If you’ve made it to the Globe to see this year’s Twelfth Night (and if you haven’t, what are you waiting for?), you’ll notice that it’s very much on the musical end of the spectrum – and with that, of course, comes dance. I really love the choreography in this show, as it seamlessly blends a variety of styles; I particularly love the characters being ‘washed onto shore’ as different sides of the story are told.
With that in mind I thought it would be fantastic to hear from the show’s choreographer, Etta Murfitt, who’s currently teaching in America. You may recognise her name from last year’s productions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and 946: The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips, as well as The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk and The Little Matchgirl in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. Etta is a long-time collaborator of Matthew Bourne, both performing and choreographing for his companies.
There’s quite a lot of dance in this Twelfth Night – was this always the vision for it, or were you influenced by the talented cast that was assembled and the diverse styles of music used?
Emma loves movement in all her work and we have a similar sensibility about choreography; the things we find funny, joyful and moving tend to be the same too.
Emma really wanted to have a lot of movement in this piece because she felt it was the right play and setting for movement but also because of the talents of the cast! I was very excited because having a cast that can all move changes the boundaries of what you can do which was brilliant for me .
Also when speaking to Ian Ross (composer) I knew straight away we could get more movement in piece as musically it’s perfect .
What is your process for devising choreography?
My process is different with every piece, but I do like to involve the cast in devising the movement – so we tend to start with learning a few basic steps then I give the cast a creative tasks… For example I asked each person to come up with four things you do on a ship if you are a sailor and one disco move – then that’s put together and it becomes a phrase; that phrase is then worked giving it more detail and musicality.
It makes the process of learning choreography more fun for an actor, rather than learning steps – if that makes sense.
Emma always has a very clear vision of what she wants and I fill in the movement gaps .
Once a production has moved from rehearsals to the stage, do you like to go back and check on the performers or are you onto the next job?
I always try and revisit shows – I feel it’s important to check in and give the company a boost! Every company works so hard; they need to know they are doing a good job and I also throw in a few notes while I’m there.
You always feel connected to company you’ve gone on a journey with.
What is it like working with Emma Rice?
A joy! We really get on. As I said before, we really like the same things.
She likes to play first and then set later – so the rehearsal room is always full of laughter, freedom and truth!
How does choreographing a show specifically for the Globe compare with other venues?
You have to be aware that the audience is all around the stage so you have to make sure all the movement and staging can be seen by most of the audience all of the time – it’s a challenge but it makes you think out of the box!
It’s also more about audience participation as well; getting the audience to dance with you is brilliant .
You have worked at both the Globe and Sam Wanamaker Playhouse – do you have a favourite?
Globe for the audience but the Wanamaker gives you more chance to work on detail – it’s more intimate and it’s always a challenge working in a smaller space .
How does choreographing compare with performing?
Choreographing: you think of the whole piece and how it fits within the story.
Performing: you are part of a puzzle which comes together to tell a story!
I love doing both – I’m lucky!
What are your professional highlights, to date?
Oh, I have so many! Really it’s whatever piece of show I’m working on at that moment.
Red Shoes for Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures is wonderful and Twelfth Night is a joy!
I actually can’t choose; every show I’ve performed in or worked on I’ve discovered something new or surprising! I did enjoy performing in Kneehigh’s production of Wild Bride which I choreographed as well; it was my first venture into performing in a theatre piece rather than a dance theatre piece – so a challenge but very exciting too!
Who is your biggest inspiration?
Well when I was younger, theatre – I was always taking myself off to see shows – I also loved any black and white films (MGM musicals!!!).
Then when I started at London Contemporary Dance School my teachers became my inspiration. Jane Dudley (head of contemporary dance at school also former dancer) with Martha Graham; she was fierce but amazing and full of imagery! Other dancers as well, people in my cohort at school. I find your peers give you strength and inspire in equal measure!
I still continue to be amazed by people’s creativity; Matthew Bourne is a genius as is Emma Rice – Lez Brotherston is a wonder at creating worlds to make beautiful stories! I’m surrounded with pretty inspiring people really.
Would you like to follow in Sir Matthew Bourne’s footsteps and start your own company one day? What are your hopes and ambitions for the future?
I’ve worked with Matt for 26 years now – New Adventures is part of my heart; it’s me. I don’t need to create my own company.
I love working with theatre companies and challenging myself with the unknown! So I’d like to keep doing what I’m doing, working with as many people as I can .
It will be exciting to see where Emma’s new company Wise Children goes – that’s very exciting!
As long as there’s a new challenge I’m happy!!!
So there you have it! Thank you very much to Etta for taking the time to satisfy my curiosity, and I hope you’ve found this insight into her work as fascinating as I have.
There are plenty of opportunities to watch her choreography come to life over the coming months all across the world – I highly recommend you find one of them and see for yourself!
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