CHOREOGRAPHER/DANCER INTERVIEW: John Scott
John Scott in conversation with Nicola Murphy in October 2008 ahead of IMDT's show, 'It is better to ...' coming to Draíocht on 21 October 2008.
”... I love getting immersed in a piece with a group of inspiring people and getting so caught up we get totally lost, then finding a beautiful solution. Then the excitement of performing the work and engaging in it with the public.” John Scott, October 2008
It is better to…
Following acclaimed sell out performances in New York and Dublin Fringe Festival, Irish Modern Dance Theatre presents their most exciting and hilarious show 'It is better to...' by Berlin Dance innovator Thomas Lehmen for one performance only.
People have only one chance:
One chance of making things better,
better than the last time
Who they want to be
How they dance
Where they are
What they do with each other
Their overall life
Their religious life
Their emotional behaviour
Their sexual practice
How they start
How they pause
How they end
To make a better mix
A better difference
A better relation
A better order
A better communication
A better joke
Choreographic material created and performed by:
Marc Rees, John Scott, Patrick Michael Stewart and Cheryl Therrien.
Q: Can you tell us a little about yourself, your background, where you're from and where you live?
I was born in the north side of Dublin but grew up in Dun Laoghaire. I originally wanted to be a writer and went to UCD to study English and Classics but got swept into Dramsoc. I took my first dance classes there and started to create my own work. I moved into the city centre a long time ago - I love the energy of living in the middle of a city - the busy streets - the bustle.
Q: When you were small, what did you want to be when you grew up? Were there any clues in your childhood that you would follow an artistic path later?
I first wanted to be a fireman but then a performer or musician then a writer then an actor then a dancer - I didn't perform as a child, though my brother Michael used to make plays and puppet shows for me and our cousins - the performing and dance stuff started while I was at UCD then exploded and I started to study dance courses abroad and became apprenticed to Dublin City Ballet.
Q: Your brother Michael Scott is also heavily involved in the arts scene, with City Theatre Dublin. Are your parents artistic and did they guide you into the arts or influence you artistically?
Yes, Michael is a director and also composes music. My Mother was a singer and my Father Leslie was lighting designer at the Abbey Theatre. I saw everything at the Abbey. Even our family dog performed in the Abbey in 'The Shaughran' with Cyril Cusack - we were all rather wrapped up in the business. We also went to the opera sometimes. My Dad wrote poetry and made props for shows so the house was always full of theatrical things. I was aware of the long hours and the hard work. My parents encouraged me to find a real job but when they saw how determined I was, they gave me every encouragement.
Q: How long have you been a choreographer and why choose an arty profession over a more conventional career, like being an accountant, or working in an office for instance?
I made my first dance piece in 1985 - I established Irish Modern Dance Theatre in 1991. My need and compulsion to make dance work was so strong that no other career was an option. I used to distribute theatre posters to pay for my dance studies and had a very tough time financially but it was worth it. When Irish Modern Dance Theatre first toured to New York it felt like a dream come true.
Q: How did IMDT come about?
I created the company to present my own work and collaborate with other international choreographers. The dance scene was very conservative and small in Ireland at the time. I saw incredible dance being made in France, Germany, USA and felt that Ireland could also produce great dance. I wanted to give an Irish public a chance to see great dance work and give Irish dancers a chance to develop their creativity and for us all to take risks and experiment. Irish performing arts are dominated by theatre and narrative drama. I wanted to open it up to other things.
Q: Can you talk us through your creative process? Where do you start when you're creating a new piece?
I keep creative notebooks. I write down all the things I don't want to do and try to reduce the elements to what is essential. I dance alone a bit - I improvise, then start to bring others in - dancers - performers. A lot happens in the studio. It starts to form into a piece - the composition of the cast is important - who I work with can define the piece. I like people who are fearless but also sensitive and who leave space for things to happen. We have a lot of fun and play a lot in the studio. Play with conventions of dance and theatre and try to push things and also wait for the magic to happen.
Q: Can you remember the very first show you choreographed?
When in Dramsoc I made a fifteen minute 'thing' called 'Ruins' - then at Dublin City Ballet a piece called 'Semaphores', then for Irish Modern Dance Theatre the first piece was called 'Beneath the Storm' - a duet inspired by the first Gulf War. The first moment was a dancer with her back to the audience, walking backwards. I wanted to break the convention of a dancer facing the audience.
Q: Has your style changed over the years and what might have influenced this change if yes?
