We had a chat with Australian Ballet's resident choreographer, Tim Harbour about his new piece "Squander and Glory."
How did you get your start in choreography? Has it been something that you have always known you would pursue?
I made my first little duet for the Australian Ballet’s Bodytorque program. I think I was 30 or 31 so quite a late start for me. The students I teach now all do heaps of choreography as part of their training, which is great but I had literally done none until that point. Up until then I had concentrated on my career as a dancer but then, all of a sudden this great opportunity came along I knew from the first moment I saw a dancer doing one of my steps that I had to keep doing it.
Many people make the assumption that becoming a choreographer is a natural progression from being a dancer – it is my belief though, that choreographers are born and not made, would you agree?
I think I’m somewhere in the middle of those two ideas. Most choreographers find themselves after or during dancing careers but some really interesting people arrive via different pathways. Also, there is a lot of craft involved in creating dance (much that I still have to learn) and so, in that sense you learn to choreograph. Mostly though, I think it’s about will. Any artistic event that is designed for an audience takes immense energy to bring into existence. Most of the time you want to be doing it but you have to push yourself to keep creating even when you feel like just going for a coffee.
Your last work for the Australian Ballet - Filigree and Shadow, opened to rave reviews, congratulations! It was such a powerful piece, and really cemented your place as a resident choreographer for the company. It explored the darker sides of our emotions, and certainly showed how capable the dancers are. Where are your influences coming from for your 2017 piece?
Thank you!! My new piece Squander and Glory takes the idea of abundant energy and channeling it into fleeting, glorious moments. I wanted to acknowledge that we can’t always horde the best things in life. Sometimes we need to be prepared to throw our love away and not expect a return. A bit philosophical! As always, I also just want to put on a great dance show.
I noticed that you are working with the same set and lighting designer as your 2015 piece, how did you initiate the collaboration and did you find the designs influence your work?
This will be the fourth time I’ve worked with lighting designer Ben Cisterne. Before he moved to Sydney he lived in Melbourne like me and I had seen and admired his work before I ever collaborated with him. Kelvin Ho, the architect who designed the sets for Filigree and Shadow has been a stroke of luck for me. I wanted ‘something architectural’ for Filigree and David McAllister (the Australian Ballet’s Artistic Director) suggested Kelvin. It was a leap of faith because Kelvin had never worked in theatre before and it just worked out so well. It’s exciting to have the team back together again. This time around we also have costumes designed by Keto dancewears’ Peggy Jackson and Jacob Sofer. I have a lot of trust in Kelvin, Ben, Peggy and Jake’s talents but any project needs a leader and I try to be clear in my ideas without being too prescriptive.
Who is the composer for 2017 piece?
I’m working with a piece called Weather one by American composer Michael Gordon. He is known for composing percussion music and although Weather one is for amplified string orchestra it is very rhythmic – like a twenty-minute drum solo for violins, cellos and double-bass.
Who are your own choreographic influences? Do you see a lot of theatre in your time off, what was a stand out performance for you in this past year?
I used to love to work with Stephen Baynes when I was a dancer. He always showed respect for the dancers he worked with whether they were a teenager or the most experienced principal. Our choreographic styles are not alike but I think of him in the studio and try to emulate his graciousness in my own way. My favourite show this year was the Australian Ballet performing William Forsythe’s "In the middle, somewhat elevated."
Do you find yourself attracted to a certain type of dancer? What is it that you tend to gravitate towards?
The environment in the studio is important to me because I think part of the atmosphere you have in rehearsals comes out in the show. I love dancers who are awesome and humble!
How does the seed of an idea develop into a ballet? Does the music inspire the piece, or do you have your ideas of what you want to present and find the music to complement your vision?
It’s usually the latter for me. I have a picture of the physical shape of the work and look for music that will fit that. That’s why it can be great to commission music specifically like I did with 48nord for Filigree and Shadow. That way I can give the composer the structure I’d like the work to follow.
What is your process with your dancers when beginning a new commission? Are you someone with set ideas for movement, or do you have more of a collaborative approach with your dancers?
I am an over-preparer! If there is a two-minute section I’m working on I like to come with six minutes of material to work with. Then I feel happy to play once I’m in the studio with the dancers. They always contribute something, whether that’s timing or dynamics or just doing it better than I can!
In your own dancing career, what were your most memorable performances?
The ones that stand out were performances that went well when I thought they wouldn’t. George Balanchine’s Agon was very difficult and unpleasant to rehearse but surprisingly wonderful to perform.
Will you consider choreographing a narrative piece in the future? Can you give us a scoop, what will it be?!?!?
I would definitely like to create narrative work. It’s a matter of finding the opportunity. No scoop for you at the moment, but hopefully it won’t be too long before I’m answering questions about my upcoming story ballet!
When not in choreography mode, what does a regular day look like for you?
I teach full-time at VCASS in Melbourne and I often juggle this with my choreographic work. I’m also a dad to a seven year old, so the usual pick-ups, drop offs, readers and tree climbing are a big part of my life too.
Can you give us a timeline/history of your choreography work to date?
Bodytorque 2005, 2006, 2007, (Stopped Dancing 2007)
Queensland Ballet, Bodytorque, New York City Ballet, Dancers Company 2008
West Australian Ballet, WAAPA, Morphoses the Wheeldon Company, Melbourne Ballet Company, The Dancers Company 2009
Australian Ballet Halcyon 2010
Australian Ballet Sweedeedee 2012
Australian Ballet Extro 2013
Australian Ballet Ostinato 2014
Australian Ballet Filigree and Shadow 2015
Melbourne Ballet Company, Singapore Dance Theatre 2016
Australian Ballet Squander and Glory 2017