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Scottish Dance Theatre's Fleur Darkin on Velvet Petal: The disco-punk production inspired by Patti Smith

Scottish Dance Theatre's latest production, Velvet Petal, is a powerful fusion of ideas. Created by Artistic Director Fleur Darkin, the piece philosophizes on notions such as beauty and change, whilst ruminating on its inspiration: 'the life-cycle of the monarch butterfly and Robert Mapplethorpe’s Polaroids'. Oh, and it's set to a disco-punk soundtrack.

The piece has already been performed at Bristol's Mayfest, and at the Lighthouse in Poole. Now, it will continue the Scottish leg of the tour, with performances in Dumfries and Edinburgh (as part of Hidden Door) before continuing on with performances at Latitude Festival and London's Southbank Centre.

With the tour well and truly in full flow, we spoke to Darkin to find out more about the show - and what audiences can expect from such an exciting, wide-reaching production.

Tell us about Velvet Petal: what’s the new show about?

Velvet Petal is about growing, metamorphosis and memory. Velvet Petal is a little bit of the freedom which we all crave and desire. I was inspired reading Patti Smith's memoir Just Kids, about her and Robert Mapplethorpe's time in New York in 1970s. The excitement is around them discovering their identities and shedding skins.

Velvet Petal is a reminder that we can continually recreate ourselves, that it's OK to be vulnerable and that change is empowering- Fleur Darkin, Scottish Dance Theatre

It was created to capture that moment of metamorphosis, that energy and atmosphere where the conditions are just right to become who you want to be. The show is intimate and exciting.

You’ve toured the show in diverse cities, from Glasgow to Mexico City. How was that experience and what did you learn?

We travel en masse as a company, and as well as performing around Scotland, we have taken shows to over 30 countries across four continents as Scottish Dance Theatre's reputation for dance becomes known globally. It's exciting to see the different reception Velvet Petal gets in different cities and contexts.

In Glasgow, the show made full use of the incredible space at Tramway, while in Mexico we performed in a grand old traditional theatre with a live Mexican orchestra. In Edinburgh at festival time we were in a dark hot corner of Summerhall which added its own energy to the piece.

As a result, Velvet Petal the show is undergoing its own metamorphosis as it reacts to spaces and places it is performed in. What's constant is the energy captured in those coming of age moments, which audiences relate to wherever they are.

The show has a dance-punk score. How does this inform the movement in the piece?

Like so many of us, I listened to a lot of music in my bedroom and those artists became guides. The show has a soundtrack featuring LCD Sound System, Four Tet, Leonard Cohen and The Cure. There's something about music that takes the audience on the dancers' journey and makes us think of how we change ourselves.

Through researching this piece, we found out that caterpillars, for instance, choose the timing of their metamorphosis. Biologically, they must change, but they have some control over the timing and wait until their environment is most supportive. For humans it seems change is a private act. The theatre is our trusted environment and Velvet Petal becomes something sexy, with heart, fragility and a sense of purpose.

It’s been said that this is an ‘intense dance experience’ – can you talk a little more about what that means?

Velvet Petal creates a sense of intimacy in the theatre where we are witnesses to the dancers on a journey of self discovery. We see how tough girls and pretty boys present themselves to the world, changing themselves, their clothes, never quite wearing the right outfit. This state of change, combined with the music arranged expertly by Torben Lars Sylvest, creates a unique atmosphere.

Music is the most important element and light - these things point us towards the work having an affect on us. A key member of our creative team is Emma Jones, Head of Production -  a lighting designer who transforms the theatre.

Velvet Petal is unlike any other dance show: it's raw and sexy, powerful yet intimate and with a soundtrack that brings you to places you'll never want to leave.

What do you want audiences to take away?

For me, Velvet Petal is a reminder that we can continually recreate ourselves, that it's OK to be vulnerable and that change is empowering. Most of all I hope the show helps awaken the sense, potential and possibilities of change in everyone who comes to see it.

Velvet Petal live: Theatre Royal, Dumfries, 23 May, 7pm; Hidden Door Festival, Edinburgh, 1 Jun, 9.30pm; Latitude Festival, Suffolk, 13-15 Jul, Times Vary; Purcell Room, Southbank Centre, London, 31 Aug-1 Sept 8pm.

This article was published on 23 May 2018