I think I'm still coming from the same place but there is definitely an evolution. The work looks wilder and rougher - we hide the artifice in a sort of clumsiness - there is a lot more humour now too. Also the cast is mixed with dancers of vastly different backgrounds. We don't use music and flashy costumes at the moment. We combine music with silence and text. I like interesting lived in performers. I like people with strong presence and people who need to perform the work and will take the risk of looking silly and I stress the humanity and inner dignity of the performers. Since 2003 I have been working with clients of SPIRASI - the Centre for Care for the Survivors of Torture. Now several clients perform regularly in all my work. We have a very multi cultural cast and there are many languages.
Q: Have you ever tried other art forms like photography, sculpting, making music, or writing for instance?
I have begun to take photographs which I like doing. I am also an opera singer and train with a teacher in London and New York and perform and sing. It compliments what I do in my choreography as I feel dance is a kind of music of the body.
Q: What other choreographers or people have influenced or inspired you, and in what ways?
My influences are Joan Denise Moriarty - the founder of Irish National Ballet, for all her long battles to establish dance in Ireland. The first dance that really inspired me was Kurt Joos's GREEN TABLE - a famous ballet from the 1930's. Current choreographers include Meredith Monk - a composer, singer, choreographer, film maker from New York and William Forsythe - an American based in Frankfurt who recently performed in Dublin Dance Festival. I also adore Raimund Hoghe and Pina Bausch, two German choreographers, but above all one of my big idols is Merce Cuningham - the greatest living choreographer based in New York. The Living Theatre of Julian Beck and Judith Malina were a big inspiration since I met them when I was 18. Their work and their vision blew me away.
Q: Is there anyone famous you would love to meet or work with?
I've been lucky to have worked with one of my idols - Meredith Monk - I performed in her piece QUARRY in the USA in 2003. I also know William Forsythe and Raimun Hoghe and Merce Cunningham. I would love to work with Robert Wilson, the American director and Peter Sellars and Alain Platel the Belgian choreographer. I would love to work with Liam O'Maonlai on a project sometime too.
Q: What is the thing you most enjoy about your work?
I love getting immersed in a piece with a group of inspiring people and getting so caught up we get totally lost, then finding a beautiful solution. Then the excitement of performing the work and engaging in it with the public. Also the travel. I recently worked with a group of dancers in Palestine - It was totally inspiring to make something beautiful together and to share with great people despite the tragedy and hardship under which they are living. They really need art like oxygen.
Q: How do you keep motivated if you're having a bad day?
I keep going and try to find a positive way out. Usually a bad day is followed by a good day - We need the bad days to get to rock bottom before we can soar upwards.
Q: How have you handled the business side of being a choreographer, promoting yourself and getting exposure, selling your shows to venues etc?
It was always essential to fight for visibility and for funding. I have always had to fight and justify myself. I am so wound up about what we're doing that my enthusiasm and energy and persistence carries over to other people.
Q: Could you tell us a little more about your forthcoming show at Draiocht, 'It is better to ...'? And how come you've chosen to dance in this show?
'It is Better to...' is made by an incredible dance visionary from Berlin - Thomas Lehmen. I saw his work in Germany in 2000 and it blew me away. I made contact with him and he came and held workshops here. He really wanted me in the performance. I had to swap being the boss to being one of the dancers. He was a hard task master. It was very difficult for all the dancers but the piece is really terrific and is worth the effort. We are four performers and we each have suggestions or proposals about what is better to do - we say this and we all demonstrate. It is very very funny and very smart. Also very physical. We have a lot of dance - also based on our texts but very athletic and beautiful and graceful and even romantic.
Q: Did you have to do any special fitness training in preparation for the show?
Thomas is a football fanatic. Part of the training involved playing football every day - also partly to keep warm as the studio where we were rehearsing was so cold. We all do our own warm up - I do a mixture of ballet exercises and some of the warm up taught by US choreographer Sara Rudner with a lot of stretching - and a bit of Pilates.
Q: So what's coming up for IMDT in the coming months?
On 31 October we perform in Liverpool as part of Capital Nights - then we start on a new work collaborating with filmmaker Charles Atlas. We will tour to Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine and Israel in the Spring then perform in Dublin Dance Festival.
Q: Do you have any advice you could give to a Choreographer just starting out or someone really passionate about dance in Ireland?
Take lots of classes - work work work. Don't give up on the difficult days - Don't compromise - Don't be discouraged - Don't look for easy solutions - Don't try to please people - Keep your eyes open and let everything in.
Q: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I hope to be doing more and bigger better pieces and still doing what we are doing now too - maybe with more support.
Q: What are your interests and hobbies outside of dance and choreography?
I like to cook and go to the cinema when there’s time.
