Interview: James Cousins at 2013 Edinburgh Festival with his own company and Scottish Ballet

  • Edinburgh Festival Guide
  • 15 July 2013

This article is from 2013

Interview: James Cousins at 2013 Edinburgh Festival with his own company and Scottish Ballet

New work from upcoming dancer and choreographer at International Festival and Fringe

James Cousins has been hailed as a future star of British dance. Kelly Apter chats to the man who is plying his trade on both International and Fringe stages in August

When the most successful British dance maker in history gives you the nod of approval, you must be doing something right. Launched by Matthew Bourne and his company in 2011, the New Adventures Choreographer Award was set up to support emerging talent in the dance world. Bourne was, he said, looking for somebody with a ‘passion to communicate and entertain through movement’.

Step forward James Cousins, the inaugural winner of this new prize, and a young man destined to play a large part in the future of British dance. Despite only graduating from London Contemporary Dance School in 2010, Cousins has already won the aforementioned award, started his own company and received a number of notable commissions.

When I speak to him, Cousins is busy making a new piece for the National Ballet of Chile, and when he returns to the UK, his work will be performed at both the Edinburgh International Festival and the Fringe. In short, Cousins is on quite the trajectory. ‘Yes, I often feel like I’m on a very fast track, but I love the challenge of it,’ says the 24-year-old. ‘It’s so exciting and fulfilling, but also rather terrifying at times. I’ve never felt like I’m way out of my depth, though, because I have so many people to go to for help and advice.’ Not least Bourne himself, whose mentorship formed part of the award.

In the EIF, Cousins will choreograph two works for Scottish Ballet’s epic Dance Odysseys programme, in the ‘New Voices’ and ‘Duets’ sections. And at the Fringe, he’ll present There We Have Been, a duet inspired by Japanese author Haruki Murakami’s 1987 novel Norwegian Wood. Set in 1960s Tokyo, the story opens with three close friends, two of whom are left shattered by the third’s suicide, until they eventually start to find comfort in each other.

‘I decided to focus on the first four chapters of the novel, where the relationship between the two main characters develops from acquaintances into lovers,’ explains Cousins. ‘What fascinated me in the book was this constant pull in both characters between their feelings for each other and for the third character – the girl’s ex-boyfriend and the guy’s best friend – who has taken his own life.’

Exploring ideas of emotional support, Cousins took the bold step of using an unusual choreographic device for the entire duet: at no point does the female dancer touch the floor. ‘I wanted the female dancer to really emphasise her vulnerability and dependence on him,’ explains Cousins. ‘I thought maybe we’d manage ten minutes of that, then have a second section of something else. But I realised it was too strong an idea to follow with anything else, so we had to keep pushing it. Obviously that caused quite a challenge, as there are only so many things two people can do without touching the floor and it’s easy to get stuck in a loop. But I was fortunate enough to have time to really explore and push the vocabulary; I can still see it developing every time they perform it, which is really exciting.’

James Cousins Company: There We Have Been, Zoo Southside, Nicolson Street, 0131 662 6892, 19–26 Aug, 10.30am, £8

Scottish Ballet: Dance Odysseys, Festival Theatre, Nicolson Street, 0131 473 2000, 16 Aug, noon; 17 Aug, 5pm; 18 Aug, noon, 5pm; 19 Aug, 5pm, £12.

Dance Odysseys

  • 4 stars

This festival within a festival celebrates the breadth of ballet from classic to contemporary. Featuring a diverse mixture of world premières, including work from Scottish Ballet, Scottish Dance Theatre and Gelabert Azzopardi Companyia de Dansa.

Contemporary Classics

Exciting contemporary classics from established choreographers each of whom challenged their own genre of dance. Featuring Christopher Bruce’s 'Shift', an energetic study of 1940s factory workers during the war; Jirí Kylián’s 14´20˝ – a sensual duet of feral beauty and human entanglement taken from the choreographer’s…

Dance Odysseys Discussion

An overview of this unique weekend of dance, chaired by Scottish Ballet’s Artistic Director Christopher Hampson.

