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Lee van der Merwe

ACDC Dance Intersect 2024 - Guest Choreographer


In this interview, we'll delve into Lee van de Merwe's creative process, inspirations, and aspirations, gaining insight into the her world of choreography and her vision.


1. What inspired you to pursue a career in choreography, and how did you get started in the field?


I have been choreographing ever since I can remember. I started dancing at the age of three, and my training in dance inspired me to choreograph from a very early age. Back then all I wanted to do was to “make up dances” - not knowing that it had a name, let alone that it could be a possible career. I started entering choreographic competitions as a teenager and have let my various training mold my choreographic mind over the years. I then studied Choreography at the Cape Academy of Performing Arts, which is where I began to create a choreographic voice. 


2. Can you describe your choreographic style and the themes or emotions you often explore in your work?


I tell stories. I try to transport the audience to another world, and to use the stage as an opportunity to say something about ourselves and the world around us. I have explored and developed a love of physical theatre, combining the art of movement with spoken word and theatrical narrative.


My dance and choreographic style is quirky and intricate. I try to explore the way we express ourselves in everyday life through movement using gesture. I explore the human element of movement, often using pedestrian gestures as the foundation of my choreography and then heightening it into dance. 


My work often explores the themes of modern culture, whether that be social media, the entertainment industry, how we communicate through modern technology, and how we navigate this fast paced world. This modern world can leave me feeling lost, isolated, frustrated, overwhelmed and anxious, so I try to tell stories of my experience of the world in my works which will hopefully resonate with the audience. 


3. What do you believe sets your choreography apart from others, and what do you hope audiences take away from your performances?


I have been fortunate to have had a very diverse performing career in both theatre and dance. I therefore approach my choreography from a theatrical perspective, creating more narrative based works. I also try to be brave. I don’t hold back on making bold decisions and going with my gut. 


I am often torn between the need to communicate something “worthwhile”, and people’s need to simply be entertained and watch beautiful dance without feeling they need to analyse or intellectualise it. I seem to bounce from one to the other, or in a perfect world, try to find a balance between the two. 


But all in all, I aim for human connection with the audience. I try to achieve this by being as rooted in truth as I can when I create. Then, hopefully, the audience may see a piece of themselves in the work and might hopefully leave the theatre a little different to when they walked in. 


4. How do you approach the creative process when developing a new piece? What influences your creative decisions and how do you bring your ideas to life?


Throughout my theatre training, I learnt about theatre makers who used the stage to raise awareness of social and political issues. They taught me that a stage is a platform, and not one to be taken lightly. This has always left me questioning the role of dance in theatre spaces. Has this artform been abstracted to the point of isolating the audience? And if it has, how do I help solve this problem? This is always the drive of all of my works. 


With that being said, dance, fundamentally, is simple. Humans dance! We dance to celebrate, to show joy, to socialise and perform rituals. Dance is everywhere, and especially with the internet, I am inspired by dance from across this globe. 


My creative process usually starts with pen and paper. I write stories,, moods, and colours. I gather information from as many sources as possible. This information sits in my subconscious and eventually images start to filter through to the surface. 


My process from then on can progress in different ways depending on the themes I have chosen. I could work with scripts, improvisation, music, film or photography throughout a process of collaboration with other artists.


5. Collaboration is a key in ACDC’s artistic ventures - In what ways do you collaborate with dancers, musicians, and other artists to bring your choreography to the stage? How important is collaboration in your creative process?


It takes a village to create theatre. Collaboration has to be at every step to make the best work possible. In my head, I will often only have an outline of the work. I create the problems and then continue to solve these problems one step at a time, colouring in between the lines to end up with a piece of choreography in the end. It is through collaboration with other artists that I solve these choreographic problems. 


For the work I will be creating for Dance Intersect, I will be collaborating with producer and composer, Dominique Adams. He will be creating all of the sound for the piece and will give his own perspective and ideas on the themes of the work. 


I will also be collaborating with actors, to explore more of the interactive elements of the piece. Of course, collaboration with the dancers will be a critical aspect of the work. This work must be their stories too, not only mine. The dancers and I will do various explorations of stories, movement and emotion. I will encourage the dancers to share their stories and let them express them throughout the process. 


6. Envision ACDC Dance Intersect through your lens. How do you perceive its role and significance in shaping the trajectory of your artistic journey?


Being given the opportunity to choreograph for Dance Intersect is an incredible and massive opportunity. To be given complete artistic freedom on the beautiful Baxter Theatre stage is extremely exciting. I feel that this is an opportunity where I can show the dance community what I can really do. I hope that this opportunity will bring more down the line, but I am truly grateful to have this moment now. For my work to be alongside international companies is wonderful, and it is very exciting that this production will encourage more international exchange within the dance community. 


7. What are your aspirations for the future of your choreographic career, and are there any specific projects or goals you're currently working towards?


At the moment, being a freelance performer, choreographer and teacher is making me extremely happy. One day, I hope to have my own dance & theatre company and soon I will start to seek funding. For now, choreographing for various companies, studios, and for my own choreographic projects such as short films is what I am focusing on. I am focusing on developing my choreographic skills and becoming a better choreographer on each project I create.


*Photography by Sean Shannon 

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