Greek mythology, equality and culture in Leeds – Sandrine Monin, Phoenix Dance Theatre, shares her inspiration and approach to choreographing and performing.
Sandrine Monin is a dancer in demand. As I speak with her, not only is she about to head off on tour to perform Sharon Watson’s acclaimed creation Windrush at Latitude Festival, but Sandrine is also in the midst of preparing for two new pieces with Phoenix, one of which she’s personally choreographed.
More of that later. Born in France, Sandrine trained and danced across Europe, moving from Germany to Leeds in 2012. Why Leeds exactly? “When I was in Germany, I knew I wanted to change my style. I found Phoenix Dance Theatre online and I loved the diversity and physicality of their repertoire. So, I came over to the UK, auditioned and here I am. That was almost 6 years ago and I love Leeds so much. I’ve seen at first-hand how over the last couple of years how it’s developed so much, culturally.”
So where does Sandrine head out to in her precious spare time off the stage and out of the studio? “There’s always something to see in Leeds – I go to Opera North regularly, and also to the Arena. The Wardrobe is great for comedy shows – I like to watch diverse things.”
Many dancers look to make the move into choreography. But how does it work – particularly when you’re still dancing more than you are creating the performances?
“Since I’ve been choreographing more, the balance is different. Now I’ve shifted to become more of a choreographer, since 2016 when I created my first piece, I’m getting used to it. The first time, I found it hard choreographing and dancing in the same group of dancers.”
But does becoming a successful choreographer only follow being an amazing dancer? “You do need to have good knowledge of dance. You can give the dancers moves that you can’t do; it might be something that your own body physically couldn’t perform. That way, you can also mix your style with the dancers, so it becomes very collaborative.”
Sandrine does take that very collaborative approach to choreography: “I start with a lot of research, to give clear ideas to the dancers. Then I usually create or dance something myself in front of them so that they can see and understand my style. I then give them creative tasks so we can mix all of our styles.”
Mixing styles and keeping her inspiration diverse is a conscious effort that Sandrine makes.
“My inspiration is definitely really diverse – training in ballet first was great for inspiring me aesthetically and also teaching me how to control my body. I then moved on to contemporary. I like to keep my tastes diverse, from traditional ballet right through to very conceptual contemporary dance. It keeps me learning.”
After performing Windrush, Sandrine’s preparing for the re-worked version of Troy Game that’s part of the new season at Phoenix. So, what’s changed? “This was an all-male piece originally, so it’s great to have a half female and half male cast now with our version. We actually didn’t change anything in terms of steps; it was important to me to demonstrate that women can do the same steps as men! It then becomes more representative of equality. Male and female dancers have different strengths but women can still be strong – there’s perhaps also more sensitivity that comes through with this new version. It’s really demanding choreography with a lot of jumps, so it’s challenging – but a good challenge to show that women can do it!”
Sandrine has also been creating a preview of a new piece, choreographed for Phoenix at Home. She explains: “It’s a preview so it’s still in development, but the idea was inspired by Circe, the first sorceress and ‘power woman’ character in Greek mythology. The idea came from the composer who I’d collaborated with before. The main character will be danced by a female, but there are male characters in the cast too.”
So working with a composer must make for an epic score – and a pretty special performance is the vision for the soundtrack. Sandrine continues: “His work is a mix of instrumental and electronic styles, and our aim is to create a surround sound, immersive experience for the completed, full project with musicians on stage. For the preview, we’ll be using speakers around the audience to make it as immersive as we can.”
And after Latitude Festival this summer, Troy Game and her preview, what does the future hold? “I just want to create more. I want to keep exploring and stay curious. People always told me to be curious, explore and don’t limit yourself.”
Who knows where Sandrine Monin’s self-challenging attitude to her life and work will lead her, her collaborators and her audiences?
Phoenix at Home runs from 18th to 20th October at the Stanley and Audrey Burton Theatre in Leeds. You can buy tickets here
Emma moved to Leeds from her native Birmingham to study at the University 16 years ago. Emma worked in digital, now logistics, and can often be found scrolling through social media, both inside and outside the office, enjoying Leeds’ bar and restaurant scene and then working it all off at the gym. Emma’s diverse interests enable her to write on a range of topics, from tech to food to health.