Manchester-based choreographer Darren Pritchard is bringing his unique work 1, a piece in which he dances one song for one audience member at a time, to Liverpool this autumn as part of the Homotopia festival line up. The founder of dance company Fierce and mother of the Vogue house House of Fierce, Darren is a former Mr Pole Dance UK and project manager of the city’s remarkable Vogue Ball. He kindly took some time out to tell us more…
What’s the idea behind 1?
I originally came up with the concept of bringing audience and performer closer together, to produce something more intimate. I wanted to get away from the big spectacle works. I thought, I’m missing the humanity in these big shows, I wasn’t connecting with them – for example like you do with a picture in an art gallery.
What can an audience member who is brave enough to give it a try expect?
I talk them through the rules, they sit down, I dance the performance then the audience member pays the ticket price, leaving it on the chair on the way out.
How is 1 received by audiences?
A lot of people don’t know what they’re getting into — people think it will be like a lap dance, or stripping. But it’s about questioning us, as an audience and performers. Some people feel uncomfortable one-on-one, they are used to the safety net of performers being away from them. But it has actually had people in tears, people actually crying at the dancing. It is very beautiful music and it feels very special. Each person is different, and there is a different energy and vibe with each dance. I call it an event, because it’s really emotional and always unique in what it does.
What does it feel like for you, as a performer?
It’s nerve wracking, it is a bit scary. Sometimes it is really pleasurable, and because you can’t rest on your laurels, there is no safety net, you can’t put on a face and fake it. There is a whole mix of emotions when you’re performing, it’s intense physically and mentally. Within one hour I can dance for up to six or seven people, and emotionally, you’re giving a fresh performance each time. You have to deliver to each person. It’s my responsibility to do that.
You have performed 1 at venues including Manchester’s Royal Exchange. Is it important to make it different each time?
Everywhere I’ve done 1 I’ve changed the music. In the Unity it’s going to be upstairs in the foyer, and there is a raised platform where you can be very close to the performance. The piece will be choreographed to the space. I use music I like, that I have some kind of emotional connection with. I need a piece that isn’t going to bore me after practicing and performing it repeatedly.
It sounds as if there is some parallel with the concept of lap dancing.
We actually interviewed a group of strippers and lap dancers. They talked about how everyone thinks it is about sexual stimulation – which it is – but having the right distance between you, when to make eye contact… there’s almost a science to good lap dance, it’s not necessarily about taking off clothes. What about the music, what you’re wearing, who’s in control, who’s got the power in the relationship… 1 takes elements of that and puts it into the show. We used them as our basis.
So there is a similar kind of intensity to the experience.
There’s a lot to take in, a lot to see… from the fabric of the clothes, to muscle tone. You can’t look at a dancer with a good body and not go ‘wow’. It’s just beautiful to watch and dance is very physical anyway, to get that experience up close as well makes it a very interesting show, and I’m very interested in the audiences who come. At the Royal Exchange, the audience was very different to the avant garde of Homotopia. Homotopia has a ‘family values’ theme this year, and this show gets you thinking about intimacy and connecting with people. We’re so disconnected these days you can go days or weeks without seeing or talking to people in the real world.
Are you looking forward to being part of Homotopia?
I will also do a piece for Archetype [David Hoyle’s guided tour around the Walker Art Gallery], but 1 is perfect for Homotopia. It’s specific to each space we perform in, which makes it really special, and if you miss it, that’s your chance gone. Only a small group of people will ever experience that.
1 is performed at the Unity Theatre from October 31 to November 2. Places must be booked in advance and are available from the Unity’s website.
The Vogue Ball takes place at Camp & Furnace on Saturday, October 6. For tickets and more information, visit the House of Suarez website.