The first contemporary dancer to be nominated in the dance category of the South Bank Show / Times Newspaper Breakthrough Award, the recipient of an Olivier Award for Outstanding Achievement in Dance and winner of the Critics Circle National Dance Award for Best Male Dancer, Jonathan Goddard is a renowned contemporary dancer and well known for his work with Richard Alston Dance Company, Scottish Dance Theatre and Rambert Dance Company.
Melanie Zaalof talked to Jonathan about his training, his inspiration and his upcoming title role in Mark Bruce Company’s new dance theatre production of Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
How did you begin dancing?
I began dancing at the age of five in Hastings where I grew up – I would jump around to music at the back of a local keep-fit class attended by my mother, there was a creative movement group in the same venue on other evenings and it was suggested that I might like to give that a go.
What made you decide that dance was something you’d like to pursue as a profession? How did you train?
After studying dance locally, at the age of eleven I became a Royal Ballet Junior Associate, I found the competitive nature of the ballet classes difficult and the training hard, so when offered the chance of a full time place at White Lodge I decided not to go. My parents were supportive and I continued normal schooling, taking dance lessons on the side.
After GCSEs I decided that I would like to try and pursue dance as a career, I loved the rigor and physical training in the class work that sits alongside pure expression and although I enjoyed academic study, the challenge of trying to ‘conquer a technique’ which in my case mostly did not come naturally, appealed to me. At 16 I auditioned for a place at a full time training course, but was turned down by all the classical schools, which was tough. Rambert and London Contemporary Dance Schools offered me places but as I was unable to gain a scholarship to pay for the LCDS fees so I opted to train at Rambert which was free. The training was fantastic. It came as a shock as I had never done any contemporary dance before; faced with a whole new technique I resolved to try and achieve a good standard in both classical and modern styles.
You’ve had a very successful career, what would you pick as your greatest highlight to date?
I have had many different highlights but I think becoming the first modern dancer to be recognised as Best Male Dancer by the Critics Circle was pretty special. To break through a glass ceiling and be recognised alongside ballet stars like Carlos Acosta (who had won the year before) was very gratifying.
You’re performing in Mark Bruce Company’s new dance theatre production of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, which is based on the original book. How have you prepared to play the role?
I read the book! I’ve consciously steered away from watching any Dracula films, I have been getting inspiration from a variety of different sources – Walter Sickert music hall paintings, nature documentaries etc. I am keen to just see what comes up as an interpretation within myself and work with Mark to realise his vision of the story which is very strong. On the vampire front I did actually have a re-listen to The Lost Boys soundtrack – maybe that counts?!
Many of your previous roles have been in more abstract contemporary dance productions. Are you enjoying working with a narrative?
I am really enjoying working with a narrative; it’s an interesting way of working and quite different to some of the work I have done previously, having performed and created a lot more abstract dance. As Mark is making a clear adaptation and we are working with scenes, the movement or gesture can often speak for itself. I am enjoying putting my attention into the minutiae; how Dracula might move (or indeed not move) and watching the skill of Mark as a choreographer as he weaves the narrative though and around that.
The company are rehearsing in Frome. How are you finding making work outside central London?
It feels like a great community here in Frome, which I think, interestingly somehow feeds into the production. I haven’t been here that long, but the keys for where I‘m staying in were given to me in an envelope marked ‘for Dracula’ so I think word has spread that I‘m here! No one has run away from me in the supermarket yet though!
And how are rehearsals going?
It‘s going well, the show is now together in rough form and we are knuckling down to get to the root of what makes each part work. I love this period in a rehearsal process, even though I have worked a lot in abstract dance I am always happy to discuss the how or why of something and try things in many different ways. Movement for me is a bit like a current that you can ride (which is why sometimes I forget all the steps and do strange things); in this part of the process I can repeat and repeat and really seal it down in my muscle memory, which means I can gain even more freedom when performing later.
Dracula premières at Tobacco Factory Theatre and then tours to six different venues, including Wilton’s Music Hall in London. Do you enjoy touring?
I do enjoy touring, if it isn‘t for too long. I have been touring pretty much non-stop for the last 14 years so I am quite eager to do a little less and stay for longer in just one place. In this production we have some longer runs in London and Bristol, which is quite unusual in modern dance and something I am really looking forward to.
If you had to choose 5 words to describe the show, what would they be?
Dark, Unpredictable, Seductive, Humorous and Mysterious
Mark Bruce Company’s Dracula, premièring at Tobacco Factory Theatre, Wed 25 – Sat 28 September before touring, including Wilton’s Music Hall.