Rethinking the future of dance with Cameron McMillan
In our exclusive interview, the ever forward-looking dancer and choreographer tells of the role of his art form in the 21st Century and how he is helping shape its future through the language of movement and its response to technology.
‘For me it all exists on a continuum and we will always look back at life, culture, dance, politics, fashion etc from where we are today. Our individual and collective pasts inform us now and in the future on so many levels,’ explains New Zealand born choreographer, dancer and movement director Cameron McMillan (he/him).
Classically trained at Melbourne’s Australian Ballet School, Cameron has performed with companies across the spectrum of dance. It is the space between classical and contemporary dance that has absorbed him since arriving in Londonin 2001 as soloist for English National Ballet before joining Rambert for five formative and experimental years.
Since leaving Rambert in 2007, as a pioneering dancer and choreographer Cameron has constantly examined the limits of his art form, drawing both from the discipline of his formal dance background and the constant search for a new language of movement. Exploring the tension between past and present, and challenging the constraints of the choreographic norm, his work uses the architecture of dance to respond to the complexities of life.
While Cameron continues to create and perform works for theatre, it is in the field of choreographic movement direction, often within the world of fashion, that he is taking dance forward. Collaborating with photographers, visual artists and directors, he is continuously interrogating the possibilities of his art form in the 21st Century. We caught up with Cameron just as his latest work Beneath Sky Snakes is shortlisted in the 2021 POOL International Dance Film Festival in Berlin.
‘From our body language to dance’s deep connection to music, its variations help us communicate and define and develop our subcultures.’
ON BRIDGING CLASSICAL AND CONTEMPORARY
‘I was always drawn to the contemporary sides of the form, so moving into contemporary dance was a very natural transition. I loved being involved in the creation of new work and I always had the desire to choreograph, so it was a lot to do with finding my own direction and place as a dancer. For a long time I pushed against my classical history as a way to move past the conditioning that comes with the training, but now with some distance I am able to see it and work with it in a way that makes sense to my contemporary point of view.’
ON PUSHING THE BOUNDARIES OF DANCE
‘Contemporary dance is on a constant forward momentum, and sprawling in so many directions. It is both completely inspiring and hugely challenging to stay connected, find platforms for your work, and keep true to your development as an artist, as so much can seem out of your hands. Ballet is in a position where the world is moving fast, and in some ways it is facing a kind of reckoning of relevance. Dance and visual art are becoming more intertwined and politics, sustainability and equity are driving people to make-work. Technology and innovation will continue to have a huge impact on how work is made and shared.’
ON REFRAMING THE PAST FOR THE FUTURE
‘I had spent years recalibrating my thinking and approach to dance in a more contemporary framework, so the challenge was how do I bring all of this new information and skills into a process that does not undermine all of the specific ones in ballet. Either looking at the evolution of my dance languages in ballet and contemporary dance in The Inheritance of Form, contrasting mythology with a futuristic vision of AI in Irresponsible Gods, or breaking down the gender binary in ballet in Un(i)Form Sonatas.’
ON DANCE AND THE DIGITAL AGE
‘Social media is having a major impact on the way we both create and consume content, and dance can be particularly attractive in this format, but I think it can be a bit of a double-edged sword. It gives the artist agency to directly engage, share their work and expand their audience on their own terms, but the format has its limitations. Algorithmic success is not always an indicator of good work, and the effects of social media on mental health are problematic.’
ON CULTURE AS SOCIAL CHANGE
‘Culture has always been a leading protagonist in the march of social change. It is the way communities express themselves, communicate and process new ideas and is vital to the growth of society. The role of dance in this is always shifting and simply the way we ‘move’ is fundamental to how we communicate and express ourselves. From our body language and everyday interactions, to dance’s deep connection to the music we listen to, its variations help us communicate and define and develop our subcultures. Dance still has a lot to do, but at its core it can harness the energy, inquiry, and mood of the moment and is inherently collaborative.’
