White and Givan: Breathe

Breathe. Credit: Tommy Ga Ken Wan 

White & Givan are the contemporary dance duo of Davina Givan and Errol White. Currently undertaking a two-year residency at both the University of Edinburgh and the Traverse Theatre, the duo is midway through their national tour of Breathe – the first in a trilogy of dance duets. We caught up with Davina Givan and Errol White to find out more about the performance…  

Can you tell us a bit more about Breathe?

We have been living and breathing Breathe for a while now since our first soft launch at the Festival Theatre Studio in 2014. We are so excited that we have had an opportunity to re-invent and perfect the performance in time for our national tour during our double-bill residency at Moray House School of Education, University of Edinburgh but also the revered Traverse Theatre. This opportunity to work in a shared two-year shared residency supported by Creative Scotland is quite rare, if not unheard of for a contemporary dance company of our stature. 

Breathe is part one of a trilogy of intimate duets we have created, performed and choreographed ourselves in partnership with our residency partners but also with international long-term collaborators of ours including Tiago Cerqueira (sound), Fabianna Piccoli (lights), Claudia Nocentini (drawing) and Karisma Costumes. 

We would like to think of Breathe as our alter ego, encapsulating our professional relationship of the last 25 years, yet the production also speaks about the vulnerability and fragility of the human condition. Although we appear as the core forces in this 'absorbing duet' there is also a third partner on-stage which is as powerful and irresistible as the sun, 'a suspended block of tightly-clustered lights' designed by Fabiana Piccioli. This is the sun that sculpts the stage, “adding mystery and different moods to the choreography.” (The Herald)

What do you hope audiences take away from the performances?

Hopefully, a wealth of emotions and meanings which they will filter through their own experience. The performance instantly commands emotional connection as we move between love and agony, pleasure and triumph. 

For example, we have been working with Bologna-born and Edinburgh-based artist Claudia Nocentini who has been has following us since the public launch of our residency in February 2016.  Swapping her sketchbook and ink for an iPad and a stylus, Claudia has been accompanying us on rehearsals, showings and even live performances producing a suite of ‘gestural drawings’. To Claudia, Breathe speaks of “the depth and meaning of human relationships, of the grounding quality and weight of intimacy.” We know that Claudia's view is shared by most of our audiences who come in to ignite their senses as we re-emerge inseparable as a couple (both on-stage and in real life). We hope Breathe holds a mirror to our connectedness as human beings.  

Having said this, we also hope that everybody will have their own take on Breathe. Claudia's response to Breathe was through her own media of choice - a suite of new gestural drawings which are to be unveiled at Threshold artspace – Perth's own unique museum of contemporary art – as a pre-show treat to our performance at Perth Concert Hall. 

You don't even have to be madly passionate about contemporary dance to appreciate the artistry of Fabiana Piccoli's lighting design or Tiago Cerquira's evocative soundtrack, both of strong appeal to audiences with theatrical, lighting and sound backgrounds or aspirations. 

We also know that some of our most loyal fans would follow us on our national tour and together with us will experience the subtle variations of each of our live appearance. We also have a live stream in store from one of our performances at the Traverse Theatre for those who are regrettably away from Scotland – the centre of our own creative universe! 

You’ve worked with Portuguese composer Tiago Cerqueira in Breathe,  how important is collaboration to your work?

Collaboration is not important but essential to us and our duets tend to portray just the tip of the iceberg. Deep underneath the water surface of our duets we 'hide' hours and hours of collaborative work with creatives from different disciplines. We do hope to reveal some of these hidden treasures in yet to be published interview with our 'resident' composer Tiago Cerqueira. It was conducted during his recent visit to Edinburgh when he joined us for a week-long creative residency at Dancebase.

As a contemporary dance duo of equally strong male and female counterparts we collaborate on any aspect of our duets from shaping the concept to the reception of the performance in the dark chamber of the theatre. For instance, it is due to our collaborative modus operandi that we have cultivated our emerging reputation as the movement artists-in-residence of choice at the Traverse Theatre. 

Breathe was developed during your joint artists’ residency at Moray House Schhol of Education at the University of Edinburgh and the Traverse Theatre, what does an opportunity like this mean to you?

As far as we are aware, White & Givan is the only contemporary dance duo of Scotland currently undertaking a two-year residency at both the University of Edinburgh and the Traverse Theatre. The artists’ residency involves a new touring trilogy of intimate duets; the wider theatre, gallery and museum community; new dance education initiatives, and summer schools. Although we are just at the start of this journey, we would strongly recommend this innovative residency model to any professional dance company or higher education institution.

In fact, we follow in closely in the footsteps of the first two dance artist-in-residence at Moray House School of Education, the highly respected Chris Kidd and Vincent Hantam whose own practice was significantly enhanced throughout. It is for the first time that this unique dance education initiative at the University of Edinburgh is delivered in shared residency with the Traverse Theatre. Long it may last! 

Breathe. Credit: Tommy Ga Ken Wan 

Breathe tours throughout May, then what’s next for you?

As experienced, mature artists who have spent over a quarter of a century together, we should be planning for retirement but instead we would like to defy this notion and plan for the next 25 years of our practice on and off the stage. 

We are already working on the second part of the trilogy, of which Breathe is only the beginning, in partnership with our residency partners and our international team of collaborators. An important part of this second stage would be a new set of dance technology and education initiatives we are currently exploring. 

We are also hoping to continue working with the Dance and Sports Science academic team at the University of Edinburgh to develop more efficient and sustainable practice. Breathe allowed us to start approaching this vast area which may also benefit other smaller scale dance companies and even reach the performing arts sector at large. 

We are also building on the dramatic success we have had as movement artists-in-residence at the Traverse with the new play Swallow by Stef Smith. Swallow won the Scotsman Fringe First Award and the Scottish Arts Club Theatre Award (First Place) when premiered in the 2015 Edinburgh Festival at the Traverse. Needless to say that we are aiming to live up to new award-winning highs in the 2016 Edinburgh Festival at the Traverse.

Tour Dates for Breathe

10 May: Perth Concert Hall

12 May: Tramway

13 May: Adam Smith Theatre

17 May: Cumbernauld Theatre Trust LTD

20-21 May: Traverse Theatre

25 May: MacRobert Arts Centre

27 May: Brunton Theatre

Photo credits: Tommy Ga Ken Wan

This article was published on 10 May 2016