To contact John Scott or Irish Modern Dance Theatre, please log on to
For media information please contact:
Nicola Murphy, Marketing Press & PR Manager, Draíocht
What the press have said about IT IS BETTER TO ...
* * * * * “It is better to believe red stars rather than black words. It is better not to have preconceptions about dance...It is better to see the performance for yourself” The Irish Times
“Mr. Lehmen's marvelous quartet was marvelously performed on Thursday night by Marc Rees, Patrick Michael Stewart, Cheryl Therrien and the company's artistic director, John Scott. The dancers offered a multitude of views (jotted down on their arms, lest they forget), that included, among other thoughts, that ''it is better to live in Chelsea and have a small dog,'' or ''hold an awkward position for as long as possible,'' or ''kiss somebody for the very last time.'' Some opinions functioned as statements and others as orders, with all four studiously enacting tasks, both mundane and absurd, until the next better thing was proposed. Simply watching the four of them move to the center and imitate a dead thing was worth the price of admission. But the most exciting moments came in the fleeting, possibility-laden spaces between spoken ideals and physical replications, when a lively creative energy engulfed performers and audience members alike: ''What will they do? What would I do?''
NEW YORK TIMES
“A radical and funny work by Berlin based Thomas Lehman, one of Europe’s leading young choreographers ... Guaranteed to be exciting, funny and stimulating.”
The Event Guide
“Thomas Lehmen seems to have the alchemist’s touch when it comes to making performers and audience coalesce.”
“What is left to perform ... when every movement has been done before?” “Lehman toys with the debris of the avant garde ... probes into the very notion of the dancing body”
About the choreographer:
Thomas Lehmen, born in Germany, trained in the School for New Dance Development, Amsterdam, lives and works in Berlin. Baustelle-Einfahrt Freihalte, Distanzlos, Mono Subjects, Clever, Schreibstück, Stationen, Lehmen Lernt andHeromatik are among his recent productions. www.thomaslehmen.de
John Scott and Irish Modern Dance Theatre
John Scott , Artistic Director
Born in Dublin and graduate of UCD, Scott trained at the Irish National College of Dance and Dublin City Ballet where he worked with Anna Sokolow. He performed with Meredith Monk in Quarry, Spoleto Festival, USA and for Pablo Vela and Theatre Labatorium, New York, and studied with Susan Buirge, Anne Crosset, Andy De Groat and Janet Panetta. He has choreographed for theatre, film and commercials. A pioneer of new expression, Scott founded the Irish Modern Dance Theatre in 1991 and they have since performed throughout Ireland and the USA, Germany, UK, France, Bulgaria, Sweden, Estonia and Turkey. In 2000, his work Intimate Gold was a finalist for the Prix de Bagnolet in the Rencontres Internationales de Seine Saint Denis, the most prestigious choreographic competition in the world. Sometimes seen as a battle against the conservatism in Irish theatre and dance, Scott’s choreographic work is playful, quirky and idiosyncratic, playing with different performance situations, from theatres to museums to a restaurant. Using performers of all different styles, ages and backgrounds, his most recent project has been with refugees from the Centre for Care for the Survivors of Torture in Dublin. Scott is also a board member of International Dance Festival of Ireland, Association of Professional Dancers in Ireland and the National Youth Theatre for the Deaf.
Irish Modern Dance Theatre
Irish Modern Dance Theatre was founded in 1991 by internationally trained choreographer John Scott, and is now regarded as one of the most original and innovative dance companies working in Ireland. It was established to create new, provocative and interdisciplinary works that reach new frontiers, exposing and challenging audiences and dancers to new forms of dance, crossing disciplines and boundaries. Playing with every theatrical and dance convention, IMDT has developed an audience with a curiosity for modern dance in a country known more for its literary traditions and text based drama. One of the hallmarks of their work over the years has been John Scott’s imaginative collaboration with other artists, such as playwright and visionary Tom Mac Intyre, artist and internationally acclaimed photographer Chris Nash, choreographer Seán Curran and writer Liam O’Muirthile. Voted ‘best dance’ at sell-out engagements in the Dublin Theatre Festival 1996, 1994 and 1993, IMDT have performed in over thirty seven venues throughout Ireland including the National Theatre (Peacock Stage), Tivoli Theatre, Cork Opera House, RHA Gallagher Gallery and in festivals in the USA, France, the United Kingdom, Wales, Sweden, Bulgaria, Estonia and Turkey. In promoting dialogue with international choreographers, Artistic Director John Scott’s work is performed abroad more than that of any other Irish Dance Company.