Twins and War

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Choreographer Renato Paroni de Castro speaks fast: “I think so much. I think five phrases and speak one”. Images, self-deprecating humour and profound ideas mix in a vivid stream. 

He is working with on a new piece with Sarah Kundi and identical twins Vitor and Guilherme Menezes for English National Ballet’s “Choreographics” 2015.

“I was parachuted in. I am making this because Tamara (Rojo — ENB’s Artistic Director) said I should. I was her teacher and we are now good friends.” He says he is, “Not famous, except in some circles. I have been at the fringe for so long, doing what I want to do.”

He has loved working with ENB dancers and was delighted to find twins. “Twins are in the collective unconscious, like Cain and Abel. I understand how they feel. When I saw the twins I thought of myself and my twin brother… I am always thinking about twins and tragedy. There is always tragedy with twins. You are never a totally full individual.” (Vitor and Guilherme laugh identically as they disagree with him.)

This has been a departure from his usual work: “Normally there is no narrative. For me, a story pollutes a choreography,” but this piece is all story. He began to think like a Luis Buñuel film, or Robert Altman’s “Short Cuts”, where the camera picks out one character at a time, linking from one to another and another, following many threads. “Everything is connected. I started to write about war widows, San Diego, the navy boats, working class, Latino sailors. Lots did not come back.” He talks about his own twin , who became seriously ill. Everything is connected.

The piece is a story about twin brothers who fight over the same girl, but the one who wins her does not come back from the war, except as a kind of dream or vision for one last dance. He smiles: “It would be good if we could all come back, a couple of weeks after we die, to sort a few things out.”

The music alternates martial brass and latin rhythms but it is not fixed yet. “When I do a plotless ballet I am obsessed with the music and the steps. This has been different, I have learnt to be different.”

He talks about the process he followed. “I am precise and make the steps quickly” but “I discuss with dancers. I do not have more knowledge than they have.” He feels that classicism is always relevant and talks about Ballanchine. “Choreographers have to be successful today”, he says, “They cannot fail, but failure is essential to make something good.” He thinks that Ballanchine made lots of bad work, but this exploration enabled him to make some works that changed dance forever. His language is vivid: “It is like people wanting a baby, but without a placenta and all the mess. It cannot be done.”

The rehearsal has intense discussion of emotion and motive, almost nothing about technique: “I am not so concerned with technical problems”. The dancers say it took them a couple of sessions to find his wavelength, but they obviously love working on the piece. It contrasts brotherly unity between the twins with joyful or tragic duets with Sarah. The work will be presented at Sadlers Wells. Opening night is only a week away.

“I want the audience to realise that war is useless, absurd. Art is the one thing that can fight on the side of Good. I believe in evil: greed, stupidity and anger need to be transformed. I also want the audience to take account of the three people dancing. On a subliminal level, the people making an effort to dance better. Why else would they do this beyond the repertoire?”

“I want the audience to close their eyes and still see them dancing.”

This interview was written while participating in English National Ballet’s “Dance is the Word” programme 2015. The image is in the public domain (from the US Navy)