Kevin Edward Turner is the Co-Artistic Director of Company Chameleon, who will be returning to Bournemouth on Thursday 9 March with Witness – a production that tells a powerful story through dance and movement, sensitively portraying how loved ones cope when mental health problems take hold of someone close. We recently caught up with Kevin to find out more about him as an artist, and his thoughts on the arts world:
– Why do you do what you do?
I do what I do because I find it extremely rewarding and satisfying. I get to make, perform, teach, lead and be creative. I am very lucky that I love what I do, and get to share that feeling with others.
– How do you work?
I like to work in a serious but playful environment. I think that it is good to create a positive and productive atmosphere in the studio. If artists can be themselves, then they can invest all of themselves.
– What’s your background?
I am mixed race from a working class family who had no link to the arts. I was introduced to this wonderful world of creativity and expression through wonderful teachers and mentors at my local youth dance theatre. From the age of 8 to 16, at the youth dance theatre I attended, we explored creative dance, improvisation and contact improvisation. I studied formally at the NSCD then went on to work with companies in the UK and further afield. I have performed with Rambert, Scottish Dance Theatre, Phoenix Dance Theatre, Henri Oguike, Mad Dogs, Finn Walker, Victor Quijada and others.
– What’s integral to the work of an artist?
Creativity, collaboration and communication.
– What role does the artist have in society?
I feel an artist’s role in society is to hold up the mirror up to people so they can see the reflection of themselves and the human condition. Our role is to provoke, engage, initiate, educate and inspire.
– What has been a seminal experience?
For me there have been many seminal experiences. One experience was when I was teaching a two day workshop in a youth offender’s institution in Cape Town, South Africa. I didn’t know it until after the workshop but these young men aged 11-15 were inside for terrible crimes; a product of their poverty and desperation. They all shuffled into the main hall with the guardians/wardens observing in silence.
We got the music pumping and with support from partner’s Jazzart’s apprentices and company members, they observed and participated in our activity as a sharing of practice. We took the young men through a process and introduced them to rep and ideas from Rites, Company Chameleon’s first work. The work explores what it means to be a man, coming of age, and the initiation rites of becoming a man.
By the end of the last session they were dancing and sharing their own ideas and choreography. It was truly moving, the young men and the guardians/wardens were fully engaged in the moment either by watching or performing. They were, for that day, able to transcend their situation, closed behind bars and walls, living with the terrible crimes they had committed and be free to create, share, collaborate, communicate and express.
One young man no older than 12, had a crude self made tattoo on his arm which said, “Mommy why did you not love me? I am sorry I do bad things”. It made me realise the difficulties, pain and suffering in this young man’s life, and how honoured I was to be in that situation and be there to share and guide him through a process, I was lucky enough to be able to create the space for him to find himself, free from the context he resided in, to share with him another world of movement, creativity, imagination, ideas and expression. The young man’s dance was incredible, and I could see all that he carried as he shared his dance. All of the young men’s dances were beautiful, fragile, authentic and honest. It was another confirmation for me of what I already knew, as it had happened to me, the transformational power of the arts.
– Explain what you do in 100 words
I am a Co-Artistic Director and Co-Founder of Company Chameleon. My role has many aspects. I perform, choreograph, teach, represent, correspond, project manage, administrate, direct, produce, conceive and initiate activity and projects for the company. I develop conversations and relationships with partners, and take a lead on the vision and trajectory of the company. I identify myself as an artist first and making, performing, teaching, directing and sharing/ leading practice were my heart will always be. Creating the conditions and then creating the engaging inspiring, provoking and relevant work is what it is all about for me.
– How has your practice changed over time?
I think your practice is something that is in constant flux and evolution. You cannot take the person away from the art, and as an individual life changes and your thoughts and feelings change with it. What is in important to you shifts and changes over time. I am still interested in authenticity and honesty and the power of raw performance, and the complexity of relationships and the human condition. I often try out different approaches and methods to play and expand my understanding of creating and teaching.
– What work do you most enjoying doing?
I think any studio-based activity I really enjoy doing, whether it is making, rehearsing, directing or teaching. The studio and the theatre are my true homes.
– What themes do you pursue?
I pursue ideas that I feel interested and engaged by, themes that I feel are important and need to be discussed. I am interested in relationships and the human condition; I am inspired by stories. I like making stories as a way to explore bigger ideas
– Describe a real-life situation that inspired you?
In my latest autobiographical work Witness, there is a scene that is based on a testimony from my brother about an interaction we had when I was manic and in poor mental health. When my brother told me about the incident when I interviewed him as part of the research, I remember being shocked as I had no recollection of it. My brother explained what I did and said, and how I behaved and acted. This real life situation inspired me and became part of Witness.
– What memorable responses have you had to your work?
When I was performing in Spain, an Old Spanish couple came up to me after the performance. They spoke no English and I do not speak Spanish, but I understood their sentiment. They both had tears in their eyes and they were smiling and both in turn gave me a big hug. It was a really lovely and humbling exchange; they had felt something and were moved, which in turn moved me. I love how art can provide a mirror to people’s lives. Even though they spoke another language I knew we had shared something.
– What food, drink, song inspires you?
The food that inspires me is Sweet Potato, it is one of your 5 a day and it is a good carb for energy. I am not a big drinker, so I will have to say coffee. It keeps me going in rehearsal.
– What is your dream project?
My dream project is to create a huge multi-disciplinary outdoor performance with dance, theatre and music at its heart. Working with a huge cast and production team where I could create a large scale work that would tour and have the biggest impact possible. I would love to make a work on the Royal Ballet.
– Favourite or most inspirational performance?
Lloyd Newson, Vim Vandekeybus, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui
– What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given as an artist?
To be yourself, and to always ask questions.
– Professionally, what’s your goal?
To create great work that engages and provokes thought and feeling.
To create platforms and opportunities for others, and help develop the next generation of artist in communities locally, nationally and internationally.
To help develop and lead the dance ecology in Manchester.