, the sonic. As the movement director, I'm thinking of how we can create a bigger atmosphere using Giles's soundscape. When everything is married, you're just taking in this singular experience. Everything becomes kind of one entity, like a heart, just pumping.
So, movement directing - do we use that as a verb? Like, to movement direct?
Yeah, I think that's an apt way to say it. To movement direct.
What does a movement director do?
Movement directors are used across a wide range: theatre, film, television, within the dance world etc. In theatre, it can be as simple as a gestural language, a suggestion to an actor about how to enter a room, how to stand, the temperature. Even what I call 'micromovements'.
Or you can take it to the other extreme, where you delve into the world of the choreographic. You create movement sequences, which can involve lifts or dance steps, and become bigger and larger than life. It's kind of like a rainbow, and anything in it you can be called on to do.
But I like to communicate with the actors, build a trusting relationship, watching them and the way that they move, and creating something that feels lived-in for them.
As a movement director, is there a show in London that really impressed you? Where the movement is just brilliant?
One show that was absolutely impacting on me is a physical theatre piece by a choreographer called Crystal Pite, and it's called Betroffenheit [at Sadler's Wells]. That show kind of rocked my world, because I sat in the seat and questioned myself.
It made me pull away, appreciate it as art, but also ask "How can I rise to the level of what she's doing on stage?". It was storytelling to heights that I hadn't witnessed before on stage in London.
I watched recently The Inheritance: Part 1 [at the Noel Coward Theatre], and I thought it was brilliant because of the simplicity of it. It was really clear with regards to telling the story, but utilising movement in a way that was really fluid, and it was wonderful to watch.