A Conversation on ‘The Conversation’ with Lanre Malaolu
By Ellie Woodward
Lanre Malaolu is a director and choreographer interested in developing timely, socially engaged work using a unique fusion of hip-hop dance, physical theatre and dialogue. He was commissioned by the BFI Doc Society to make his hybrid dance-documentary filmThe Circle, which had its world premiere at Sheffield Doc/Fest last year. His first film Figure won multiple awards and screened at festivals around the world including the BAFTA-qualifying Aesthetica Short Film Festival. He was the choreographer and movement artist on the British Council film Dear Mr. Shakespeare, which was a BUFF selection in September 2019. He spoke to Ellie Woodward for the BUFF Blog about his latest piece, The Conversation.
EW: How do you feel about your film being viewed at home rather than as a collective experience in a cinema? Does this change much for the film?
LM: I think the viewing experience definitely changes how the film will land. As part of the cinema viewing experience, there’s the opportunity to have live discussions in the foyer with friends or family you’ve come with or maybe even the stranger you’re sat next to. Whereas viewing at home, makes the experience less shared one and a bit more personal. Although, it feels like social media has become our equivalent of a cinema foyer at the moment.
EW: Would you say this is a piece to support and comfort black people, to say I am feeling this with you? Or a social awakening piece directed at white people to wake up and listen? Who did you most want this piece to reach?
LM: It’s a mixture of both. I wanted this piece to show a sense of the strength and resilience that black people have no choice but to undertake or build in certain areas of their lives. As well as a “Wake up, listen and see” for white people.
EW: Your works are clearly a very personal expression of your own journey through identifying as a black man, but also tackling mental health issues. Does creating your work, help with your own mental wellbeing? Almost like a diary entry of sorts.
LM: My work is indeed a really big part of me, and allows me to grow, challenge and understand more about myself and myself in relation to the world. But that’s what we all do as humans in some capacity, right? We grow through our experiences, we reflect back on past situations or choices and this builds our character and understanding of who we are. I guess I’ve chosen a very specific vessel to do my growing through.
EW: Was there a particular moment that inspired you to create this piece?
LM: I’ve had these conversations sporadically throughout my whole adult life. As many black people have. Not just in a dating/relationship point of view but friendships, workspaces etc. So I can’t really say it was one specific moment, just a lot of little moments over a long period of time.
EW: I felt a real rhythm of ups and downs in terms of emotions and understanding of each other. There was intense expression and frustration from the black man ignored by the white women, and then a wave of fetishising black culture and placing ‘blackness’ on a pedestal to be dropped at their free will. Do you think expression through dance alters the way in which viewers digest a narrative?
LM: I’m calling what I do “dance” less and less. The thing is, we all speak physically. It’s a scientific fact that body language is over 60% of how we communicate as human beings. I’m obsessed by the depths of truth we can unlock and reveal through movement and how this can be explored through film and theatre storytelling. So, in answer to your question, I definitely think the movement element alters the way viewers digest the narrative, because I believe we all intrinsically understand movement storytelling at our core. I think it connects deeply to people in a way that they sometimes may not even realise… or at least, that’s my hope.
EW: Although the performance in some ways is quite abstract, it’s also strung together by some very direct metaphors that relate to systemic racism. Have you used this method of expression before?
LM: Yeah, I’m always interested in how to challenge the audience through physicalized moments/scenes that aren’t clear cut, and help to layer the story, because life and we humans, are nuanced as fuck.
EW: The piece has a general disregard from the white people as a collective towards the black man’s need for understanding. What was the reason for using an all-female cast rather than mixed genders? Did you also make any deliberate choices in terms of how you wanted these girls to be styled?
LM: I and my producer talked about this a lot. What I will say is definitely keep your eye out for the post-credit restaurant scene in the film! I was keen to start from one focused point of view, but it was important for us to expand out into others… hence the post-credit restaurant scene!
EW: Would you consider directing a feature length film?
EW: Have you got any future projects in the pipeline?
LM: I’ve been signed on to direct and choreograph my first music video which I’m looking forward to. There’s also a couple of other things in the pipeline which I can’t talk about just yet.
EW: You have stated before that your work is inspired by Rudolf Laban’s movement psychology, what is this and how did it inspire you?
LM: “Laban Movement Analysis” is essentially a method and language for describing, visualising, interpreting and documenting human movement. The method uses a multidisciplinary approach, incorporating contributions from anatomy, kinesiology, psychology, Labanotation and other fields. I learnt the foundation of it at my training (as an actor) at Drama Centre London. But I’d be lying if I said I had a specific formula or book that I refer to on every project I undertake. The methodology just filters through me and the way I work with my performers.
EW: The presence of hands seemed to almost control all movements throughout the piece, was there a reason behind this?
LM: Hands are an incredibly expressive part of the body. There’re so many different messages and emotions you can convey through them. When you couple this with the idea of what black hands over generations have gone through, it just seemed to make sense.
(C) Ellie Woodward / BUFF Blog.
The Conversation features in The Uncertain Kingdom, available to watch on digital platforms now.
Follow Lanre Malaolu on Twitter at @LanreMalaolu