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Pivot Pointe
May 19, 2020

In Conversation With Charlotte Edmonds

Dancer & Choreographer

Charlotte Edmonds received her first commission at the age of sixteen from The Royal Ballet and now, at twenty-three, she already has an impressive number of choreographies to her name. She studied at The Royal Ballet Lower School and Rambert School of Ballet and Contemporary Dance, and from 2016-2018 she was The Royal Ballet’s Inaugural Young Choreographer. She has previously created Fuse for the Junior Company (2016) and worked for Studio Wayne McGregor, Opera Holland Park, Norwegian National Ballet, and Rambert School.

In recent years, she has created Words Fail Me, now known as Move Beyond Words in which she explores the relationship between dance and dyslexia (which she has experienced herself); Sink or Swim, a short underwater film about depression. For Joseph Sissens, she created jojo and Flower, a music video for singer Jehnny Beth directed by Antony Byrne. Her new dance film which she directed and choreographed Ten Million Tonnes will be released soon.

We asked Charlotte about her journey.

Photo by Wilfried Hösl

There is often a misconception that choreographers are only involved in the movement construction of a piece but it's a lot more complex than that. Along with choreography comes intellectual property, costumes, stage/set design, casting, and so on. When you first entered the profession how did you learn to navigate these complexities?

Charlotte Edmonds: Since school when I experienced what a choreographer does and became invested in the profession, I understood that the role of a choreographer demands a breadth of diverse skills. This is what attracted me to the role as I am able to bring a range of creative and organisational skills to the position.

With each opportunity, you learn and develop the craft as you encounter different experiences and aspects that sculpt what is feasible to achieve with set design, dancers, composition, and lighting. As the choreographer, you have a directorial role and must be multi-faceted. Firstly, you are responsible for conveying your concepts in numerous ways, for example, you have to pitch your work differently to a Director of a company as you would the cast, or if you are looking for funding. Once you have articulated the concept, it's your responsibility to ensure it’s executed in the form you envisaged from a visual, auditory, and experiential perspective.

It’s not just the movement the choreographer is responsible for, but often it requires an ability to tap into and educate yourself in different subjects, which is one of the most fulfilling, yet challenging aspects of the role. Recently, I have had the opportunity to re-orchestrate music, design sets, costumes, and even lighting, when the budget hasn’t been sufficient to bring in specialists in each field. This is why broadening your skillset and getting a deeper understanding of another specialism is vital when curating your own projects.

As a freelance choreographer, I think it is important to have an objective perspective and 'fresh eyes' when casting the dancers within a company context. It is so important for dancers and choreographers to establish mutual respect that you build on throughout your career. When I am not in the studio, I am applying for funding bids, and forging connections with creative organisations, in addition to producing and directing films.

While most fixate on your "female" choreographer title, most people in the industry are unaware of the challenges you've had to overcome—that go far beyond the gender stereotype. Can you share more about your dyslexia and how it has helped shape your creative process and choreography?

Charlotte: My dyslexia doesn’t define who I am, but it has had a huge impact on my career and daily life. Over the past few years, I have had the opportunity to observe some incredible choreographers and creative processes, and since then I have started to reflect and analyse my own process, focusing on the preparation, creating movement phrases, and most importantly, what happens in the studio during the creation of the piece that informs the final work. I have a completely different thought process from most due to the extent of my dyslexia, and this applies in the rehearsal room as well as in more academic scenarios. I generate material and concepts and then deconstruct them to build them back together in a completely different way.

My grandad (Poppa) used to do the same with his home DIY, he used to buy an item, deconstruct it, then build it back together in his own way. We could never understand why he did this, but now it makes complete sense to me. Understanding the infrastructure of something, by deconstructing and investigating it in more depth, allows you to understand the mechanics of what you want to build or rebuild.

I have started to apply this to my process, it is more timely (and there is never enough time) but I feel that it enriches the movement because you unravel and question why you chose that particular movement. It is also important for the dancers to have this approach in a situation where you might be collaborating with them.

I feel that it is unfortunate that there has historically been a focus on gender in the industry which may have detracted from a focus on the skills and talents of people and not provided equality of opportunity.

Has this, in turn, taught you more about compassion and empathy?

