Second up in our three-part series of interviews with the choreographers for Southern Methodist University’s 2015 Spring Dance Concert is visiting artist-in-residence John Selya, who will be premiering his new work, Darkside.
Based on the Tom Stoppard BBC radio play of the same name, Darkside was Stoppard’s “adaptation” of Pink Floyd’s album, Dark Side of the Moon — although Stoppard said he didn’t try to make his story into the album “writ large,” but “invented a little story in the spirit of the album,” taking cues from the music.
Thus, Selya will bring a visual element to what has been a solely auditory work. The piece centers on a character named Emily, an inquisitive philosophy student who sets out on a journey to decipher the teachings of her professor and fulfill her destiny. Classically trained in ballet, Selya has danced numerous principal roles with American Ballet Theatre and Twyla Tharp Dance and is a veteran of several Broadway productions, including Tharp’s Movin’ Out, for which he received a Tony nomination in 2003.
His tackling of Stoppard is a bold move as Stoppard’s plays are known for a very specific aesthetic: They’re highly verbal, intellectual and have a visual flair. He typically brings fresh energy to his characters and a twist or two in the action. All this creates a great sense of play between association and disassociation, attachment and detachment. In dance, that is not always the easiest concept to get across. So, it will be interesting to see how Selya translates this into movement.
How did you first find your way into dance, and is there one pivotal moment when you knew that dance would be your career?
When did you begin the transition from dancer to choreographer?
And I would say you definitely dipped a toe or two in, and have been very successful. Has your experience working in the theater, as well as the dance world, influenced your choreographic process?
What tools/techniques have you utilized both in the creative process and in setting this work to pull out the “actor” from these dancers?
What inspired you to adapt Tom Stoppard’s Darkside into a movement piece?
The dancers will utilize the entire theater for this piece—they will be both on stage and in the house. Does this mean there is some audience interaction with this piece?
How has your experience been working with the students at SMU?
For what it’s worth, Aardman Animation (of the claymation Wallace and Gromit films) made a three-minute trailer for the BBC radio version of Stoppard’s Darkside: