Foto: Philipp Zinniker

Real Talk with Freelance Choreographer Cathy Marston

by Armando Braswell

What did you want to be when you were older? Did you always want to do what you are doing now?

No. When I was very young I wanted to be a police woman because there was a TV program called “Juliet Bravo” and I thought that the female detective was fantastic and I wanted to be her. My mum then told me that she was actually an actress playing a police woman, so I wanted to be an actress, but there weren’t any acting classes for children my age in the area. I started tap dancing first and then went to ballet, and that took over.

I like dancers who… work from the inside out.

I am afraid of… If I take time off, that I will be forgotten; that it would be very hard to climb back on the ladder so to speak. I don’t know if that is really the case, but I have a feeling it might be.

Something you would change in the dance world?

I would make networking, in order to develop one’s career, a far more transparent and less time consuming activity.

Something You would change in the real world?

That’s really hard, I mean there is clearly so many things to change socially, politically, financially and so on. My real world at the moment, is very much centered on my children…and right now I would really like it if my baby didnt cry when I drop her off at child care every morning.

3 Sisters by Cathy Marston, Photo by Philipp Zinniker

What is something you would change in ballet education?

Speaking about ‘ballet’ education: More of a focus on nurturing creative and curious dancers and not only nurture those qualities in the few who aspire to be choreographers. I would also love it if dance became part of education in normal schools everywhere. In terms of general education, I wish dance was obligatory on every school’s curriculum.

Who is someone who has inspired you?

I had two choreographic teachers when I was at the Royal Ballet School, Norman Morris and David Drew. Sadly, both have passed on now, but they both really inspired me to choreograph.

Do you have any goals?

Gosh! I mean I am working at them every day. I love making work. There are many stories I want to tell through dance. I want to make them with the best possible collaborators, the best possible dancers. The most creative teams that I can find. That is my dream.

Jane Eyre by Cathy Marston, Photo Caroline Holden

What is your take on the lack of female choreographers and directors?

It’s a huge question which I get asked a lot and I think there are many answers, all of which have a grain of truth or more in them. It is so hard to answer in general. I think starting a family has got a lot to do with it. I am experiencing this at the moment, I have two children and it is really difficult moment to get through… and I mean it’s not a moment; it’s a 18 year or more commitment to ‘grow’ children. I am sure that is a stumbling block for some women…and men. Perhaps there is also some truth in the idea of a sort of ‘club’ of male leaders, it’s a residue left over from many years and its sometimes harder to break into that world as a woman. There are exceptions to every rule so you can’t really say that one thing or another is the only reason.

I made a very deliberate decision not to take time out. I have two children now; last summer I premiered Lolita (for the Copenhagen Summer Ballet) a week before giving birth to my second child, Gilbert.  Since he has been born I have had three big productions, two of which were creations. But hey – it’s working! I love traveling with my children as much as I love being at home with them. It brings another dimension to our relationship as well.

One has to acknowledge that there is an imbalance. I think that one of the problems is that people do not want to consider and admit to that inequality – even now. Until it is acknowledged it won’t change. In the UK it is a big topic. It is frequently highlighted in the national papers and is regularly discussed at high levels.

Northern Ballet’s Jane Eyre, a ballet by Cathy Marston. Photo Emma Kauldhar

The major question in terms of action is whether the ‘gatekeepers’, should be programming purely on an artistic basis (and that doesn’t mean on a qualitative basis at all because obviously that’s subjective) or should they try to look at other factors such as equality and diversity in various areas. Many people are very resistant to looking at anything other than artistic taste.

As a result of the topic being so hotly discussed in the UK, there is now considerable work being done; I was involved, for example, in a project with ‘Tonic Theatre’ in the UK whose mission is to support the theatre industry to achieve greater gender equality. Sadlers Wells and Northern Ballet were both involved, both of which organisations I have worked with, and I hope we will see some of their good intentions being transformed into action.

Advice for young women who want to be choreographers?

Well I guess it’s ‘do it’. Be resilient. Keep doing it and then do it more. I have enjoyed a slow-burn career. Maybe I noticed some of my colleagues having more of a steep curve in terms of how their career builds and I am very happy that mine has been so spread out – both in time and geography. Look further afield than might be your first instinct. Find your place.