Joel Brown and Eve Mutso Dance 111

Joel Brown and Eve Mutso in 111, photo Susan Hay

Dancers Eve Mutso and Joel Brown talk to Ballet Position about 111, a duet combining their diverse yet complementary abilities

There are times when you come upon something that so subverts your preconceptions and expectations that you are left dazed and gasping for air.

One such was, for me, 111 (One Hundred and Eleven), a dance duet that seamlessly blends the very diverse physicalities of Eve Mutso, formerly a Principal Dancer with Scottish Ballet, and Joel Brown, a member of the inclusive ensemble Candoco Dance Company.

Set to a medley of music that segues from Penguin Cafe Orchestra, through Dawn of Midi, Julia Jacklin and Radiohead, 111 results from, in Eve Mutso’s words,

“Curiosity about how we can explore movement coming from such different backgrounds and techniques, and then develop a movement language which combines our own abilities and experiences, but also pushing our weaknesses to the next level.”

Joel Brown adds, “I’m interested in saying something a little bit more than presenting just movement. At the same time, I also do believe in movement for movement’s sake (…)

“So, it’s narrative in the sense of, ‘dear audience, I’m Joel, this is Eve, we enjoy doing this together.’   So, it’s framed with a relationship.”

It is one of the most intense, complete on-stage relationships you’re ever likely to see. When their eyes lock, which is often, they establish a climate of trust and intimacy so profound it sets your heart beating faster.

111 – Where it all began

Joel Brown and Eve Mutso met four years ago at a Glasgow joint workshop by Scottish Ballet, Indepen-dance (a company for able and disabled dancers) and Marc Brew Company.

Estonian-born Eve was still dancing with Scottish Ballet; American Joel, then a member of the physically-integrated Axis Dance Company, based in California, was a guest there.

There was an instant rapport: in Joel’s words, “we just got on.”

There’s a little more to it than that: in the opening sequence of 111, Joel recounts how he kept sending her little notes that started, “Eve, can I tell you something?” and always ended with an invitation to dance.

Four years on, the depth of their rapport is one of the many breath-taking aspects of 111, the new work they are taking to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe prior to a wide-ranging international tour.

The title is an in-joke: because of her ballet training, Eve Mutso’s supple spine seems to have 100 vertebrae, rather than the standard 32; Joel’s spine is fused, so he jokes he only has 11 vertebrae.

The sum of both comes to 111.

111 – The Challenges

Ballet Position watched a rehearsal in a bare London studio; and even without the benefit of full staging and atmospheric lighting it became clear what a powerful, entrancing work this is.

It starts on the floor downstage, then moves centre stage, where Joel Brown’s gliding wheelchair provides a focus for Joel and Eve’s dancing, arms interlocking, flowing and turning in a smooth perpetuum mobile of preternatural coordination.

The next sequence takes place within an aerial frame that looms upstage, where the two dancers hang, twirl and climb, in the process creating unexpected and exciting configurations.

Joel Brown, Eve Mutso in 111, photo Susan Hay

“You can see that frame as an exoskeleton,” says Joel. “You can see my two wheelchairs as exoskeletons, maybe… but we have our real skeletons as well, and spines are quite integral.

“We expose something about our bodies and I think maybe mine is a little more mysterious.”

He was paralysed at nine-years-old; but, coming from a large family of dancers and gymnasts, remained active in sport and dancing.

“When I kind of jokingly demonstrate how, if I shift a hip, then I’m able to rotate, it’s important, because it’s kind of funny, but also it’s true and it’s not too precious around disability.

“It’s the reality of my physicality; and I think it’s important for the audience to have a sort of understanding of my physicality.”

For Eve Mutso that frame represents a whole new challenge. For one thing, she used to be scared of heights:

“I’d never done anything aerial before, never had to adjust my body to these quite challenging, difficult ways of dancing and creating movement.”

The work ends with both dancers on the floor, Joel having jettisoned his wheelchair, both moving slowly, shifting their bodies in perfect unison, though it’s noticeable – and interesting – that Joel’s movement is a touch more fluid than Eve’s.

