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Deborah Colker brings Tatyana to The Barbican

14 January 2013 | Tanya Braun

From volleyball to world famous choreographer. Deborah Colker talks to London Calling's Tanya Braun about her latest masterpiece, Tatyana.

If Tatyana is anything like its creator, Deborah Colker, it will begin with a bang, ooze passion, discharge drama and exude energy.

Born in 1960 in Rio de Janeiro, unlike many world-famous choreographers Deborah didn’t focus solely on dance, being more interested in playing piano and volleyball in her youth.

It is this, she believes, that makes her shows different from other internationally touring dance companies today and arriving in London last week, she told London Calling just how much it means to her to be showing Tatyana at The Barbican.

“I love London, it’s my first city,” she said. “I’ve been coming to London since 1999 and many of my shows have been at The Barbican. We get a really nice audience there and it means a lot to me.”

Indeed, five of her ten masterpieces have been shown in London; Velox, Mix, 4 Por 4, Cruel and Knot have shown at the Barbican since 2000 and it was from her performance there of Mix, that she became the first Brazilian artist to be awarded an Olivier Award in 2001.

“It was around this time that I began to change,” said Deborah. “I started wanting to investigate movement and space and how this could show the human soul. I became more interested in showing emotion.”

Deborah’s shows are most often described as contemporary dance, as her sets include strange and wonderful props - from ropes hanging from ceilings in all wonders of shapes to trees in which her dancers dance. But she says that the members of her company must be classically trained.

“I need my dancers to be strong and classically trained to do everything that I want them to do,” she said. “I have worked with dancers from all over the world but at the moment my company is made up of mainly Brazilians, two Argentinians and one Cuban.”

With 18 members in her dance company, which was formed in 1993, Deborah uses them all to play just five main characters in Tatyana. Based on the novel; Eugene Onegin by Russian author Alexander Puskin, Deborah wanted to focus the stage production on the leading lady; Tatyana.

“I wanted to show the transformation Tatyana goes through in the book,” said Deborah. “She starts as a shy, young woman but she grows into a sophisticated, mature lady. It is something I like to show, a woman overcoming a man.

“Pushkin wrote the novel in early 19th century Russia, a time when the arts movement was booming. I just love the book. I was looking to do a new piece after Cruel and read hundreds of book synopsises. I knew that I didn’t want to do anything relating to Sci-Fi or architecture; I wanted to do something about love and life choices.

“When I read the synopsis of Eugene Onegin, I just knew it was right. I loved the characters and so I made my dancers read the book and watch each of its adaptations - and this is something unusual, by the way. Normally dancers will just read the synopsis of the story but with Eugene I really wanted them to feel the plot.”

The story of Tatyana is one of love, passion, obsession and rejection. When teenager Tatyana falls in love with the handsome but aloof Eugene, she declares her love for him in a heartfelt letter but is cruelly rejected. It is only when she is mature and married, three years later that Eugene realises his love for her, but by then, is it too late?

“I understand Tatyana and I relate to her,” says Deborah. “I think it’s good for a woman to tell their story and this is why I chose her name as the title for my show.

“I love her character by the end of the book, she is so strong, but I also love Pushkin, you can hear him in the book, sometimes you wonder whether it is Eugene speaking, or whether it is him, so I have included him in the show. His book is like poetry, there is so much imagination, so much atmosphere and so many possibilities.”

The five characters in Deborah’s adaptation of Pushkin’s novel are the author himself, Tatyana, her sister Olga, Eugene and Lansky.

“From the second half of the show, four of my dancers play Tatyana, four play Eugene, four play Olga, four play Lansky and one plays Pushkin.

“I would recommend people read the book before they come, just because it is such a wonderful story but if you came to see Tatyana without reading Pushkin’s novel you would still enjoy it because it really is a beautiful show, everything is ascetic and artistic,” says Deborah.

From the animated features and twinkle in Deborah’s eye when speaking about Tatyana, one gets the impression that the show will be full of energy and is close to her heart.

A mother of two and grandmother, to three year-old Theo, Deborah says that life on the road has been hard but that she loves her job and it is constantly developing her work that keeps her going.

“I have already begun work on my next show,” she said. “It is based on Belle de Jour and will premier in 2014. My mother thought I was crazy to continue with a career in dance when I became pregnant in 1984, and it was hard, but I think that all of my life experiences have helped me produce the shows I do today. I studied psychology and I became a dance teacher but I was always telling people what I thought and developing my own ideas about dance.

“I now have my own dance school, which is based in the same place as my company in Rio de Janeiro and I think that is great because ideas bounce off everyone.

“I have always been curious. Curious and passionate and this is how I find I can express myself. And I relate to the world, now. A lot of young people come to my shows, which I like.”

 

Deborah Colker's 'Tatyana' is at The Barbican from January 31st to the 9th February. For more information and to book tickets please click here.

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