Édouard Lock: World Premiere (2013)

Scottish Ballet presents a World Premiere from La La La Human Steps Founder, Artistic Director and Choreographer Édouard Lock. Lock is renowned for his extreme, incandescent style of dance and his precise technique. His boldly challenging style has always attracted international attention. His creations are an arresting…

Forgotten Memories

This is a filmed documentary on Jirí Kylián’s life, way of thinking and most significant creations. Shot in 2011 in The Hague, Prague, Monte Carlo and Paris with Sabine Kupferberg dancing as Kylián rehearses some of his works. Film directed by Christian Dumais-Lvowski and Don Kent.

New Voices

World premieres: California’s Helen Pickett – a former dancer for William Forsythe and now Resident Choreographer at Atlanta Ballet – is renowned for energetic yet poetic creations. James Cousins’s contemplative and gripping style has won him the inaugural New Adventures Choreographer Award. Martin Lawrance shares the…

New Voices Discussion

A panel of emerging choreographers discusses the New Voices programme, hosted by Dance Base Artistic Director Morag Deyes.

Contemporary Classics Conversation

Christopher Hampson and Jane Pritchard, Curator of Dance at the V&A, inž conversation.


Relationships come into focus in extracts from the canon of Scottish Ballet’s Founding Artistic Director Peter Darrell, and new collaborators James Cousins and Helen Pickett. Darrell’s poignant Five Rückert Songs embodies the feelings in Friedrich Rückert’s poetry on love, loss and loneliness with lingering steps and…

Pierrot Lunaire (1962)

This seminal work from American dancer and choreographer Glen Tetley was also the starting point of his now iconic choreographic style – combining modern dance with the elongated line and aerial bravura of ballet. It is a style he perfected through his professional career performing leading roles in the Martha Graham…

Pierrot Lunaire Talk

Christopher Hampson and Jane Pritchard discuss this seminal work.


Scottish Dance Theatre's SisGO fresh from the Edinburgh International Festival.

The Green Table/Portrait of Mary Wigman

Choreographed in 1932, The Green Table is known as Kurt Jooss’s masterpiece. In this film of a performance in the 1960s by Folkwang Ballet, the dancers include a young Pina Bausch. Portrait of Mary Wigman: at the end of the roaring twenties Mary Wigman provoked a real revolution in the world of dance.

Cest Gelabert Conversation

Choreographer and solo performer Gerhart Bonher on the making of Im (Goldenen) Schnitt I.

The Rite of Spring

Intense and visceral, Christopher Hampson’s vision of The Rite of Spring, created originally for Atlanta Ballet, is presented 100 years after the original production revolutionised the world of dance and music. Set to Stravinsky’s exhilaratingly influential score, Hampson uses three dancers – two men and a woman – to…

The Rite of Spring Talk

The Rite of Spring Talk with choreographer Christopher Hampson.

Dance on Film Talk

Curator of Dance Odysseys films Nele Hertling shares her thoughts on dance on celluloid.

Im (Goldenen) Schnitt I (reconstruction 1996)

Moving through constellations of wood and Plexiglas pillars, reacting in sculptor Vera Röhm’s space Cesc Gelabert recreates Gerhard Bohner’s original concept highlighting elements of dance, visual arts and music while allowing them to remain autonomous. Bach’s 'Well-Tempered Clavier', interpreted by Keith Jarrett…

Reflections on Dance Odysseys

Mary Brennan, Dance Critic of The Herald, chairs a discussion with Scottish Ballet Artistic Director Christopher Hampson, Scottish Dance Theatre Artistic Director Fleur Darkin and Dance Base Artistic Director Morag Deyes.

There We Have Been

There We Have Been takes inspiration from the troubled relationships portrayed in Murakami's bestselling novel, Norwegian Wood. Focusing on the first half of the story and the development of relationships between the novel’s protagonist and his late best friend's girlfriend, Cousins presents a daringly intimate glimpse…