There is one thing you can’t help but notice about Kenneth Tindall when you first meet him. He has a great big, beaming smile on his face all the time. And Kenny is a young man who has everything to smile about.
Touted as “one to watch”, Kenny’s work is receiving critical acclaim and his reputation is quickly building as a creative powerhouse. He is one of the Principal Dancers for Northern Ballet, an international performer who has graced the stage at the International Ballet Festival of Miami and the International Beijing Dance Festival amongst others. His first piece of choreography won an international award, he has just premiered his second piece of work at the Royal Opera House Linbury Studio Theatre and his third piece, The Architect is in its final stages of rehearsal and development, in readiness for its world premiere in June 2014.
Despite his success, Kenny remains remarkably genuine and down to earth. He invited THEGAYUK to Northern Ballet to talk exclusively about his new piece, The Architect.
Your new piece of work, The Architect, is premiering at The Stanley and Audrey Burton Theatre in Leeds on the 18th June. The concept photographs of the piece look stunning – how did the piece come about?
The Architect has been the longest process of research and development I have done on a performance piece. I have a collection of concepts, themes and creative ideas which are all sitting waiting in the wings – then something can suddenly set you off into fully realising one of those ideas and the inspiration for that can come out of nowhere. The Architect didn’t exist at all, until one day I picked up a children’s illustrated bible and flicked through the pages, stopping on the tale of Adam and Eve. This, coupled with hearing the song Wicked Game by Chris Isaac, seemed to come together and I became really interested in the notion of Adam falling from grace, the concept of being wicked or subjected to wicked behaviour, him realising the truth of his own infallibilities and about learning the truth of where you are from. I researched a number of religions and their individual versions of the creation of man, looking at both the similarities and the differences. The concept of learning the truth was one which has stuck with me since watching The Matrix and that led me onto considering the interplay between religion, science, technology and nature. But the most intriguing thing for me was a line from the Bible, which stated: “From dust, you came and to dust you shall return”. Life is an infinite loop and The Architect is about finding that out and exactly where you enter and exit that cycle.
Is the concept of sin one which is easily defined?
The piece allows you to consider the nature of sin and whether we are all born to sin and whether it is, in fact, acceptable to sin? For example, the piece can be interpreted as sexually charged. You can’t have a piece with two characters, regardless of their sex or sexuality, without there being some form of sexual tension.
Does the physicality of dance enhance that sexual tension in any event?
Yes, of course – dance is very intrusive in terms of performing. You have a physical closeness with those you dance alongside regardless of your sex or sexuality or their sex or sexuality. The five men that I am working with on this piece are all very sensual and they are all very comfortable with working with each other. You can’t have any awkwardness when you are working in such close physical proximity with others, especially when there is so much contact between your bare skin and their bare skin. All of the dancers in this piece are built like athletes – they are strong, toned and defined. The sculptures that they make with their bodies and with each other’s bodies and the way in which they physically interact are fascinating. But it is for the audience to determine for themselves what they take from this piece. The piece goes much deeper than eroticism, but that is a performance aspect available to the audience if that is what they seek or choose to take from it.
So is The Architect a religious piece?
No, not at all. The Architect is an abstract piece, not a narrative one. In the very early stages, I did away with the idea of a figure in the piece, either a representation of God or a God-like character. I wanted the piece to be based more on a foundation of an individual’s reactions to specific points and feelings. I also didn’t want there to be just one Adam. There is such diversity in Man, despite it being said that Man is made in the image of God. The mix of religion, science and nature seemed to encompass different aspects of a person’s inner conflicts –their faith and belief versus scientific fact versus their biological makeup and limitations. I wanted to find a creative way to have Adam born on stage, which I have been able to do, and this leads to allowing the self-realisation of someone who is born with an adults consciousness to be explored as they both rise and fall from grace.
So how is this represented visually within the piece?
All of the research has gone into the show on some level. When looking into the different concepts of Adam and Eve, I took inspiration not only from differing religions but from other sources. For example, Kundalini Yoga is based on the concept of a life force, coiled up like a serpent in the base of the spine which is reflected in the costumes, with a DNA strand design reaching up to the back of the performers – it’s the interplay between science and belief, between modern and ancient. But it is not just the costumes which represent the concepts visually.
My first piece, Project#1, was a steep learning curve and one which I am immensely proud of. The piece was really stripped back, focusing solely on dance and movement, which allowed me to hone my craft in relation to the choreography itself. It allowed me to explore aspects of myself as a choreographer and to allow me to challenge myself in ways which have provided me with a set of skills, different to those of a performer, which I have carried through to my subsequent projects; The Architect included. My second piece, Luminous Juncture added the aspect of lighting, and I was fortunate to work with an incredible lighting designer, Alistair West, who showed me how to really use the interplay between light and shadow and helped me to understand the impact of light from the perspective of a choreographer and director. It allowed me to develop techniques of misdirection, which permitted the dancers to be able to move the piece forward without them ever having to leave the stage. Having built my confidence in terms of concentrating solely on the choreography on Project#1, it enabled me to free up some of the creative time away from the dance aspect of the second piece and to learn about and explore how to really enhance a piece of theatre using lighting. It is almost like learning in stages and I am fortunate that Northern Ballet is so supportive of me as not only a dancer but also as a choreographer. You don’t learn by repeating what you have previously done, so you have to add something else in, which ensures that in every piece you work on, you learn something new.
