Photo by Lee Woolcock
Thomas Noone is a British choreographer and Director of Thomas Noone Dance. Nicola Thornton caught up with him to discuss making it to the top and moving to Barcelona.
I got into dance quite late. I grew up a typical Wembley boy so it wasn’t really the sort of thing you did, but I’d always enjoyed dancing as a teenager. The bug took hold when I went off to Jamaica when I was 17.
I was teaching maths and science there and at the end of the year we had some time off. They were running a course in Jamaican national dancing for four weeks so I thought, “Alright, I’ll have a go at that!” We did ballet, jazz and Afro-Caribbean and after four weeks, I got hooked, but I went back to study Geology at Oxford.
My mother is from Guyana and my father is Irish/English and I think they wanted me to do the typical Oxford thing, but I knew I wanted to dance. I spoke to my mum about it and she said: “Oh yes, that’s fine.” But unbeknown to me at the time, she wrote to my tutor at Oxford, asking him if it was a wise idea for her son to have a career change.
He was a fine artist, and I think he saw that I couldn’t sit still long enough to do the whole geology thing. He told my mum: “I’m sure he’ll excel in whatever he does,” and told me to go ahead, so I went back to London, got into Rambert [Dance Company] and did three years with them. I was really lucky to get a job with a company in Holland straight afterwards.
It was my Catalan wife that brought me to Barcelona. I met her in Amsterdam, she was in a ballet company there and I was in a contemporary company— sounds great, doesn’t it?! She was renting out a room to one of the dancers I was dancing with. She came to a rehearsal one day, and I said “Who’s that?” and they said, “Oh she’s far too busy, don’t bother her.” So I kind of chased her round. She was getting bored with Holland, finding it too grey, and soon announced she was going home. I said “OK, I’ll come.” I think she was a bit sceptical at first, but here we are!
At the moment, the company is all Spanish. Half the dancers are Catalan, the others are from Galicia, Valencia and the Canaries. You see a similar training when you have a whole Spanish crew, they are more flamenco-ey. I was working in France with more northern European nationalities recently and, without thinking, I said “Olé!” They thought that was strange coming from an English choreographer but I don’t feel so English anymore.
I go back to the UK and it bewilders me. There are some things about it that I dearly love, but I would find it very hard to fit in. I notice I speak too loud now and I kiss too many people when I go back.
For me, dance is a fundamental way of communicating. It’s not about high art. There are six people going into a space, working up a sweat, and moving their bodies together, and people are just watching. It sort of bypasses all our cerebral rationale. You talk about it afterwards, you get it, you don’t like it, but the important thing is that you feel something.
I actually shy away from the whole artist thing. When we go to Central America, they call us maestros and do that whole deference thing, like shuffling away from you. I’ve never felt 100 percent comfortable with that. But if you catch me after a few drinks, I will probably talk more like an artist.
Last year, I won a Barcelona City Prize (Premis Ciutat de Barcelona 2011). I thought the Culture Department was ringing me because we’d done something wrong with our grant form, but no, it was really nice. I have a bit of chip on my shoulder about being a foreigner here, but this was actually a very big deal for us.
We have quite a respected structure here that never ceases to amaze me. Because of my academic background, I almost feel like I’ve been caught playing. We do work really hard, not just on the artistic side but the administration side is quite a serious job. We are involved in an ongoing community project here, as well as our tours and shows. People have this idea that dancers just waft around in tights but we don’t. WE DON’T WEAR TIGHTS! Actually someone did wear tights the other day and it was quite amusing. We all fell about laughing.
www.thomasnoonedance.com. The company will be performing Lugares Extrañamento Desastros this month at La Villarroel (Villarroel 87) from the 14th to 26th.