Shakespeare’s Rosalind dances to a new tune at DanceEast

James Cousins' exploration of Shakespeare's heroine Rosalind from As You Like It which is being stag

James Cousins' exploration of Shakespeare's heroine Rosalind from As You Like It which is being staged at DanceEast in Ipswich. Picture: CONTRIBUTED - Credit: Archant

Shakespeare continues to inspire the creative arts 400 years after his death. Arts editor Andrew Clarke spoke to young choreographer about an international collaboration to bring new life to Rosalind, star of As You Like It.

James Cousins' exploration of Shakespeare's heroine Rosalind from As You Like It which is being stag

James Cousins' exploration of Shakespeare's heroine Rosalind from As You Like It which is being staged at DanceEast in Ipswich. Picture: CONTRIBUTED - Credit: Archant

Shakespeare enjoys a hallowed status in the theatre but now he is making his presence felt in the world of dance.

Romeo and Juliet has long been a staple in the world of classical ballet and now contemporary dance is exploring some of the fiesty heroines created by The Bard. Rosalind is a new work created by former DanceEast Associate Artist James Cousins as part of a new commission from the British Council enabling British arts companies to form relationships with arts companies overseas.

Choreographer James Cousins chose to premiere this latest production in South Korea at the Seoul Performing Arts Festival and has Korean dancers as part of his cast.

Rosalind takes a look at the complex heroine of Shakespeare’s comedy As You Like It and during the performance she is played by three different dancers as various facets of her personality are revealed.

James Cousins' exploration of Shakespeare's heroine Rosalind from As You Like It which is being stag

James Cousins' exploration of Shakespeare's heroine Rosalind from As You Like It which is being staged at DanceEast in Ipswich. Picture: CONTRIBUTED - Credit: Archant


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Set in a modern city – conservative by day, a wonderland by night – Rosalind our curious, courageous heroine, embarks on a journey of self-discovery, fuelled by love and oppression. In the play, Rosalind is a resourceful passionate character who uses words as weapons. In this contempoary restyling, Rosalind’s power lies in movement.

So is this new work a narrative exploration of As You Like It or more of a character study?

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JC: “Oh much more of a character study – it’s a portrait of a complex woman and thinking about what would she have been like if Shakespeare had written now – 400 years on and asks the question: ‘why is she relevant to today’s audience’.

James Cousins' exploration of Shakespeare's heroine Rosalind from As You Like It which is being stag

James Cousins' exploration of Shakespeare's heroine Rosalind from As You Like It which is being staged at DanceEast in Ipswich. Picture: CONTRIBUTED - Credit: Archant

“This was the dicussion we were having when we making the piece. We were making links to the lives of women around the world, particularly women in Korea, to the life that Rosalind was being forced to lead: dressing as a man to experience that important sense of independence.

“Part of her character is oppressed princess but another is a strong outspoken leader, a trait which in times past would not have been considered feminine and so we have different dancers playing different aspects of her personality and once of them is a man.

“I didn’t want to be too prescriptive about the male and female charcateristics and really wanted the audience to be the arbiter of who Rosalind really is.”

So how did you come up with the idea for Rosalind? Was As You Like It a play you had a great of affection for?

JC: “Not at all. I never really got on with Shakespeare at school. I didn’t know the play before I started researching something I could do. The commission from the British Council was to work with Shakespeare’s legacy around the world. We only had a week to get our submission in and my producer said to me: ‘Look at his comedies. You are always doing dark stuff, try something lighter.’ and so we came across As You Like It. What interested me was that all those years ago Shakespeare was already playing around with ideas of gender and I quickly decided that was what I wanted to explore.

“I came to it thinking it was going to be much more of an As You Like It narrative but as Koreans have a different relationship to gender roles than we do, I thought a discussion about this was a much more exciting prospect.”

So has it become more a serious piece?

JC: “I suppose it has. You have got a woman who is exiled, you have a woman not being allowed who she wants to be or being allowed to speak her mind. She has to flee to be with the man she wants to be with – these are serious issues. Shakespeare wraps these issues up in a comedy but he was discissing serious things here.”

What drew you to South Korea?

JC: “I had never been there before but I had been to Japan and other places in south east Asia and I knew it had wonderful cities and this amazing dynamic which pitches tradition against a very modern lifestyle and I thought it would give us some amazing energy and I knew I wanted to use Korean dancers to reflect that clash. I would say that the spirit of Seoul influenced the work.”

You have a history with DanceEast. Will it be exciting to be back at the Jerwood danceHouse again?

JC: “Absolutely, I love working there. There’s something incredibly exciting about creating work with the audience so close. It’s a much more intimate performance. They can see the effort and the sweat but also it can mean that the performnace can be more nuanced than if you are performing in a big theatre. Audiences are more likely to pick up a gesture or a touch which can add a lot to a performance. The DanceHouse is a beautiful space and I think that performing in an intimate space allows the audience to feel the energy of the performers and the dancers can feed off the immediate reactions of the audience. Shows like this have a real visceral energy which I love.”

James Cousins’ Rosalind is at the Jerwood DanceHouse on Ipswich Waterfront tomorrow at 7.30pm. danceeast.co.uk

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