Friday, 3 May 2013

Theatre: Challenging play that combines dance and theatre

Dogs Land, the latest work by playwright Joanne Hartley has just seen its debut performance at the Square Chapel Centre For The Arts, Halifax.

Made in collaboration with Mad Dogs Dance Theatre, Dogs Land brings together the worlds of contemporary dance and experimental theatre.

“Dogs Land is about relationships and the mistakes we make in love,” explains Hartley. “There’s some spectacular choreography. It’s raw, it’s emotional, it’s beautiful. Dogs Land isn’t a piece of work that’s designed to be read – it’s a piece that is designed to be felt.”

Having been an experimental playwright for more than a decade, the 36-year-old had never worked in dance before embarking on this latest project. Daunting, perhaps, but according to Hartley also incredibly rewarding.

“It’s been an organic process that has taken us in all manner of directions that I couldn’t have foreseen,” she says. “The choreographer and I have come at this project speaking a completely different language with completely different priorities.

“He’s got a completely different process to me, he’s highly attuned to movement and visuals, and a lot of what he does is by gut feeling and instinct. Whereas I come from a place with rules – story rules, narrative structures – they’re ancient and intuitive.

“We’ve had moments in our process where we’ve struggled. There have been times when the actor’s process, the writer’s process and the choreographer’s process have been at odds.

“It’s taken quite a long time to take three separate ways of working and make them into one. But the bits that get lost in translation are actually the bits that are the most interesting creatively because it has forced us all out of our comfort zones.”

Working alongside Mad Dogs Theatre has also forced Hartley to reasses her future plans.

“I’m interested in moving from an intellectual, wordy theatre into something more visceral – something that is experienced, something that is felt. When it’s designed to be experienced and not understood, it becomes more enjoyable for an audience.”

Producing experimental theatre has its challenges for a playwright, especially when it comes to getting work shown in mainstream theatres.

“I don’t think that the mainstream would embrace the kind of work that I make – that makes things tricky for me,” she says. “Perhaps it’s the way that’s sold, the way that it’s packaged, the way that it’s delivered.”

Joanne’s relationship with the mainstream theatre is an ambivalent one. Although she enjoys and respects a lot of the work which comes out of some of the big theatres, she feels that mainstream productions could benefit from exploring and embracing new possibilities.

“I’m frustrated by theatre that doesn't push further than it could,” she says. “Saying that, I’ve seen some really stunning mainstream theatre at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, particularly the Tennessee Williams play Cat on a Hot Tin Roof that was on last season – I thought that was absolutely astounding. But then I see a lot of theatre that just looks like more of the same. I think there are new things can be said in new ways.”

Dogs Land, Barnsley Civic May 4. 01226 327000,; Stage@Leeds, May 14, 0113 343 8730.

This article was featured in the Yorkshire Post, May 3, 2013.

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