Ask A Dancer… with Richard Alston Dance Company

Last Tuesday saw the return of Richard Alston Dance Company to The Lowry, celebrating their twentieth year with a knock out performance of Rejoice in the Lamb. Two hours before the company took to the stage to vibrantly perform alongside the music of Benjamin Britten, Youth Dance Ambassador Jade Aitchison had the opportunity to meet two of the dancers from the company, James Muller and Simon Donnellon.

From Left to Right: Simon Donnellon, Jade Aitchison and James Muller.

From Left to Right: Simon Donnellon, Jade Aitchison and James Muller.

A brief introduction to the dancers:

James Muller, 2013 (Hugo Glendinning)

James Muller, 2013 (Hugo Glendinning)

James Muller: Performed with Richard Alston Dance Company since 2013. Previously worked with Northern Ballet, Peter Schaufuss Ballet in Denmark, Ballet Ireland and Theater Ulm in Germany. Studied at the Royal Ballet School and Central School of Ballet.

Simon Donnellon (Hugo Glendinning)

Simon Donnellon (Hugo Glendinning)

Simon Donnellon: Joined Richard Alston Dance Company as an apprentice dancer in 2014. Previously worked with Mark Baldwin, Alexander Whitley and collaborated with Rosemary Millbank for Design for Dance 2014. Studied at Bird College and Rambert School.

Ask A Dancer: James Muller & Simon Donnellon

What’s your first memory of dancing?

JM – I guess my first memories were from my local dance school. Probably when I went to see an end of term showing. My sister danced before me. Seeing them and wondering if that was also something I could do.

JM – I was a big fan of Michael Jackson when I was younger, so I was kind of inspired to dance in some way. I was about 8 years old yes seven or eight.

What dancers inspire you?

SD – Dancers!? There’s quite a few. I think for me… I don’t know their names… If I personally go and see a dance company perform and it would just maybe be one movement that someone does or the way in which it is different from someone else. I would be like ‘oh wow their amazing!’ I remember, I went to see Cedar Lake and more so than the choreography, it was just the dancers that impressed me themselves. In contemporary there’s just so many dancers around. There’s a guy that I really really like I can’t remember his name he was just the lead in Punch Drunk.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve come across in your career so far?

JM – A challenge for me? Would that be choreographic or anything? Probably for me it would have been when I was in school and I was 18 and I had a prolapsed disk. I had an injury and that was from a young age it was quite hard to deal with at that age knowing you hadn’t even started on your professional career yet having to go through a rehab so much pressure.

JA – I presume that would give you more strive?

JM – Yes I think every time you get an injury of some sort or a setback it gives you the opportunity to assess how you dance and sort of analyse things more and hopefully you’ll come back stronger… you know each time so yeh.

SD – Yes no definitely, I think that’s one thing I never really realise because I didn’t really get injured at all until my final year of vocational training so I sailed through being like I’m injury free. And then everybody will get injured at some point and it’s just learning how to deal with it and not let it drag you down, you have just got to use it as James said as a positive thing. How you can build to be better from it.

Illuminations 7 Dancers Liam Riddick, Nancy Nerantzi, Oihana Vesga Bujan, Nicholas Bodych, Marianna Krempeniou and Jennifer Hayes. Image by Nikolay Krusser

What is your pre-performance ritual?

SD – I feel… I do a very similar warm up every time but then I always have my  iPod but it depends so… normally I would just play sort of whatever music I’ve got on it at the minute. But sometimes… I think it was the second show at Sadler’s Wells, we had all these rehearsals leading up to it, I was really tired. So I put some really cheesy chart music on. Which I don’t even really particularly like because that’s going so you’re like ok that’s getting you going, music really yeh…

That leads nicely in to the next question… do you have a go to song for dance inspiration?

JM – Like a go to, a piece of music that gets you inspired? I used to quite like, I used to listen to a lot of Radiohead when I was younger some of their a bit more you know experimental stuff. Sometimes it used to inspire me to create work, choreography I did a piece actually to a Tommy Alt track A few years ago but yes not necessarily classic music for me it’s more…

SD – Yeh, just more for getting myself in the zone. I tend to listen more to bands rather than something like

JM – You’re in to music

SD – Yeh but calming not too… obviously you want to get pumped up but nothing too outrageous because to be honest when you listen to things that are really, I don’t know, are angry or something like that, it rubs off on you a bit so… it’s nice just to chill out  I tend to lie on the floor before I start and listen to something so yeh…

Rejoice in the Lamb 13 Marianna Krempeniou, Liam Riddick, Oihana Vesga Bujan, Nancy Nerantzi and Elly Braund. Image by Chris Nash

What’s your favourite non dance activity?