Charlotte: So much! Especially considering the many negative connotations associated with the condition and neurodiversity in general. When I was a student I struggled to retain choreography and I felt like the conventional methods of teaching movement weren't very ‘dyslexia friendly’ (some still aren't today). For this reason, I wholeheartedly empathise with anyone who has their own pace of finding their own strategies to master their trade.

Photo by Sian Trenberth

One might think that a choreographer holds all control of a piece, however, that couldn't be further from the truth when you're sitting in the audience on the opening night! How do you empower your dancers so that they can effectively and successfully carry the message behind your work?

Charlotte: When you have spent the majority of your life dancing and being surrounded by movement—it’s hard to sit still on opening night as a choreographer. It is important to provide the dancers with the information they need to know to feel prepared, which is sometimes difficult when there are time constraints. As the choreographer, I put myself in their shoes as much as possible as I think it’s important to stay connected to what needs to be in place when you’re a performer and to ensure you do not neglect the preparation that’s required.

I start my process by explaining and exploring the conceptual idea, opening a discussion with the dancers, and focusing on the motive behind the choreography. My hope is that this offers an opportunity for personal attachment to the thoughts discussed and in return, enriches the experience and final performance.

You're currently completing a Masters Degree in Choreography. Having already accomplished so much at your age and with mentors to the like of Royal Ballet Artistic Director, Kevin O'Hare and renowned Choreographer, Wayne McGregor, some might say that further studies are not necessary. Can you share your reasons for continuing with your Master?

Charlotte: I started the Young Choreographer residency when I was seventeen years old, I was incredibly young. I made a conscious, but difficult, decision to leave Rambert in my second year rather than complete my BA Honours and joined the residency at The Royal Ballet instead of completing my third year at Rambert. The Residency at The Royal Ballet was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. During this experience, I was mentored by a leading figure in the industry, Wayne McGregor, and the Director, Kevin O’Hare, who gave me the platform to develop and grow, experiment, and learn from challenges. The knowledge I gained from working at the Royal Opera House and with the Royal Ballet was transformational and I feel so honoured to have had that experience. The MA is an opportunity to reflect on my choreographic process to improve outcomes in terms of production and to also look at my career development in light of my experience to date. In addition, the MA also provides the opportunity to complete my theoretical studies and receive accreditation in relation to choreography.  

In working with world-renowned mentors, how important has this been in fostering and nurturing your choreographic growth?

Charlotte: I am so grateful for the support I have received as an emerging choreographer, and I hope in return I can share what I have learned to help someone else. It is important to be vulnerable at times and call for help when you find yourself out of your depth.

During the residency at The Opera House, Wayne was someone who I could turn to—he has created so much opportunity for the dance industry and connected it with mediums beyond its local community, which really inspired me. I am pleased that the Young Choreographer residency is starting up again. It is important for companies to create a platform for artists to be nurtured as it is difficult to gain momentum as an independent freelance artist.

Photo by Alice Pennefather

Moving on to your short film, Sink or Swim directed by Louis-Jack and featuring Royal Ballet Principal Francesca Hayward, the story dives into someone battling depression. I understand this piece was inspired by your own experience at school as well as Ian Cumberland's 2015 BP portrait 'Sink or Swim' which depicts the strain of mental stress. How do you think dance can evolve beyond the stage to help create awareness around key societal issues?

Charlotte: Movement can be so powerful as we can all read and connect with emotion and kinesthetic energy. My work is rooted in contemporary issues. I reflect on my own personal experiences and issues I am passionate about. Dance is quite a closed world to an external audience and I like to bridge the gap between issues shared as humans, like mental health and climate change, and I like to try and find other ways of adding to the conversation to support these issues. Our health, and particularly our mental health, has never been so topical than in this time of global challenge as we fight Covid-19.  

As a pioneering figure in the industry, what are the changes you hope to see from the dance community in paving the way for more Charlotte Edmonds to come?

Charlotte: Opportunity, Opportunity, Opportunity.  

Can you describe a pivotal point in your career?

Charlotte: Without Yolande, I wouldn't have had the opportunities that followed on from that experience.

Top Image: Photo by Altin Kaftira

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