Ross McCormack uses dance as a medium to create movement-based performances, as well as performances that explore character work in a dramatic manner, further contributing as a set designer. As an artist wearing many hats, he works across an impressive spectrum of dance and theatre work influenced by a long decade of touring and creation process with Les Ballet C de La B.
We catch up over email to discuss his upcoming performance at M1 Contact Contemporary Dance Festival, ‘Inspired by The Weight of Force’ as well as the extraordinary career with Alain Platel and the ever-growing contemporary dance scene in beautiful New Zealand.
Ezekiel Oliveira: Where do you see yourself as an artist today, working across performance, dance and theatre?
Ross McCormack: Interestingly, it is as if there are two directions of projects that I undertake. One seems to be a more movement based approach, a work that involves more dance as the medium, while the other is a more theatre-based work that builds from a state or has the influence of character, these worlds often involve me entering the project as set designer too. Both works access a different approach to the creative process, apparently certain aspects cross over but, it’s not intentional to keep anything apart.
Ezekiel Oliveira: Having performed with Les Ballets C de La B for ten years must have been a great learning and playing experience. I am personally a big fan of the company. What did you carry from that experience into your craft?
Ross McCormack: Working in a huge company such as Les Ballets C de la B or any large company can be quite a shock upon finding yourself in the independent freelance scene where a scale is suddenly a very different reality.
That is something which I am still finding my way through. Artistically that size creates enormous possibilities to connect and meet many artists in many different companies.
Different ways of working, tools and perspectives on art discussions, as well as experiences that were coming from a country as far away as New Zealand, could be challenging due to its geographic position.
As far as process goes, I gained massive insights that have been the founding structures to myself, Ross McCormack the performer and choreographer.
Ezekiel Oliveira: Do you feel like an extension of the company into new performance work?
Ross McCormack: I felt this extension maybe more at the beginning of creating my first works. I think this is very common, but as a different kind of continuity is happening and my collaborative partners and I push on I see that I have moved quite a long way away from Les Ballets.
Ezekiel Oliveira: New Zealand is geographically far away from our current location, and we would like to know more about the country’s choreographers. What it is like to work in NZ and how much has the industry changed since you relocated?
Ross McCormack: Since I left in 2002, the change is quite dramatic! When I left New Zealand, I would have to explain where it was in the dance world, nowadays people from all over are very interested in NZ! Companies want to tour there, and there is a real growing interest in our work.
Yes it is a long way away, and it is still a relatively young scene, but that landscape is changing very fast, as for dancers and choreographers I think NZ is far ahead for example in connecting and collaborating.
Ezekiel Oliveira: We would like to know more about the performance you are bringing to Singapore, and why are you adapting ‘The Weight of Force’?
Ross McCormack: It’s very personal to me this work, in short- it will always change and grow, it’s my solo, and I have only made one and will probably only make one.
It’s never finished and is a massive challenge each time I step back into it as something new arrives, and something old is dropped off.
Ezekiel Oliveira: Can you please share with us how the creative process for ‘The Weight of Force’ arose and the challenges you found along the way?
Ross McCormack: ‘The Weight of Force’ comprises three different stages. It was first worked in Korea, Seoul and then once again back in NZ with a premiere in Hong Kong.
I am now in another formative stage and will make its way over to Singapore! This work is a real collaborative process with the composer Jason Wright. We have worked on it in such an interesting way; it is very interactive with the sound.
Melanie Hamilton who has a unique dramaturgical story with this solo keeps getting it in a full form, almost finished and then turns the whole thing upside down inside out and restocked it.
It’s the most collectively influenced work, and that makes it challenging but in such a rewarding way.
Ezekiel Oliveira: How much as your choreographic or performance-making processes changed since you started making work?
Ross McCormack: My process has changed a lot, and I believe it will keep growing. It feels as though at the end of each project a new Splinter arrives in the way I work, and find movement or passages; these steps have been small. I’m more interested and confident to spend longer time with dancers communicating around particular qualities that I see we can get to, and this persistence is a change for me.
Ezekiel Oliveira: Lastly, what inspires you to create performance and what is your relationship with your audience these days?
Ross McCormack: The close group I work with inspires me the most. MuscleMouth shares quite a lot. We are always talking about individual films documentaries, and our creative work (in a non-narcissistic way). Simple over indulged improvisations can lead to a whole new work for us, and I think to have these types of fast organic ways are just as important as a well-researched undertaking.
Musclemouth has presented two works in art galleries and produced two quite different stage performances, one very body and dance oriented and the other more set and theatre. So as a group we are expanding our perception of what people take in, and we are not afraid to talk about where the audience might be at, if we feel they might need a release or breath in performance.