So in terms of pushing yourself as a choreographer, how are you doing that within the setting of The Architect?
The set… I have never worked in this role with a set before and it is a huge step. I am working with Christopher Giles who is designing the set. He is also developing his craft, which is great, as, like me, he is interested in really pushing himself and rising to whatever challenge is put before him. I’ll approach him and say “can we do this” and he’ll say “not really, but leave it with me…” The set does make a really big difference. Not only does it impact on how the piece looks visually, it adds a number of different aspects that you really have to consider as the choreographer and director. Choreography is much more than simply putting the sequence of movements and steps together. When you are trying to create a visual piece, you have to look at how the piece is presented overall, how the costumes look in the bright light and in the shadows, how the shape of the body of the dancers is displayed and the visual impact of that. In The Architect, there is the added challenge for me of the set becoming part of the piece. It is about using the set so that in itself, it is entrenched as part of the piece as a whole, almost akin to another character, but balancing that with it never being intrusive. Working with the set and allowing the dancers to interact with and utilise it has been an enjoyable challenge for me.
How has the piece evolved throughout its life?
It really has been an organic process overall. I would say that I have had four or five ballets out of this piece already, but the creativity finds its own level.
So presumably having the experience of being both a performer and a choreographer helps you in all aspects of your work, in essence, having the ability to see it from both sides?
Absolutely. As a performer, having that creative input is important as you are able to use your own personal strengths to enhance the piece. Equally, as a choreographer who has conceived and nurtured a piece, you have to be flexible and not too protective about your work. A dancer’s most effective communication is through movement as opposed to verbalisation. When you choreograph a piece, you create the movements, you choreograph to your strengths, but you are not here to simply extrapolate that onto the dancers you are working with. You have to allow them to bring their strengths too. That, in essence, is what makes it work – it is you bringing the idea forward and allowing those working with you to be able to give their optimum performance. There can be a day when you just discover a gem just by having that flexibility – a little movement, a step or a routine – something that no amount of research, planning or preparation could have produced. That is one of the pleasures in doing an abstract piece such as this – you can veer off to an extent.
Your debut project as a choreographer, Project#1, won the Production Prize at the 26th International Choreographic Competition in Hanover in 2012. You must have been incredibly pleased to receive such a prestigious award for your first piece of work?
It was an absolute thrill and that is part of the reason, amongst many others, why I am so proud of Project#1. But you have to keep grounded and that grounding comes from family and friends. Any piece is open to criticism and to be honest, I, like most performers, do appreciate criticism as it helps you to develop as an artist, whatever role you take in a production. Provided it is not personal, then criticism is not a negative thing. You just have to remember not to let it get to you. You are putting yourself out there emotionally and creating what you think is the best performance or piece that you can create. Of course, it hurts when your hard work is criticised, but you have to remember that art is subjective. I take the view that you have to admire anyone who is putting themselves out there, who is experimenting and expressing themselves creatively – whether that is through music, dance, acting, art, writing or in any other way. The worst criticism I could receive is that I was not expressing myself creatively. You have to be strong to be in an environment where, from a very young age, you are constantly told what you are doing wrong. That is in an attempt to enhance you as a dancer, but the constant highlighting of your mistakes when you are in a world of insecurities about how you look, perform and develop – Well, it can be difficult.
Do you think that the traditional view of ballet, being all tights and tutus, is slowly disappearing?
This is a really exciting time to be involved in UK dance. The reality is that there are a core set of steps and skills. Strip everything back and you have those core skills. That is why dancers train so hard – to ensure that these classical and traditional steps are perfected. There will always be those classical steps and therefore; traditional ballet in that sense will never die out. But companies like Northern Ballet and Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures are really opening up the realms of storytelling and spectacle. The added contemporary twists on pieces based on classical techniques are helping ballet as an art form to progress. There will always be a place for what some people view as traditional ballet, but in reality, ballet is still there, but it is just dressed differently. Theatre is moving alongside advances in technology which only enhances what you are doing and helps to tell the story that you are telling. There is a real influx of exciting new choreographers and all major dance companies, even the more traditional ones, are pushing dance forward, taking influences from contemporary pop culture. I am really optimistic for the future of UK-based dance. There is a constant reinvigorating of this type of theatre which is really exciting to be involved in.
And what is next for Kenny Tindall?
I still love working with Northern Ballet and don’t see that changing for the foreseeable future, but I am enjoying developing my skills in other areas. I have just choreographed a music video for an upcoming artist and I have so many concepts for pieces which I would like to explore and develop. The film industry is a real appeal to me, as is the West End, but once The Architect has had its premiere, I will settle for a bottle of wine and a good film.
The Architect will receive its world premiere as part of Northern Ballet’s mixed programme from 18th – 21st June 2014 at the Stanley and Audrey Burton Theatre. For information and tickets visit northernballet.com/?q=mixed-programme-2014. You can read more about Kenny’s work at www.kennethtindall.co.uk
You can also follow him on social media; either on twitter at @Tindallkenny or Facebook atwww.facebook.com/KennethTindallChoreographer
In between visits to the theatre, watching films, photography, walking, scuba diving and singing (badly); Paul writes for TheGayUK.