For the very first “Unusual Journeys” interview, I’m thrilled to catch up with talented dancer and choreographer Laila Diallo. Through her work, she’s travelled across the world, worked with Kevin Spacey and side-stepped Milosevic. But that’s enough from me, let’s hear her own words:
-How would you describe yourself and what you do?
I am a Canadian-born, Bristol-based choreographer. Before embarking on my own choreographic adventures, I was a dancer for 8 years with Wayne McGregor ‘s Random Dance Company, touring extensively on the international contemporary dance scene.
-Where have you travelled to?
With work… it’s an interesting exercise to try to list destinations without omitting any… to various cities of the United States on a number occasions, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Uzbekistan, Kazakstan, Sweden, Finland, Russia, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Albania, Armenia, Turkey, Kosovo, Serbia, Croatia, Macedonia, Germany, Austria, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Cyprus, Belgium, Holland, France, Ireland, Colombia, Kenya, Malaysia, Hong Kong (in 1997…), China, Japan…
Wow! Which place surprised you the most?
Yekaterineburg, on the eastern side of the Ural Mountain Range in Russia, left a lasting impression. Not exactly surprise but wonder.
It felt out of time, otherworldly. It didn’t really match up with any images I might have conjured up in my mind, I guess. I really felt elsewhere.
-Did you know when you got into this line of work that you’d be travelling a lot?
The amount of touring a company gets varies a lot. There was no way of knowing if Random was going to be called to travel or not at the outset. I am so, so glad that it became part of the work. In fact, towards the end of my time with the company, when I found myself feeling rather blazé about an upcoming trip to Hong Kong, I thought it must be a sign that it was time to look for a change in my career.
–How did you get into this line of work?
Dance is something I somehow stumbled across when I was 11 years old or so. It took me a good few years to really get into it. I enjoyed it a lot, but for me dance was never the one and only thing that I could see myself doing as a grown-up; it was not that kind of all-consuming passion. It was something I was very interested in but I had other interests and aspirations and so the decision to follow this path as opposed to studying something else wasn’t that easy to make. I guess I met teachers, dancers and choreographers during my training and career who have kept me curious and inspired.
-Would you recommend it to someone starting out now?
It is a difficult question as the market is full of dancers who don’t manage to make a living out of it. It is not an easy career choice. Competition is fierce. But is it not everywhere…? If you are hungry for it, you have to give it a go! I guess what is useful is to not put all your eggs in the same basket, and to cultivate interests and skills in other areas too. At least that’s what I felt I needed to do when I was starting out.
-Any tips for beginners?
Remember why you have chosen to do what you are doing, what it is about it that you like and keep this close to you.
Keep an open an inquisitive mind.
-What are the downsides of travelling with work?
Packing and unpacking repeatedly, of course… And in our line of work, there is the fact that we do spend most of our time, wherever we are in the world, getting the show ready in the black box that is a theatre. So it can be frustrating sometimes when you actually feel you don’t get enough time to enjoy a place as much as you’d like before you have to leave again.
One of the upside has to be the way it allows you to make contact with people. The interactions are different to those you are likely to develop if you travel as a tourist, I think, and it can make for a different travelling experience.
-What’s the most dangerous place you’ve ever visited?
Mmm… Medellìn in Colombia has a bad reputation but Belgrade on the election night that dislodged Milosevic from power didn’t feel that safe either…
-The most over-rated?
-Your favourite? (Ah, you knew that one was coming)
That’s tough. I fell in love with Lisbon when we went there to perform. I love Lisbon.
-Do you need to take special equipment with you when you travel? How do you do that?
Now that I make my own work and am sometimes invited to perform abroad, at times I have to carry a huge suitcase of props from A to B. Lots of excess luggage charges!
-Who’s the most exciting celebrity you’ve met on your travels?
Well, if a trip to the National Gallery in London counts, Salman Rushdie.
-What makes you shudder about travelling?
The wait at the airport
-How has travel changed you?
It has many times been an occasion of measuring just how vulgar the disparity of wealth is on this planet. It helps me keeping a wider perspective on life, on the “general state of affairs”, it prevents me from getting too comfortable.
-What has been your most poignant moment on your travels?
I can’t put my finger now on a poignant moment. But some vivid memories include a truly amazing tango lesson I took in Ankara, a huge moon on the Pacific on my birthday in San Diego, waking up to discover the mountains outside my window in Almaty, getting off the coach to cross the border from Serbia to Kosovo on foot…
-Would you do it all again?
The travelling yes, the dancing, probably not!
Thanks Laila! To find out more about Laila’s work, visit her website here. Photo credits: Ravi Deepres & Mike Kwasniak