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Interview with aerial theatre director Daniela Essart

7 August 2013 | Charlie Kenber

Ahead of the London opening of La Tempesta tomorrow, we caught up with director and aerial theatre maker Daniela Essart…

La Tempesta sees the first collaboration between Scarabeus Aerial Theatre and the Little Angel Theatre in Islington. Combining aerial theatre and puppetry, the show is aimed at 3 to 7 year olds, and takes place in a beautiful corner of Queen’s Wood in Highgate. We spoke with Scarabeus’ Artistic Director, Daniela Essart.

London Calling: What would you say is the main driving force behind your work?

Daniela Essart: We want every kind of audience to see it, and not only the audience who usually go to the theatre, which is sometimes limited. We very much like places and locations. When we started there were also less things happening in unusual places. In the last fifteen years our work has been much more site-specific: sometimes it has been in natural environments and other times in buildings.

What I really love is when the body and the body in motion match the architecture, but not just as a piece of dance; for us it is also important that we tell a story. We tell that story with striking images, with extreme physicality, and with things that some people think are quite dangerous, although we do them very safely. We just want our work to be for everyone!

LC: How is site-specificity especially important for La Tempesta?

DE: What we wanted to do with this one was to do it as much as possible in green areas, because the aerial structure is made from trees, so it embeds itself with the rest of nature.

Space is fundamental. It’s like a love affair: if the space is inspiring hopefully the concept you have becomes inspiring applied to that space.

LC: What can you do in the air you can’t on the ground?

DE: Well, you can fly! There’s such a freedom of movement – when I say you can fly I’m not saying it in a trite way. You can move in a way that’s completely different, it’s different from running or from dancing.

LC: Does being in the air make it more difficult to tell the story?

DE: It depends. For me I’ve now done it for so long, in one sense I find it more difficult to tell a story on the ground!

Even if we hardly use any text there’s always a story, and we use imagery and music to convey a mood and a message. Clearly it’s then open to interpretation when you don’t have a text, but the audience will still get the mood and interpret it in their own way. I love that: for me it’s a big freedom that you can give to an audience.

LC: It’s now twenty-five years since you set up Scarabeus Aerial Theatre. Has your work changed much over that time?

DE: Yes, of course, it’s a long period. As a human being and as artists we’ve all evolved. It has changed some of the media we have used. At the beginning we used quite a lot of dance and acrobatics on stilts.

We’ve changed it also because there are things that are important to tell at different points in your life. I’m interested in how landscapes influence us – for instance I was born near the mountains in Italy, so for me vertical landscapes really represent something. Migration also interests me a lot: not just that that is forced, but also migration that is voluntary.

And people! We like people a lot so we like to tell stories about people. People and places are very important to us.

LC: How has it been to work alongside Peter Granville from the Little Angel Theatre, and to combine aerial work and puppetry?

DE: I really love puppetry, I’ve never done it as an artform but I find it really beautiful. It’s so detailed – it’s like aerial work, which is so technical, so detailed – and so is puppetry. And with good puppetry you can see how much it takes to convey an emotion and to make the puppet become human.

LC: This is the first time you’ve produced something for young children, how has that been? The setting must also be very special.

DE: I love very much working with children. I love the way they see things. I really wanted to do a children’s show – I’ve seen quite a lot of performances that are so patronising. There is a point where you think I want to do one myself! But it’s not only for children, we’ve got families coming and parents seem to really enjoy it.

This stop is the only time we are for ten days in one place. Everywhere else we’ve gone it has only been a one off. It’s in a beautiful place – I think this is the most beautiful place we are doing in this tour. Highgate is magical. Because it is about nature - a hurricane and flooded landscapes – the leaves and the rays of the sunshine flooding through make it really magical.

LC: What can you tell us about your next project?

DE: The next project is called ‘Paradise Lost?’ at Archway Tower. It’s a project that starts like an installation growing at the bottom of the tower. People hate the tower. It’s 40 metres high, so a very high tower in the middle of Archway. It’s all black concrete: very few love it, most people hate it. But it’s so high that whatever you’re doing there you can see it from really far away. It is great because it’s so black it’s like having a canvas that you can paint with the bodies.

It’s a project with a real big scale. It’s got a lot of challenges, which make it very exciting, but also very scary!

La Tempesta is on at Queen’s Wood in Highgate between 8th and 18th August, with performances at 12pm and 3pm daily, except on Monday 12th. Tickets £8.95 in advance and £10 on the day. Further information and booking available here.

‘Paradise Lost?’ will take place at Archway Tower on 18th and 19th October 2013.

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