'Jamie Oliver of dance' inspires new movement

As a dance teacher Jonathan Poole has helped others realise their ambitions – now he is following his own. Nick Ahad met him.

A couple of years ago Dee Grijak was at a meeting.

The Dean Clough galleries' co-ordinator was listening to a colleague's presentation about the arts programme at the Halifax venue.

Behind her colleague a screen projected images of some art works created in Yorkshire.

One particular image came on screen that captivated Dee and within moments she had stopped listening to her colleague altogether.

"It was the most beautiful thing, the sense of movement and anticipation, the way these dancers were moving was completely mesmerising and the fact that it was silent only added to the effect," she says, still captivated by the power of what she saw.

She was watching Even Silence Holds Breath, a piece of dance created by Jonathan Poole with students at Northern School of Contemporary Dance in June 2007. He had

a DVD made of the performance and was using it in the hope of finding a backer to turn the workshop into a professionally produced dance piece.

Dee found the man behind the images on the screen, explained how much she loved the work and a relationship was born that has led to the creation of a new Yorkshire dance company which holds its world premiere at Dean Clough tonight.

"I know it's a bit naff, but I couldn't think of anything else, so the name is the JP Project," says Jonathan Poole, an unnecessarily modest dancer. There is some considerable excitement surrounding his project.

Poole graduated from the Leeds-based Northern School of Contemporary Dance in 1996 and high hopes for the diminutive dancer were fulfilled when in his final year he landed a contract with London's Arc Dance Company.

He stayed with Arc for eight years before working in Singapore and then returned to the UK to take up a teaching post at Northern.

While working with the degree course students, Poole created a piece which explored the idea of stillness and movement and the relationship between the two. With 10 students, he captured this work on film and it was seeing this which convinced Dee to contact Poole and invite him to work at Dean Clough.

"When she contacted me to say that there was an opportunity to work at Dean Clough it was wonderful. Then when I saw the space, I realised it was perfect," says Poole, who will premiere his work in the Viaduct Theatre, the home of Northern Broadsides which is in a former car park in the base of Dean Clough.

The piece which will be performed has changed in structure from the original workshop, with the number of dancers reduced by half to five, but in terms of concept it remains the same.

The piece is called Even Silence Holds Breath and was created through a number of inspirations. Firstly, Poole's time in Japan made him realise that there is a large chunk missing from the education of British dancers.

"In Britain, performers are taught how to sing and dance, but the thing they are never taught properly is how to hold the stage – the thing called stage presence is considered to be something that you either have or you don't, so it is not something that you learn as a technique," he says.

"In Asian culture, the emphasis is on being taught stage presence and how to hold the stage before people learn anything about dancing or singing. You learn how to hold a stage without any movement. I wanted to explore that idea – when we go to see a dance piece we expect to see movement which I thought would be interesting to challenge. What happens when instead of dance in a dance piece, an audience is confronted with stillness?" adds Poole, referencing Beckett in the way he wants to challenge certain perceptions.

The second and a major influence for this piece came from a Henry Moore sculpture.

"I saw a Moore at the Tate Modern called Three Points and it is the most incredible piece of sculpture," says Poole. "There are these three points in the sculpture where they are almost, but not quite, touching.

"It is absolutely captivating and when you look at it, there is this sense of energy and anticipation – you're waiting for the moment when the three points touch. Even though this is a lump of a metal, a completely inanimate and still object, it looks alive, it looks like there is a sense of movement within it."

The third inspiration for the project came from the legendary and avant garde theatre director Robert Wilson, who invited Poole to work on his 2003 production of Aida. Considered one of the world's greatest theatre artists, Wilson's obsession through his career has been with the sense of movement in space and on a stage. He has become famed for his wordless interpretations of texts and a quote from Wilson provides a direct inspiration for Poole in this work.

He said:"The hardest thing for a dancer to do on stage is do nothing, and I thought that was a really interesting concept that I wanted to explore," says Poole.

All these ideas have been turned into a reality thanks to support from the Arts Council and colleagues of Poole's from Yorkshire Dance, Northern Ballet Theatre and York St John University.

While the symbiosis of the three different inspirations for the piece might seem intellectual, Poole's determination is to make the work accessible.

"Contemporary dance can be seen as a bit difficult and a little obtuse, but if you create something and an audience can't connect with it, what's the point? You might as well perform it in your front room," says Poole.

To this end, Poole has spent several weeks holding workshops in schools across Calderdale, working with youngsters.

Dee says Poole is the "Jamie Oliver of the dance world" due to his extensive work with young people and he is known as a man with a passion for education.

"Because contemporary dance has a certain reputation, then it is seen as something that is quite difficult, but by going into schools and working with schoolchildren and breaking things down, you get the chance to say that actually, it's another form of expression and can be understood and performed and enjoyed by young people as much as any art form," he says.

Even Silence Holds Breath is at The Viaduct Theatre, Dean Clough, tonight and tomorrow. Tickets on 01422 255266.