ON CREATING WORK THAT ADDRESSES SOCIAL ISSUES
‘We have a responsibility as artists to ask questions, reveal inequities, platform underrepresented voices and reframe what has gone before. A lot of my work has been an ongoing process of choreographic practice and development, building from piece to piece, and responding to the context in which I am creating. I am starting to see the arc of my work more clearly and am feeling bolder in my choices. For example Perimeter Interior was created with a set of systems, parameters and directions that the dancers and I had to negotiate throughout the process, from changing clothes and following specific maps and rules, much like everyday life.’
ON DANCE WITHIN THE COMMUNITY
‘I think it’s absolutely vital for people to be able to access the experience of performance outside of the theatre model. It expands the context and expectations of the art form, often by directly engaging with people in our public spaces, and is key to connecting to audiences that may not have that access. Everybody has the right to art and for it to be a possibility for them to engage with it.’
ON CHOREOGRAPHIC MOVEMENT DIRECTION
‘I am interested in both the physical intention as well as an emotional and intellectual drive. When our physical and mental intelligence are both in play it makes for an incredibly rich creative playground. I am always encouraging my dancers to take agency in the decisions they make in the moment and to take ownership of their dancing in the context of the work we are creating together. Ultimately it’s about collaboration, and it’s important for me that the performers feel that they are supported to contribute and are recognised in the process.’
ON PUSHING HIS DANCERS
‘I believe in giving dancers agency in the process to bring themselves to the work, as it was in environments like this I thrived as a dancer. I am learning that so much of my creative process is intuitive, built on experience, but trusting instincts in the moment, and I am trying to lean more and more into that. I try to offer as much information and detail as I can with movement and in shared generative processes, and the dancers are often problem solving and offering ideas. What we do is ephemeral, but technology helps, I now use video editing software in the process to experiment and refine structure and enable the process to continue when out of the studio.’
ON MUSIC AND DANCE
‘Sometimes I hear pieces that I instantly visualise and want to respond to, at other times it is about finding a sound world for the dance to exist within, and finding the right music is always a key part of the process for me. I loved the challenge of working with the driving complexity of Steve Reich’s Triple Quartet in The Inheritance of Form, and collaborating with Hungarian composer Richárd Reideraur reinterpreting the Gluck score for Orpheus + Eurydice. J.S Bach is an endless spiral of genius which is daunting to work with, whilst electronic music feels like the only truly contemporary sound world and I can feel tapped into the present with.’
ON CONNECTING WITH YOUTH CULTURE
‘My work FutureDogs came from a desire to tap into a side of me that I had not really worked with for a while. I wanted to push against what I had been making, which had been more about understanding my relationship to form in dance, and connect with a different side of myself that wanted to throw things away. Armed with a super talented bunch of young dancers, we played with the tension of the digital age, group dynamics, gender and sexuality, outsider status, and the hedonism of youth. I try not to dictate what the work is saying, and I look to create space for the audience to interpret and hopefully recognise something.’
ON STYLE AND FASHION
‘I think style very much a sense of how you present to the world, but in a way that is comfortable in who you are, authentic and effortless. It shows an unforced attention to detail and aesthetic awareness. Fashion is always seeking new modes of visual communication and I like the challenge of pace in which it works. I also enjoy working with creatives outside of my field, as it brings new ways to create and points of view which expands my own practice.’
‘We have a responsibility as artists to ask questions, reveal inequities, platform underrepresented voices and reframe what has gone before.’
Which actor would play you in the movie of your life?
‘Timothée Chalamet or Vincent Cassel.’
If you could share a message with your younger/older self, what would you say?
‘To my younger, lean into your intuition. To my older, any tips?’
What was the last thing you googled?
‘2nd hand mid-century furniture.’
Words by Andy Thomas
Photography by Jack Davison
Styling by Clare Richardson
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