Former dancer and choreographer Shelley Maxwell fell in love with movement direction after working on the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Hamlet. She tells Giverny Masso about contributing to a series of high-profile shows…
How did you get into dance?
I’ve been dancing since I was about five and I started choreographing aged 13. At the time in Jamaica, where I was born, people didn’t really choose dance as a career so I went to university to become an actuarial scientist. There I joined the dance society and realised that was my calling, so I left uni and went to train in Cuba.
How did you become a movement director?
It was a happy accident. When I decided to retire from the stage three years ago, I had the opportunity to do assistant movement direction on Hamlet with the Royal Shakespeare Company and I fell in love with it. Since then I’ve done quite a few things with the National Theatre, including working with Tamsin Greig on Twelfth Night, and doing Antony and Cleopatra. I’ve also worked on Nine Night, revisited the RSC with Tartuffe and done work for the Young Vic. I’ve been very fortunate finding my feet as a movement director.
What recent projects have you had?
With Equus, the massive elephant in the room is that it’s a play with six horses. It’s been staged in different ways in the past, but I tried to approach it with new eyes. I wanted to explore the essence of the horses. I’ve also just done Cougar at the Orange Tree in Richmond. It’s directed by Chelsea Walker and has an all-female creative team, which is lovely. It’s an intimate two-hander. Working on that and Equus at the same time has been really enjoyable – going from an intimate space to a group setting.
What has been your biggest career challenge so far?
Juggling my family life and my work life has been difficult, as I have a small child. Scheduling has been a big challenge. As an artist, you want to devote every working hour to a project and be consumed by it, so the hardest thing is finding that balance.
What is your advice for emerging movement directors?
Being open is good, not being too specific in the area you want to go into. There’s a wide rainbow of things you can do – and there are so many things I haven’t tapped into yet. You can also do film, TV, ad campaigns or modelling. Staying open and building your network is really important.
What are your ambitions for the future?
I’ve yet to do a big musical theatre show, which is ironic, as I come from a dance background. Part of me yearns to be given the opportunity to do that.
Training: National School of Dance, Havana, Cuba; MA in choreography, Trinity Laban, London
First professional role: Working with Tavaziva Dance Company (2007)
Agent: Michelle McGivern at Wright and Murray