Many of our audiences will remember Sophie Laplane from her countless breath-taking performances on stage with Scottish Ballet since joining the company in 2004. In June 2017, Sophie decided to hang up her pointe shoes and focus on her career in choreography, at which point CEO / Artistic Director Christopher Hampson invited Sophie to be Scottish Ballet’s first ever Choreographer in Residence.
The past 12 months have been jam packed for Sophie, with her work being performed all over the world. Learn about her choreographic journey so far in an interview below and read a few of her tips for budding young choreographers.
So what have you been up to? Tell us a bit about the projects you’ve been working.
I’ve created a few pieces, two duets and a trio for Scottish Ballet events which have been great opportunities to explore new ideas for future projects with SB. I’m working on my MA in Choreography with Central School of Ballet which I started in January. That’ll be ongoing until 2019. In January I was also selected to take part in the Women in Dance Leadership Conference in New York City where I showcased the male duet from Sibilo. The same piece was also shown in Manchester as part of the Sadler’s Wells Dance: Sampled season at The Lowry. The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland re-visited one of the pieces I originally created in 2014, which was interesting for me as I was able to look back on my choreographic journey. Another memorable event was going to Buckingham Palace with other Scottish Ballet staff for Prince Charles’ 70th birthday celebrations. More recently I’ve just created a piece with Project Y, Scottish Youth Dance which was performed at Tramway in July before going on tour throughout Scotland. The piece is called Persist! and is about women’s determination to reach the goals they’ve set themselves.
Has your choreographic practice changed in the time you’ve been Scottish Ballet’s Choreographer in Residence?
The biggest change for me has been having to work out my own schedule! I have more time now to explore new ideas and do research. It was difficult when I was a dancer balancing dance commitments and choreography. I’m also now working with dancers outside of Scottish Ballet which is a new and enriching experience for me. I’m discovering dancers from different backgrounds, different ages, with different levels of training and working, often within very tight schedules. This demands a lot of preparation. With Scottish Ballet dancers I still feel at home so it’s probably easier to explore ideas and be more experimental with SB dancers. What’s incredibly valuable to me is to be able to use the studios at Scottish Ballet when they’re available even if it’s just for trying things out for future projects.
Have there been any unexpected lessons you’ve learned? Insights? Revelations?
It’s hard to keep as fit when you’re not dancing from 10am till 6pm every day! As a freelance choreographer, I’ve learned life is different outside Scottish Ballet. Within Scottish Ballet everything is on hand - you can pop down and talk to Mary [Head of Wardrobe] about costumes, if you’ve got an idea involving props you can ask the technical department, everything is accessible. Things are harder without this luxury! As is being responsible for “selling myself”. I’ve realised the importance of making connections and showing one’s face… it’s not easy if you’re a little shy.
Tell us a little bit about your process in the studio. Do you give the dancers tasks to create movement, or teach it to them?
It depends who I’m working with. My work tends to be very detailed and precise, so I always have a concept and the vocabulary of the piece in mind and I’m very clear about what I want. But if I know the dancers and they know my style, I know I’ll be able to experiment with them and listen to their input. If I don’t know the dancers in advance, I tend to prep the movement beforehand in greater detail but still try to leave some flexibility. Some of the most rewarding moments in the studio come from unexpected surprises. Also, watching dancers come up with movements based on tasks I’ve given them helps me to see whether we’re all reading from the same page. I know as a dancer I always enjoyed working with choreographers who asked for input and I think choreography is becoming more and more about a collaborative journey rather than teaching movement.
Are there any works by other choreographers that you’re excited to see in the next few months?
I know Constant Vigier [Scottish Ballet First Artist] has a work in the Edinburgh Fringe - (Mes)dames [tickets here]. I’m very excited for him and will definitely be going along to see it. Unfortunately I’ll be away for much of August but am planning to see Sharon Eyal’s Love Cycle in the Edinburgh International Festival. There are always exciting things happening at Dance Base during the Fringe so I’ll see as much as possible there. Unfortunately I’ll miss Akram Kahn, as I’ll be working with National Youth Ballet in Birmingham. I also want to see Peter Brook’s play The Prisoner because I think it’s important for choreographers to expand their interests to theatre and all art forms. Need to find inspiration!
What advice would you give to a budding young choreographer?
To get out of your comfort zone! Explore as many art forms as possible and always keep an open mind. Let yourself be inspired. Stimulate your creativity constantly even if it’s not for a particular project. Creativity is like a muscle - keep it toned. Always finish rehearsals and projects asking yourself what worked, what didn’t work, where there’s room for improvement. And keep going - everyone has days when they feel stuck, but the important thing is to persist even on the days when the creativity doesn’t flow.
What does the next few months look like for you? What do you have planned?
I’m going straight into another project with Mikah Smillie, Artistic Director of National Youth Ballet, starting in August, alongside choreographers Emily-Jane Boyle, Louise Bennett, Matthew Nicolson and Jo Meredith. The works will be showcased at the Crescent Theatre in Birmingham 30 and 31 August and at Sadler’s Wells 2 September. Then I’ll be leading a week of workshops with Central School of Ballet in London in September and after that I’ll be heading to New York to lead workshops with dancers from New York City Ballet at the New York Choreographic Institute, which is a very exciting departure for me.