JM – Me it’s probably I read a lot and I used to do quite a lot of photography, not so much now, yeh that’s probably my…

SD – For me I just go to a lot of gigs I‘d see a lot of live music because for me I think they go hand in hand… especially Richard he uses so much live music and so I’m just really, really in to it…

If you hadn’t chosen this career, what career do you think you’d be in?

SD – I know, I would I wanted to do A&R for a music record label so that’s like scouting new talent stuff like that. When I sort of moved away to do my 3 year dance training, I also applied to do English at university I feel like I already, definitely had in mind something else I wanted to do If I didn’t get in to the dance school I wanted to go to.

JM – I think my dream job would probably be to own my own book store, possibly a second hand book shop or something like that…

If you could have any words of wisdom for the younger generation (younger dancers) what would they be?

JM – I think probably… you get told a lot of things when you’re in training, when you’re a student and some teachers will be telling you different things to others and some of them contradict each other but I think, I think the most important thing is to take from each person what you think works for you and not necessarily take everything that’s said. I think there’s something to be acquired or learnt from pretty much all teachers, they have something to offer. I think it’s about tailoring it to your specific education, every dancer’s different; has a different body; has a different… probably has a different technique really to suit them. So I think it’s about tailoring it for yourself. Just to keep the enthusiasm. To keep the enthusiasm I suppose, in some way to find that enthusiasm when you sometimes if you lose it a little bit to find something that inspires you to keep going.

SD – I think as well… I got asked this question recently as well, a similar question and I remember when I was in my training someone came in I think It might have been from Sydney Dance Company or a professional company and one of the things they said was it’s just steps… and obviously dance is way more than steps it is!… but when your sort of… it’s really easy to get het up and caught up in doing something wrong or not to be exactly right. But sometimes you’ve got to step back and be like right it is just steps, you can do it, it’s not… you know what I mean!  It’s your body moving and like what James said it’s finding a way of you doing that for yourself. You don’t have to conform to everything to make sure… it’s the same…

JM – I think … yeh another thing that I’d probably say… more important than anything is enjoy… when you actually get in to your career because it is quiet short, and I spent quite a lot of years, my earlier years as a dancer worrying too much and criticising myself too much with performances. I think it’s better to try and enjoy it. No performance is going to be perfection. Dancers strive for perfection but they’re never actually going to get to that point where everything is, so I think it’s just about enjoying the moment and not worrying too much.

SD – Yeh definitely I agree. It’s a fun profession otherwise people wouldn’t do it! So yeh…

JM – Don’t take it too seriously…

Rejoice in the Lamb 12 Ihsaan de Banya, Marianna Krempeniou, Nathan Goodman, Jennifer Hayes, James Muller, Oihana Vesga Bujan. Image by Chris Nash

What’s been your favourite part of this journey, for Rejoice in the Lamb?

SD – For me I only joined the company as an apprentice in August and Rejoice in the Lamb was one of the first pieces I learnt and for me it’s very, it’s very classic Alston, so it takes me back to when before I joined, before I even auditioned it was what you almost expect to see when you see some of Richards work, so for me it was really nice to jump in to that and feel like you’re doing something… because Richards kind of… I can’t think of the word… He’s been around for a long time, he’s really well respected and he’s in the dance world, so to do something that is signature him. It feels like you’re doing something…

JM – Yeh it’s a signature piece so  I think it’s something he’s very inspired by this piece, it’s an odd piece kind of a quirky piece, it’s not a long piece of music but I think it’s a piece he’s always wanted to do so it tells a little bit of a story. For me it probably was… we’ve had a couple of opportunities to perform it to live music and that was very special. Adds another layer

SD – It really brings something else…

JM – Yeh it’s a nice piece

Simon Donnellon & James Muller

Simon Donnellon & James Muller

Describe Dance in 3 Words… Any 3 words…

JM – Joy – Through – Movement

SD – Challenging – Extrovert – Calming


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