There are many components of this work that all piece together beautifully. Can you tell us more about it?
CH | The Nature of Why began as a very strong instinct I had that I wanted to commission Will Gregory to write a long form piece for the Paraorchestra. He’d already done a couple of projects with us and I thought it would be great for him to write something really meaningful for our orchestra.
Bit by bit as the idea began to percolate it became clear that he wanted to frame it around some of the extraordinary footage of the Nobel Prize-winning American theoretical physicist Richard Feynman, who was persistently and consistently asking the question ‘why?’ about many aspects of our physical world.
At that point it seemed like it was developing quite a strong movement sense to it and we thought it could become a big dance piece. But of course, me being me, I’m not interested in a conventional dance scenario where you’ve got dancers on the stage and an orchestra either at the back or in a pit or hidden away. I wanted to see if we could find some way of breaking down the barriers between the musician and the dancer – this ties into the ongoing, passionate journey we have with the Paraorchestra and Friends of trying to break down the barrier between the artist and the audience. What we came up with was this wonderfully immersive piece, an environment where the audience is completely engulfed by the action that’s happening all around them – it’s like promenade theatre, yet it’s not theatre it’s dance (although it’s very theatrical) – and the line between musician and dancer is a completely blurred one. The musicians are on the move constantly as well, as are the audience. The audience are being engaged with and basically lured into the dance themselves. It’s a really, really beautiful and immersive and thoroughly new way to experience entertainment. There’s no fourth wall, no sitting in the stalls witnessing something happening in front of you. You are in it. You are it!
The audience is completely immersed in the performance by sharing the same space as the dancers and the orchestra – what did you want to achieve from this decision?
CH | I wanted to give the audience a sense that they were in a very large way generating the action; that they were at the centre of this story as it unfolds. I’m a bit tired of the old paradigm where you sit in a darkened auditorium and witness something in front of you. I’m always looking at ways to actually get the audience into the action, into the space where the story is unfolding rather than witnessing it from outside. The audience then make a commitment with the work and get more out of the experience.
How do you encourage people to engage with the performance?
CH | It’s kind of like a glorious, really positive intersection. Every member of the audience gets positively infected by the work, so even the shyest person or the ones who want to hang back out of the light very quickly find themselves being lured in, drawn into the centre of things.
But of course the centre of things isn’t in a fixed place – it’s consistently shifting around the whole space. So you might be in the background, in the shadows, one minute and the next minute you’re in the middle of the main action. So it’s a delicious and basically unavoidable immersion I’d say.
What would you say to those people who are apprehensive about this type of performance experience?
CH | Of course many people do feel apprehensive about such an idea. They do want to sit in a darkened womb-like auditorium watching something ever so distant. I would say, don’t worry, come and lurk in the shadows and I bet you you’ll find yourself being unable to resist joining in – there’s a kind of inexorable pull into experiencing this thing at close quarters. It’s a thing of wonder. Not just what you’re seeing but what you’re hearing – a visceral musical performance going on sometimes inches from your head. It’s brilliant.
What stigma do you feel that this performance addresses?
CH | For a start it’s proof positive that there’s nothing surprising about witnessing world-class performance when a number of the people in that performance have disability. That of course is a fundamental stigma that we are exploding. Because of course people do, in general, have a great deal of difficulty in putting the words ‘excellence’ and ‘disability’ in the same sentence. This piece (like all our work) absolutely and fundamentally proves that you can put those two words together.
Would you like to tell us anymore about the Paraorchestra and its ambitions?
CH | Part of our ongoing and overall mission is to create a new orchestra for the 21st century. This is an orchestra that is a healthy mix of disabled and non-disabled, a healthy mix of gender, a healthy mix of ethnicity, but also an orchestra that represents all of the amazing sonic spectrums that are now around us. There’s an infinite index of new possibility if you embrace some of the amazing musical instruments and sound sources that have emerged in the course of the last 100 years.
Images: Paul Blakemore