Opening in Birmingham this week to delight audiences of all ages is the world premiere of 2Faced Dance’s What The Moon Saw. The new re-imagination of the Hans Christian Andersen tale is created with dance and circus, creating a magical performance.
I spoke to Elle While, previously associate director for the Curious Incident Of The Dog in the Night-Time UK and International tour who is the dramaturg for this fresh and exciting production.
The production tells the story of a young boy who is all alone in his bedroom and is frightened of the dark. He finds comfort in his drawing but finds that the colours aren’t working and everything in his room are black and white. When he opens his curtains the moon appears and starts to comfort him and they go on many adventures which is where the magic begins.
Taking on the role of a dramaturg for a dance performance isn’t common, so I asked Elle what her role involves and how she plays a part in the production. “It’s a really strange term in theatre and performance, it covers a whole range of things and I’ve never done it on a play before but in plays it usually involves helping the writer to shape the play,” she said. “When Tamsin asked me to come and work with them she said they needed me to think about how the narrative was working for the piece. Often I think contemporary dance doesn’t have such a strong sense of narrative and storytelling but for children’s theatre and dance you need a story for them to follow.”
Following a project Elle did with the Northern School of Contemporary Dance in Leeds she found it interesting because they were using text for the first time and it was a completely different for the dancers to get comfortable with. “I was working with them to find a truth within their language as well as their physicality,” she said. “I love working with movement directors and having a really strong physical thread through the work that I do so I don’t think they are mutually exclusive forms.”
What The Moon Saw was different for Elle because usually, she would really delve into the text in order to get her head around a production. “I started with the source material and read the stories lots of times to try and pick it apart. “We placed this big problem for the character as in the introduction it mentions very briefly that he loved his paints and drawings so we placed this challenge that colour had gone from him and in his missions he finds a way of getting colour back into his life,” she said. “When I am working on a play I do loads of research from the text but I think that can then mean you come to the room with a lot of superimposed ideas but for this I really wanted them to lead and to jump on where I felt necessary.”
Presented as a Christmas show for families, I asked Elle what makes it Christmassy and she really emphasised the magical elements in the show. “I think it is just as much as a Christmas show as The Little Match Girl that has done really well at Sadlers Wells,” she said. “It’s like a production of Cinderella which doesn’t mention Christmas at all but is a really lovely family story that children can get really involved with.”
Elle has two children of her own, a four-year-old and a two-year-old and the production is aimed at children aged three and upwards. “I haven’t worked on a show since having children that have been aimed at children so I’ve learnt a lot. Kids absolutely love slapstick and comedy that is really taken far,” she said. “Kids are full of integrity so I am really pushing the dancers to go far their characterisation because kids will love it.”
Previously Elle was working with the National Theatre on Curious Incident which she said was an incredible experience. “I can’t claim the glory for it as Marianne Elliott handed it to me, but I did the International and UK tour. It was amazing because you can attract absolutely amazing actors and it was just so moving to work on a story that touched so many people,” she said. Learning a lot from that experience she is really relishing in the challenge of working on What The Moon Saw. “The dancers are amazing and their work ethic is extraordinary, I can’t believe how hardcore they are,” she explained. “We’ve talked a lot about bringing their expression above their neck, they are so expressive with their bodies but bringing that to their face and using it to relate to the children was difficult at first.”
The beautiful story is performed in charming and inventive ways, it sounds like it is going to be just like an extended John Lewis Christmas advert, bursting with magic and perfect for families during this festive season.
What The Moon Saw opens on the 1st of December in Birmingham ahead of touring the UK.