Backstage with choreographer Christopher Marney


Chris came to dance in his early teens, and eventually trained at Central School of Ballet, London, under the direction of Christopher Gable. After graduating he joined Matthew Bourne’s company and was soon dancing main roles in Swan Lake and The Car Man before joining BalletBoyz as a founding member. He then moved to Europe where he was a dancer with Gothenburg Ballet and Ballet Biarritz, dancing in productions of The Nutcracker, Romeo and Juliet, L’Apres Midi d’un Faun. Chris then returned to London, working freelance as a dancer and choreographer with commissions for Ballet Black, Images of Dance and our very own Ballet Central. During this he has also continued to perform regularly creating the title role in Will Tuckett’s dance-play, The Thief of Baghdad and guesting for Bern Ballet in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, under the direction of Cathy Marston. He has also remained a part of Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures as a principal and rehearsal director.

1. When did you start to dance?
I didn’t start ballet until I was 14 but from the age of 11 I was doing jazz and drama. I wanted to go down the musical theatre route but I decided I wanted to hone my training and have a good basis from which to build my dancing career. Therefore I applied for Central School of Ballet!

2. So you, yourself, were part of Ballet Central. What is your abiding memory of the experience? I was in Ballet Central the year that the co-founder of the school Christopher Gable sadly passed away. There was therefore a special poignancy to the whole experience of Ballet Central, particularly the piece we opened with Celebration, the last piece he choreographed. He was such an inspiration to me – a performer in every sense of the word in dance, acting and choreographing. His artistic aims focused on creating a well-rounded dancer and performer, not just concentrating on technique but developing the artistic side as well. His ethos has and continues to inform my career as a dancer and choreographer.

3. What are your career highlights? My first highlight was joining New Adventures with Matthew Bourne, straight after being at Central and then being asked to learn the Prince from Swan Lake after only a few weeks – the experience I gained with Ballet Central helped to cope with the demands needed for the role. Then, going to Europe particularly at Gothenburg Ballet and learning pieces by Jiri Kylian and William Forsythe helped to build my technique making me a better and more mature dancer.

4. When did you start choreographing? At Gothenberg Ballet, there were opportunities to choreograph for some dance workshops. With such a fantastic resource of keen dancers and a great theatre, I could play around with lots of ideas. Returning to the UK, I had several commissions from a variety of companies so I was able to develop my style even more.

5. How would you describe your style? My style is narrative, definitely. I love creating a piece around a strong plot, particularly with a contemporary theme so that the audience can be drawn in emotionally. A narrative also gives an awful lot of scope for different movement and opportunities to play with the audience’s humour. Even without an obvious storyline, there has to be an intention, an emotive purpose to every movement.

6. What inspired this piece? I have always been interested in trying to bring sport and its physicality together with dance in some way – and then I heard a piece from the ballet Sylvia by Léo Dilebes and I really began to explore my idea further. I was also impressed by the strength of the dancers in Ballet Central and knew that I could use them to create a strong narrative piece.

7. How did you choose the music for your piece? My starting point was the music from Sylvia. From there I outlined a story about a girl, who reads many books and whose imagination sends her on many adventures. So I chose pieces like Aquarium from the Carnival of the Animals by Camille Saint-Saëns and a romantic Shostakovich waltz, both of which gave ample opportunity to be creative with the piece. Philip Feeney, the musical director has also kindly composed some parts to link all the pieces together.

8. When choosing dancers, what do you look for? I particularly looked for dancers who could act and tell a story through their body. I was confident that every dancer could do the steps I set, but I was looking for that something extra special – the ability to physicalise their emotions and relay a character on stage. For example, I set a particular combination I told them that I wasn’t looking at their legs and feet but I wanted them to look into each other’s eyes and respond to each other through movement.

9. What advice would you give to an aspiring dancer? I think the best advice I could give is to follow instructions –sometimes key details can be lost and the choreography becomes something entirely different to what you were intending, which can be quite frustrating when you have a vision for your piece. Though, I think it is great when dancers can give their own interpretation and put their own mark to the movement you have set, it mustn’t be to the detriment of the choreography and overall intention of the piece. Needless to say, Ballet Central has been fantastic with balancing this fine line.

10. What has been the highlight of working with Ballet Central? The dancers have been great to work with – they are so eager and willing to do your piece justice and do their best that it has been a joy to collaborate with them. I have also really valued and feel lucky to be working with the entire Ballet Central team including Philip Feeney, Richard Gellar in the wardrobe department and Ed Railton Ballet Central’s lighting designer.

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