Joel: “One of my favourite feelings in that floor phase is this real connection between head and tail [laughs].

“I’m on the floor and I’m pushing on the ground, but I really feel that I’m moving my tail. (…) I think when you bring attention to your whole spine, you move in a more integrated way.”

There’s an undeniably erotic undercurrent to 111; but not deliberately so, says Eve:

“It’s about what different relationships can be on stage, in life; and also how communication can develop through the movement. You don’t have to touch somebody to feel a connection.

“I think every section is offering another insight into us as artists, as humans and as friends. We keep saying we all are boxed [in] in a way; so, it’s trying to take away the limits and use this set as a liberating place to function.”

111 – Edinburgh and Beyond

111 has been selected as part of the 2019 Made in Scotland programme, a curated showcase of music, theatre and dance performed during the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

Beyond that, an extensive international tour is planned; but it has to be built around the performers’ other commitments.

Now a freelance dancer and choreographer, Eve Mutso is going back to Estonia, the prodigal daughter returning to her first company, Estonian National Ballet, with whom she has re-established a fruitful collaboration since leaving Scottish Ballet.

She’ll dance the lead role of Blanche DuBois in Annabelle Lopez Ochoa and Nancy Meckler’s A Streetcar Named Desire, which she first performed to great acclaim with Scottish Ballet.

Eve Mutso as Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire, photo Andy Ross

Joel Brown, who settled on these shores four years ago, is a full-time member of Candoco Dance Company, the UK’s leading troupe for disabled and non-disabled dancers.

Joel Brown in Alexander Whitley’s Beheld for Candoco Dance Company, photo Hugo Glendinning

A versatile artist, Joel Brown is also a singer and songwriter, and will have a prominent singing and dancing part in The Lost Thing, a collaboration between Candoco Dance Company and The Royal Opera, which plays at the ROH’s Linbury Theatre over the Christmas period.

A musical reimagining of Shaun Tan’s beautifully illustrated book about a boy who helps a lost thing find its way home, it’s a show for all the family, a story about how we are all connected.

It’s a theme not a million miles away from Eve Mutso and Joel Brown’s 111

by Teresa Guerreiro

111 is at Emerald Theatre, Greenside @ Nicolson Square (venue 209), Edinburgh
Mon 19 – Sat 24 Aug

The Lost Thing is at the ROH, Linbury Theatre
7 Dec 2019 – 4 Jan 2020


Kevin O'Hare's Royal Ballet: New Horizons

Kevin O'Hare, photo Joe Plimmer

In the dazzlingly redeveloped Royal Opera House, Royal Ballet Director Kevin O’Hare talks about exciting new prospects for his company

The run up to a new season is always a time of excited anticipation for performers and audiences alike. But as he gears up to the 2018/19 season, Kevin O’Hare, Director of The Royal Ballet, is particularly excited at the new prospects offered his company by the recently completed redevelopment of the Royal Opera House.

In particular, Kevin O’Hare told Ballet Position, the redesign of the 406-seater Linbury Theatre, coupled with the refurbishment of the smaller Clore Studio, opens a wealth of new possibilities to The Royal Ballet.

“I’m thrilled (…) to have this beautiful intimate space to perform and create new work and also with our choreographic programme to help young choreographers within the company and also [from] outside, to have a space to try things out.

The ROH’s redesigned Linbury Theatre (c) Hufton & Crow

“And now we’ve got three spaces, with the Clore Studio much improved and with better lighting, we’ve got the Linbury and also we’ve got the main stage, so I think there’s going to be a progression, there’s a way we can really nurture people especially choreographically.”

The first dance on the new Linbury stage, presented at the theatre’s unveiling, was indeed the work of a young choreographer nurtured by The Royal Ballet’s choreographic development programme, Charlotte Edmonds. It was performed by one of the company’s most charismatic young dancers, Joseph Sissens.

