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G2: Killer moves: Infidelity, revenge, infanticide - the Greek tragedy Medea has it all. Or does it? The director Carrie Cracknell tells Lyndsey Winship why her new production had to have dance

July 15, 2014

Lyndsey Winship



When Carrie Cracknell set about creating a new version of Medea for the National Theatre, she faced two challenges as a director. The obvious one was how to deal with the psychology of an unsympathetic heroine who murders her own children. Less obvious was how to handle the otherwordly nature of the play.

"Medea has this very potent connection to the gods, the dark arts, and that's not something we have an instant connection to, in our more rational world," she says.

To deal with this latter question, Cracknell turned to a theatrical dark art, contemporary dance, calling in Australian choreographer Lucy Guerin to bring Medea's magic to life. "I've always been struck by the muscularity, physicality and depth of meaning in Lucy's work," says Cracknell. "So it felt exciting to get her to come over and work on this."

Guerin and Cracknell have been working together on and off for a few years, but this is the first result that has made it to the stage. Cracknell is a bright young directing talent, a former co-director at The Gate and fresh from New York success with A Doll's House. Melbourne-based Guerin has a background in pure dance, as well as working in theatre and opera. She was last seen in London with Untrained, a brilliant piece of dance theatre that put two professional and two completely untrained dancers together on stage, in a way that was both comic and profound.

Just as text is becoming an increasingly common element of dance, so too is dance sneaking its way into theatre. "There's a lot of interest in dance and movement," says Guerin. "I don't know what it is, but the body is in fashion at the moment." And yet, when it comes to working day to day, in some ways, she says, they're still very different worlds. The dancers want to keep working and keep their muscles warm, while the actors want to stop for tea breaks; the dancers turn up in sweat pants, the actors in high heels; the dancers throw themselves into movement without question, and the actors need to know their motivation.

"Actors need a lot of background on what they're expressing and why," says Guerin. "Carrie does these sessions called intentions, where everyone sits down and goes through the play line by line to figure out each character's place. In a dance process, I'm more just throwing things around and then trying to reel them back in."

Sometimes, they literally throw things around. There's a video online of Guerin and Cracknell developing ideas in a workshop based solely on the notion of throwing things. That unlikely beginning has now developed into a Shakespeare project the pair will co-direct next year, where they'll be looking at new ways to enmesh their disciplines.

For now, though, the focus is Medea. This production has a new text by Ben Power, based on Euripides, and an ethereal soundtrack, by electronic duo Goldfrapp. Helen McCrory plays the title role. Although she's backed by actors and dancers, says Guerin, "We don't want a translation of text through movement. That's clunky and cliched - hearing text and seeing someone try to mime it with movement." She rocks an imaginary baby.

Histrionics and being overly theatrical are out, too. Instead, she says, they'll do what dance is great at - suggesting complexities of character. "Dance is not as pointy, not as direct a medium as theatre. I think it can express the multiplicity of human beings really well."

Cracknell has long had an interest in bringing dance into her theatre productions, precisely because it's not so pointy. "Dance is interesting because it makes you very active as an audience member. You're being asked to make sense of it, to find meaning in it. It's not literal, it's not tied down to narrative."

This, however, is what some theatre audiences find problematic - searching for an elusive meaning. But Cracknell believes UK audiences are too hung up on text and narrative. "I do think we live in a culture of liking to know where we're being led," she says. "I would much rather be drawn into a work, and asked lots of difficult questions, than be taken on a well-worn story where I know what the outcome will be." She pauses then adds: "We still make enormous divisions between dance and theatre, and actually all acting is movement. All acting is breath."

Captions:

'The body is in fashion at the moment' . . . Lucy Guerin, far left, and Carrie Cracknell; below, Medea rehearsals


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Source: Guardian (UK)


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