Season of Dance Interview with Rachel Birch-Lawson

6 Nov 2018

Rachel Birch-Lawson and Khyle Eccles have been a couple for 10 years. Unassailable Us is their anniversary gift to each other. A performance duet about love, play, vulnerability, need, gender, expectation, effort and support.

To get us ready for this show we sat down with Rachel to get her insight into this show and the dance industry in general!

First, tell us a little about yourself. Who are you and what is your role in ‘Unassailable Us’?
I’m a choreographer and director of movement-based work. Together with my partner and colleague, Khyle Eccles, I’ve created and perform in Unassailable Us. It’s a duet about us, made by us, performed by us.

How did you first get into creating dance shows/dance?
I trained at The Place and always made work whilst I was a student there, which I then continued professionally when I left. I have a background in music, which also helped me as I started to choreograph in opera and music theatre – being able to read music was a big help. I’ve always been interested in people’s individual stories – every performer is unique and I love to try and draw out that specificity, which is why I moved more into making shows rather than working as a performer for other choreographers: I love being in a room with interesting people, making interesting stories that are both personal and universal.

What inspired you to go on the creative journey that led you to ‘Unassailable Us’?
We were supposed to be making a very different piece. We kept going into the studio to try and make this other piece and it just wasn’t working. We weren’t getting anywhere but we kept coming back to this duet material that was about us, as we are now, and that was interesting. Eventually we agreed to let go of the other ideas and focus on this. It wasn’t easy: it’s a very personal piece that draws on our real lives and that’s difficult and uncomfortable to do! But what encouraged us is the feedback we were getting: whilst this is personal, it’s also universal: it’s for anyone who’s loved, struggled, cared for, and navigated growing up and growing older with another person.

What new ideas and questions would you like your audiences to be left with after your show?
I think the main thing would be to be more aware of and consider the facades that we all put up – strong, together, organised, united, whatever they may be – and how underneath that everyone is slipping and sliding around, struggling and coping and making it work and then not again. We touch on gender, the stigma men can still face to embrace and express their emotions; and what the burden of care can be on a partner supporting someone through a difficult time. I’d like people to leave thinking about what love looks like and can be, and about how honestly we share ourselves with one another and the wider world.

What is your favourite thing about touring a show?
Getting to meet different audiences in different places! It’s great to connect with people, to hear their responses and how the show lands a little differently for different people. It’s also great to let a show ‘run in’ over several performances – it sort of starts to take on a life of its own and grow into something new. At least a show like this does!

What advice or little pieces of wisdom would you give a young person who wants to get into the dance/choreography industry?
Know your mission and your values – what your work stands for, and what you want it do. It’s not enough to have a good idea – it has to reach across and touch audiences, move them, or inspire them, or excite them, so you have to consider what your work is for, in a way.
Also, I’d say be organised and professional and take it as seriously as you would any other job. It’s a hard industry to work in, but also a wonderfully warm and friendly one. I chose dance because I felt that this was my community, where I belonged – so find your tribe, people that you can share the good and the bad stuff with who will support you along the way.

And finally, how would you sum up your show in 5 words or less?
I’m going to be cheeky and borrow the words of an audience member who came to speak to us after our last performance. He said: “This is why we live.” I think that’s a great 5 words!

Remember to book your tickets to come and see Unassailable Us at Gulbenkian on Fri 16 Nov.

Photo Credit: Raphael Klatzko.