Imaginative Maliphant moves with the times

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Reading Russell Maliphant’s CV, nothing fits together: ballet, t’ai chi, martial arts and deep-tissue massage. Watching his choreography, it comes together perfectly. The Ottawa-born dancer and choreographer returns to Ireland this month with a collection of works that are the perfect summation of his past experience: formal, emotional, disciplined and energised, and constructed with an intimate knowledge of the body and how it moves.


“I’ve always been naturally curious about other movement forms, but I also want to feed that knowledge back into my choreography,” he says by phone from Italy, where he is performing a duet with Sylvie Guillem. In the past year, Maliphant has created six works for companies including English National Ballet and Munich Ballet, additions to a long list that includes Robert Lepage, Balletboyz and Lyon Opera Ballet.


Catching a glimpse of Rudolf Nureyev on television dancing Le Corsaire drew the nine-year-old Maliphant to his sister’s ballet class. Immediately smitten, he went on to train at the Royal Ballet School and began dancing with Sadler’s Wells Royal Ballet (now Birmingham Royal Ballet).


During the company’s frequent tours, he would spurn the standard pre-performance ballet warm-up and practise t’ai chi instead. While on tour in Brazil, he discovered capoeira – a martial-arts and dance form – and sought out classes on his return to London.


These excursions into other movement forms weren’t a two-fingered protest to the ballet world, but were driven by restless curiosity for other experiences. He grew tired of Sadler’s Wells’ diet of 19th-century ballet classics, and left to channel his creativity elsewhere, initially with a small ballet company called Dance Advance. It got him noticed outside the institutionalised ballet set-up.



Serial killer choreography


DV8’s Lloyd Newson is about as far away from that world as you could get: he is a brilliant and outspoken modern dance choreographer who was then focusing on all that was wrong in Thatcherite Britain.


He invited Maliphant to perform in Dead Dreams for Monochrome Men, an attack on legislation, introduced in 1988, that prevented local councils from using public money to “promote homosexuality”. Dead Dreams was based on the case of serial killer Dennis Nilsen, who murdered 15 gay men at his home. Keen to further explore his interest in capoeira, Maliphant also teamed up with Laurie Booth, who combined contemporary dance, contact improvisation and the martial-art form.


To take care of his body through this busy schedule, he had some deep-tissue massage called rolfing, which was developed by Ida Rolf and involves adjusting fascia – the connective tissue around muscles – to get the skeleton aligned. “I was interested in learning more, so I did a pre-training course,” he says. This was followed by a four-year training programme to become a certified practitioner.

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