STRUT dance, Western Australia’s Choreographic Development Centre, last week announced the appointment of Paul Selwyn Norton as its new Director.
Born and raised in Africa and the West Indies, Paul has been a professional dancer, choreographer and teacher for the last 25 years. At the ripe old age of 23 his dance skills were discovered in a discotheque and he was invited to an audition. From then on he hunted and gathered his way into the dance field, eventually securing a position in William Forsythe’s prestigious Ballet Frankfurt.
Paul sat down this week with Perth correspondent Craig Dalglish to discuss his discovery, successes, inspirations and thoughts on his new role with Strut Dance.
How does dance inspire you?
How I look at it is that everything dances, moves under a process of choreographed events, be it a sub atomic particle, the traffic on the Bruce Highway, Balanchine’s Apollo, or the way my fingers play across the keyboard as I type, or your eyes on this article as you read the words. The inspiration is out there.
I read you began your dance career after you were discovered in a discotheque at the age of 23. Can you tell us about that experience?
Before going on to study immunology I was young, free and single and living a pre-masters year in Amsterdam in the Netherlands. I was in the Roxy night club throwing some moves and was spotted by a director. He approached me with a call to audition. Immediately I explained that I was not an academically trained dancer. He insisted, so I went anyway. Made a complete hash-job of it!!! But got the gig! From then on I hunted and gathered my way into the dance world, taking every opportunity as a schooling…much like the apprentices of yore.
[pull_left] I was in the Roxy night club throwing some moves and was spotted by a director. He approached me with a call to audition[/pull_left]
What advantages do you think there are starting a dance career at a later age?
I was very worldly and so was not easily phased by the sudden escalation of pressure and demand that comes with the creative and performative life.
Proprioceptive [position and movement of the body] confusion in technical class and [slowness in picking up] material. Even when I was dancing for Ballet Frankfurt there would be a general warning announcement during Grande Allegro (big jumps) in class that “Paul is attempting to do the left variation!!”
Do you remember your first dance class?
Aye… a muddle! It was a Cunningham dance class, but I was fascinated by the odd counting structure and directional changes.
Do you have a pre-performance ritual?
Yoga and deep breathing…the simpler the better, so as not to confuse the spirit.
What’s something people would be surprised to know about you?
I am also a qualified SCUBA instructor
If you weren’t a dancer what would you be?
A marine biologist or an immunologist. I really admire writers though, for their capacity to create whole worlds in isolation without the need for others.
What advice would you give other dancers?
If you don’t fit into the recommended model or pathway, create your own. Dancing is about belief, magic and boldness… not the perfect turn out.
Who/what were your greatest influences?
I am fascinated by the play and processes of structure and de-creation. The theorist Anne Carson and novelist David Mitchell, choreographers William Forsythe and Ohad Naharin, architects of Studio Daniel Liebeskind, visual artists Anish Kapoor and the Chapman Brothers…medical journals, Japanese calligraphy, the underwater environment…
What was the first piece you choreographed?
Johnny Panic after the short story from Sylvia Plath. In that story Johnny Panic is the God of Fear.
What do you consider are some of the highlights of your career to date?
Choreographing for Batsheva Dance Company in Israel; being able to commission great composers such as John Zorn and Fred Frith to come to the party. Dancing and creating for Forsythe… Bill actually did the stage and lights for my first show on the company…what a hoot! Working with Chunky Move way back 1997 with dream team Brett Daffy, Narelle Benjamin, Fiona Cameron, Kirstie McCraken, Luke Smiles and Byron Perry…what a ride we had! But it all started with being raised as a young artist myself by Korzo Theatre Productions in the Netherlands…CHEERS!
What is the biggest challenge you have faced in your career?
Stepping out of the independent dance world and taking on the reins of a more sustained leadership. I had my first 10 years with the foundation “no apology” in the Netherlands. No one can really prepare you for that roller-coaster, you just have to get on the train and ride it out…
What is your vision for Strut?
It is really early days. Strut is just coming out of a sustained investment from the Future Moves/Ignite Package and is now in a position to re-focus its role in the dance ecology of WA, Australia and abroad. I am not being deliberately cagey, but right now we are working with the Department of Cultural Affairs WA on a new business model. That is very exciting because as an incoming director I am not here just to baby sit and stage manage somebody else’s Strut. I really am in a wonderful position to implement change.
Watch this space…