Nor is that all. The Royal Opera House’s new ‘open and accessible’ policy means that there will regularly be free performances in front of house spaces. That, O’Hare feels, will give his dancers more opportunities for creative development.

“We’re talking to all sorts of different people and say, ‘we’re going to put a dancer down there, would you like to do a duet, would you like to do something in the Hamlyn Hall, would you like to do a concert with singers’; so, it is much more a stage for them, they need to come up with ideas as well.”

The Royal Ballet – Something Old, Something New….

There is, however, a need to be realistic about how much more work can be required of an already very busy company. So, for the forthcoming winter period at the Linbury the Royal Ballet as such will perform in only one out of four programmes, New Work New Music in early February.

“To be honest, I think the Royal Ballet as such will only be able to perform one programme a year in the Linbury, because we have such a busy schedule; but then associates of the Royal Ballet will be doing things as well.”

As will other smaller national and foreign companies, such as the National Dance Company of Wales and the Dutch ensemble Introdans, both of which feature in the inaugural period.

Having the Linbury to try new work also gives the Royal Ballet the ability to pack its main programme with established works, without – O’Hare hopes! – being accused of not programming enough new work.

The 2018/19 season opens on 8th October with Mayerling, undoubtedly one of Kenneth MacMillan’s masterpieces and a key part of the Royal Ballet’s repertoire.

The Royal Ballet, Edward Watson in Mayerling (c) ROH 2017 photo Alice Pennefather

Among other hardy perennials are Natalia Makarova’s production of La Bayadère, and that unavoidable staple of the Christmas season everywhere, The Nutcracker, in Sir Peter Wright’s unsurpassable production.

In fact, for the whole of 2018/19, the Royal Ballet will present only two new works on the main stage: Alastair Marriott’s The Unknown Soldier, marking the centenary of the end of World War I, and an as yet unnamed piece by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui.

“For the past five years we’ve done so much and we’ve really pushed the boat out, we’ve had five new full-length productions, which is a lot in five years, plus all the other new works, so it felt like it really is a moment to take a little bit stock, and also knowing that we wanted to make the most of this new opening at the Linbury. I think it’ll be more balanced in the years to come.”

The Royal Ballet: The Heritage

Kevin O’Hare is also keen to use the versatility of the Linbury to show work from an earlier phase in the life of The Royal Ballet, the better to illustrate the company’s history and development.

“We’ll use the Linbury to look at heritage work as well, some of the things that really were done for a small theatre. I’d love to look at something of De Valois that hasn’t been seen, and probably that is the space to do it in, because it was danced at either the Old Vic or Sadler’s Wells or on tour, not a massive opera house stage, so I’m going to look at that.”

It’s fair to say that The Royal Opera House’s redevelopment has been an all-consuming project for all involved since 2010, when the first steps were made, through the past three years when the actual building work went on full steam ahead to meet the unveiling date of September 2018. Kevin O’Hare found the project took him away from his dancers for longer than he would have liked.

“When I first took the job [in 2012], this was when we were talking to all the developers and architects, so for the first six months I had to be at those meetings, because I wouldn’t have wanted not to be a part of it, and for the company to make sure that we didn’t miss out and all those things, but I was going, ‘oh my goodness, I’m having to deal with this and I want to be there with the company.’

“I think it’s very important that I’m there all the time (…) I want the dancers to know I’m there, I’m interested in what they’re doing, I’m coming back afterwards, the next day, I’ll find them in the corridor and say ‘that was great, have you tried this?’

“The same with how it looks on stage, because things change all the time. (…) And if I’m going to make decisions on their careers, what they’re going to be dancing next, I think I need to be seen there all the time.”

The 2018/19 season promises to steer The Royal Ballet in new directions, with the energetic Kevin O’Hare at the helm.  Looking ahead to the year 2020, he says the emphasis will be on new work, gathering together ballets the company premièred in the preceding ten years alongside two new big productions.

All in all, quite a lot to look forward to!


by Teresa Guerreiro