An interview with Benoit Swan Pouffer
Interview by Anna Winter
You’re now Artistic Director of Rambert and choreographing a new work for Rambert2 – how did this come about?
Helen Shute called me last year and asked me to be part of the selection process for Rambert2. There were 800 applicants and over four days we selected 13. When Helen asked me to come on board it was not to be artistic director but as more of a consultant, to help define the purpose of the company, how it would look and who would be in it. Then when Mark Baldwin announced he would be stepping down earlier in the year, Helen and the Board asked me to oversee the company as they undertook a search for a permanent artistic director. I was very much enjoying getting to know Rambert over the time I was consulting and it was a real privilege and exciting opportunity to be asked to stay for and work with the dancers and team.
When auditioning dancers for Rambert2, what qualities were you looking for?
To create a company from scratch, it’s a true search and you must look at the big picture. To me it’s very important that each dancer has a story to tell. Where they come from and what they have to say is important. I like contrast and diversity and I like that all these people come from different horizons, then they meet and synch with one another. Their energy and their talent are what they have in common. You always come across a lot of dancers who are beautiful technical dancers, but then you can always find better technique, so it’s not really about that. It’s about individuality.
What lessons did you want to bring from your time as a dance leader in the US?
I was Artistic Director of Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet for almost 10 years and to be honest it’s where I learnt everything. I have my roots and background in Europe but the way I work daily comes from America. I understand both continents. What I learnt in the US is how to run a company effectively, how to be relevant and how to be successful.
How do you do that?
You must understand. I was a dancer for seven years at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and this company started and shaped my career. I know how a company functions on a daily basis. Obviously, you encounter hurdles and challenges. When you’re on the other side, directing a company, your obligations and responsibilities shift a bit, but you can’t forget where you come from and what it’s like to be a dancer. The challenge is to make sure your dancers are challenged artistically and nurtured. You must be sensitive to what they need.
What are the key values Rambert2?
Rambert has a 90-year history – it’s an iconic brand – so it makes sense to create Rambert2 in order to shape and nurture young dancers. It creates a bridge between coming out of school and becoming a professional. It will give them the opportunity to be in a professional setting, to learn pieces by and work with international choreographers. It’s going to help them to understand what it takes to be a professional dancer. It’s very important that we have this kind of vehicle for young artists. When you come out of school it’s confusing, in the way of ‘what’s next, what am I good at, what am I supposed to do?’ All those questions arise when you graduate. It’s a great opportunity for them to learn and shape who they are as artists.
What’s it like creating a new work on this cohort?
I like to create with what I have in front of me. Right now, the dancers are very eager and very willing to try anything, which is really a blessing. It’s a vulnerable position when you start creating work and you do need to have a dialogue with your artists, to create together. It’s nice to have people in front of you that are willing to try things that work and that don’t always work – to stretch the boundaries, their own boundaries and my boundaries as well as a creator.
What can you tell me about the piece you’re making?
It’s going to be a very personal piece. I’m working on fading memories and how someone can have this issue and deal with it. It’s about the community reacts to this issue. It’s also about how you can conserve and remember. So, it’s about remembering and images fading.
What are your hopes for Rambert2?
My hopes are that this vehicle gives these dancers access to relevant choreographers and that those choreographers will see them, like them and maybe hire them. For us as well it’s a great way to see the potential of an individual to come to Rambert’s main company.
I hope Rambert2 will be synonymous with coming to a place where you are nurtured and pushed towards your next step. My hope is that it’s received through the UK with open arms. There is a purpose for this company and a goal here, to see those artists grow, to see them develop and soar. It’s a pleasure to be part of the next chapter of this company.
Rambert2 will be at G Live, Guildford on Tuesday 5 and Wednesday 6 March 2019.