How did you get the idea for Just Add Water?
I was sitting in a restaurant in Upper Street, north London, with the composer Orlando Gough, and we were just talking about the diversity of food and cooking and ingredients. It was around the time that citizenship tests had been introduced in the UK, so we were just contrasting that kind of very planned, bureaucratic initiative with what was happening in the restaurant, which just relied on people’s interest in food to bring them together. That is a more organic move towards integration: it was happening without being directed. So those ideas were the starting point.
It’s very striking that the dancers speak in this piece, which they haven’t done in previous works. Why did you use speech here?
I was following on from a project I did in Hong Kong about two years ago. Part of the commission there was to use text, which I hadn’t really done that before, so I was experimenting with new ideas. I did not want the dancers to be actors and for me the “text” was always produced by the dancer’s body. So I started playing with the idea of the dancer’s voice as if it were another limb, like an extra leg or an arm. I would choreograph the voice not so much for the literal meaning but also for its texture, rhythm and shape.
You use recipes as the text for this piece, which neatly brings together these ideas. How did you choose the recipes?
The dancers chose their own recipes, which the writer Rani Ramamoorthy and I then worked on. We didn’t want to use the text like a script which is then voiced, like a playscript. It was part of the choreography, composed to serve the movement. So in the first section, which we called “Home Truths”, the dancers all show different personalities in how they move. The recipes add another dimension to that, but they are part of the same portrait.
So at first, the dancers simply present themselves. What happens to them over the course of the piece?
In the first section we meet the dancers, then in the second section the dancers meet each other. It’s a kind of base-one stage of interaction, as if the cook has cut them up and put them together in a bowl. The encounters are quite confrontational. Everyone stays separate: they’re not doing anything to each other apart from defining their differences. We called this section “Food Fight”, because that is what fights and arguments are about.
The next section we called “Add”. For the first time, there are trios and quartets, not just solos and duets, so a new level of composition emerges from that. At the same time, the music takes more of a leading role. In the first sections, the soundscore had used chopping and frying noises to support the text, or made room for the words to be spoken and enhance the idea of fragmentation and conflict. But in “Add” the music propels the dancers, and it prepares to take over the spoken text from the dancers.
The next section, “Stir”, is introduced on an empty stage by projected visuals. There is quite a dramatic change of gear as we prepare to enter a more abstract world. The ingredients are ground to smaller and smaller bits. The video is abstract but with a lot of motion in it – everything is stirred around, the patterns become quite molecular.
The dancers return for the final section, which carries on that molecular idea of things happening that are invisible – changes that you can sense more than see. We called this part “Marinade”, because the marinating ingredients may look motionless but there is a lot happening on a molecular level. This section has a very different energy, with lower lighting. Instead of the recognisable words and clear shapes that started the piece, everything is less defined. The dancers’ differences have been reconfigured, and new connections are being made.
So that’s a kind of integration? Not an ordered mixing or a homogeneous blend, but more like a biochemical process. Like cooking?
I think for surface differences to change we need the time to marinate. The deeper we go, the greater the chances of finding new and radical partnerships – like Heston Blumenthal’s famous bacon-and-egg ice cream.