An Interview with Laila Diallo, choreographer of Hold Everything Dear

 ‘Every day people follow signs pointing to some place which is not their home but a chosen destination. Road signs, airport embarkment signs, terminal signs. Some are making their journeys for pleasure, others for business, many out of loss or despair. On arrival they come to realise they are not in the place indicated by the signs they followed. Where they now find themselves has the correct latitude, longitude, local time, currency, yet it does not have the specific gravity of the destination they chose.’

– John Berger, Hold Everything Dear 

Taking its name from Berger’s book (which in turn took its name from a poem by Gareth Evans), Laila Diallo’s Hold Everything Dear is a new dance work woven from stories of exile and migration, whether they be forced or desired. The Bristol-based, Canadian-born choreographer has used her own experiences, combined with a multitude of others’, to create a piece of dance and live music which draws together the mundane, the unfamiliar and the extraordinary. We interviewed her to find out more about the piece and the influences behind it.

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What is Hold Everything Dear about?
The piece explores ideas of transience, of dislocation. It attempts to evoke something, some things, about waiting, leaving, arriving, letting go, holding close.

Describe the show in three words.
Oh no… Sorry, I can’t do that. It seems too potentially reductive or oversimplifying… I don’t know… The piece exists in the space between us, performers, and the audience. So many of us are involved in the exchange, coming at it from our respective perspectives, with our histories, our sensibilities, our expectations, the day just gone and the one ahead. No three words would sum it up for all of us. And for me alone… I’m not sure either. Other than, maybe, Hold Everything Dear? Words borrowed from John Berger, who himself has received them, borrowed them, from Gareth Evans.

What sparked the initial idea for this show?
There is a bit of a recurring curiosity in my work around themes of transience, memory and absence. For Hold Everything Dear,  a real catalyst was time I spent researching the situation of asylum seekers and refugees in the UK as part of a Rayne Fellowship back in 2007-08. The piece isn’t about that experience specifically but it is an important part of it.

Your piece shares a name with John Berger’s book and Gareth Evans’ poem, how much did these texts influence you?
The thing which crucially we are indebted to them both for is Hold Everything Dear, these three words that we borrowed. Berger’s book was an important source of inspiration, but only one among many others in a pool of images, books, videos and questions that I brought in the rehearsal room at the beginning of the process.

How long have you been developing and touring this show?
Our first period of research was in August 2010. We premiered the show at the Linbury Theatre, Royal Opera House, in March 2012. There were long periods of rest and of gestation between those two events and during the creation process. And my son was born.

It will tour in the UK until November this year – and beyond that I hope.

You use live music in the performance, how does this interact with the dance?
I guess I was interested in Jules Maxwell’s music and in movement as a particular combination to explore the ideas mentioned above of transience and dislocation. In that sense, I hope they support each other in that exploration. Some elements of the musical score are improvised, as are some movement elements, and even where things are set, we are in a state of listening to what is happening and responding in the moment. Also, both Jules and I were interested in blurring the boundaries between music and dance specialisms. First and foremost, in this work, we are eight people sharing the stage. Then, we use the tools and knowledge, collective and individual, that we have in order to convey what we wish to.

How did the creative process with composer Jules Maxwell work?
It is the first time Jules and I have worked together. He was in the rehearsal room from very early on and took part, led us through some ideas, set his things up in a corner and worked alongside us. We discussed ideas and I guess gradually, as you do, understood a little bit more about our ‘worlds’ through sharing a creative space and doing things together. It is an absolute pleasure to work with Jules and I am enjoying immensely that, although the piece had its premiere a long time ago now and is touring, him and I, and the company, are still discussing things, still questioning things, still suggesting to one another that we should perhaps look at things from a different angle. It gives room for the work to breathe, to change as we do, to adapt to places. We continue to test things out.

What brought you to Bristol?
It wasn’t a career move at all, but a personal one. I like this city very much and and I’m glad it is home.

What is it like working as a choreographer here in Bristol, England?
From experience, I wouldn’t be able to compare it to anything else as my move here more or less coincided for me with a transition from dancing in a company to making my own work. Since moving here in 2006, I have probably worked more out of town than I have done in Bristol. Partly it is due to the nomadic nature of the work I do,  but probably also it has to do with the fact that I had built contacts in London and elsewhere and so elsewhere retains a strong pull. I have enjoyed gradually building a relationship to an audience here and I find the live performance scene incredibly exciting.

What do you hope people will find in your work?
I hope they’ll find something, on some level, that they can really connect with.

I hope that they might find something that moves them – somewhere somehow, one way or another.

I hope that they might find something that gives them food for thought.

I hope that they find something good to take away with them: an image, a mood, the memory of a physicality, the memory of their own part in that specific show or a tune to hum maybe…

Hold Everything Dear is at Bristol Old Vic 19-21 Sep. Find out more here.

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